Stravinsky In Hollywood

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: C Major
ALBUM TITLE: Stravinsky In Hollywood

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An actor impersonating Stravinsky, filmed in quasi-historic black and white, types an article accusing film producers of using ‘music like perfumes’, whereas he needs music ‘for hygienic purposes, for the health of my soul’. Thus, barely over a third of the way through this film, Stravinsky burns his boats with Hollywood. So, despite its marketing, this documentary is not primarily about Stravinsky’s attempt to break into the lucrative world of film music; rather, it focuses more on his edgy non-relationship with Arnold Schoenberg, a near neighbour in Los Angeles. After years of the two composers scrupulously avoiding any social contact, the Austrian composer’s death in 1951 shook Stravinsky, and became the catalyst for the reinvention of his style.

Film-maker Marco Capalbo packs a lot of information, and some striking footage including of Stravinsky himself hand-drawing his staves in ink, then deftly composing in pencil. However, only Stravinsky’s assistant, Robert Craft, appears as a talking head; while his recollections are vivid, for variety’s sake it would have been good to hear others who knew Stravinsky – Pierre Boulez, for instance, who as a student booed Stravinsky’s Four Norwegian Moods (recycled from one of his rejected Hollywood scores) – or to have archive footage of interviewees such as Vera Stravinsky.

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As it is, we get a good deal of narrative, drearily read by Capalbo himself, plus Super 8 footage of various actors, one of them a distractingly poor likeness of Stravinsky, driving around California’s Palmdale desert accompanied by extracts from a less-than-pristine LP recording of Stravinsky’s Cantata. Maybe this is a would-be subliminal suggestion that Stravinsky’s pre-Schoenberg-inspired work was arid and tired: serial works such as Agon and Requiem Canticles are presented in relatively clean sound, but fuller extracts from these works might have been more persuasive. As it is, in a film lasting less than an hour, the music is mostly reduced to a fleeting soundtrack in the background. Daniel Jaffé