September 12th, 2007

Scorpio

And now, Shirley Walker in Her Own Words (Walker on Walker, Part One)

Well, it was easier waking up this Wednesday morning than it has been many recent Wednesday mornings...

And now to this entry's point. The people at Film Score Monthly were fans of and friends with composer Shirley Walker, who sadly died suddenly last November. Wanting to commemorate her life and work, FSM's editor Scott Bettencourt has put together "Walker on Walker." Here's Part One, with her discussing her musical youth and her tumultuous first composing gig: ghost-rewriting Carmine Coppola's score to The Black Stallion:
It was a requirement that I use his themes, which I was more than happy to do because I thought they were wonderful. I loved them. I loved them for the horse. They were just bang-on. So I had no hesitation about that. But we were stuck in the quandary about who was going to tell Carmine. Our faces were white about this.

Nobody was going to tell him. I wasn't going to be a patsy and call him up and say, "Oh, Carmine, I'm throwing out everything you did for the island." So, we had to go to [director] Carroll [Ballard] and say, "Look, somebody's got to tell him." And Carroll went to Francis, who was the producer, and said, "Somebody's got to tell your father." And Francis said, "Okay, he's my dad, I'll take care of it." Well, the dynamics in that family were such that it never did taken care of. And, to my horror and DEEP regret, Carmine found out from an old friend, a flute player who'd been hired to do the session, that we were re-recording pivotal moments of the score... Of course, Carmine was explosively furious and called up all of us.
I'd known that Walker's Black Stallion work had been what her longtime friend and colleague Dan Carlin had called "a long and potentially litigious story" (as he said in the liner notes for her score to Memoirs of an Invisible Man), but never knew the specifics until now. Tough start, especially as it ruined the friendship Walker and Carmine Coppola had from working together on Apocalypse Now (she was one of the synth players). But she got to Hollywood, and started finding her niche...which will be covered more in Part Two, next Wednesday.

Here's to you, Shirley Walker. I'm not the only one who misses you.
Scorpio

Welcome to the land of Disneyanea

A relaxing evening. I’m not the only one having one, right?

Today I finished reading last year’s Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. The book is thick with both pages and info, and as he’s building his studio Walt Disney often comes off as simultaneously the best and the worst boss you’ve ever had. (Unfortunately he generally became a more difficult boss as the studio grew: more mercurial, harder to please, and sometimes even flat-out claiming his own company was producing “crap.”) And I don’t think I ever appreciated how precarious the Disney company was for most of its run – it was never consistently profitable until after Disneyland opened, and during World War II finances were so tight Disney was seriously worried he’d never be able to make any more feature films once Bambi was done – but it survived a lot. And newcomer network ABC might’ve gone the way of the DuMont Network if it hadn’t picked up Disney’s first TV shows and become a partner in Disneyland.

I was intrigued by many details and what-might-have-beens – from good ideas (Walt seriously talked with Paul Robeson to star as Uncle Remus in Song of the South, which would’ve been a much different performance in a far different film) to it’s-good-he-abandoned-them ideas (the dwarf “Deafy,” generally congenial except when he gets mad at something he misheard due to his deafness). I never knew that Ronald Reagan co-hosted the disastrous first broadcast from Disneyland, or that there briefly was a circus at the park, or that Disney never said until the 1960s that his films were for children: if you’re helping to nurture a NEW ART FORM, it should be for EVERYBODY, not just for kids seemed to be his underlying belief for most of his career.

That said, by this point almost every opinion that can be held about Walt Disney has been pondered, pontificated, and published, and Gabler (while giving evidence to debunk other people’s beliefs that Disney was Anti-Semitic in life and cryogenically frozen in death) can’t bring a huge new thesis to play; he instead can present a huge amount of evidence to show Disney’s perfectionist-but-easily-bored nature. And a few times it seemed Gabler really reached to make a point via quotes that don’t quite seem to support what he’s writing. These are moments that feel like laziness in the midst of what was years of work for Gabler. (Plus I get the impression that Walt wasn’t all that quotable a person; he didn’t seem to have a real flair to his speech.)

Gabler kind of frustrates me after the three books of his I’ve read: of those three, I still think his best was An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, while there are giant chunks of Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality where I A) seriously disagree with some of his ideas, and B) feel he didn’t present those ideas coherently.

But honestly? Any evidence that Walt Disney swore makes me smile. So that’s one reason I liked this book.
Whale fluke

I said no, no, no

Truly random-ass thought tonight: My mind is unable to contain Amy Winehouse.

I’ve become a fast fan of hers, since the radio show Passport Approved played her (before her album came out in America), and since then she’s reached heavy rotation on 94.7 and many other radio stations with the songs “You Know That I’m No Good” and “Rehab,” but I was trying to sum up her appeal and thoughts kept colliding in me little head. She’s known for both her amazing voice and her, er, issues. And trying to sum her up seems (to me) to demean both what she can do, and what she’s going through.

I tried summing her up as “a Goth-Jewish Shirley Bassey who cuts herself,” and that’s one of the weirder, more confused, ill-expressed thoughts I’ve pondered lately.

I don’t really know yet how to describe her. Probably the wrong time to try.

(Here’s her Wikipedia entry, for my later reference in attempting to, shall we say, convey her.)