For many years, we have attended the Hollywood Bowl Movie nights and enjoyed the live orchestra as an accompaniment to the images that they show on the screen. Last night was a similar experience but instead of scenes or clips we got the whole film with a live symphony.
The movie cannot be faulted in any way. Almost universally “The Godfather” is recognized as one of the great achievements in cinema. It is another reminder of the second golden age in Hollywood that lasted most of the decade of the 1970s. The music from the movie is iconic. It is immediately identifiable and has become iconic. A few notes and suddenly anyone in listening range will be transported to the violent, romanticized world of the mafia from the mid-20th Century. The sounds of the film have been used in a million parodies because everyone knows the central themes.
This was my first visit to the Nokia Theater in the L.A. Live plaza. The theater, which has been seen by many on a dozen award shows, seats over 7,000 which is comparable and maybe even a little larger than the Radio City Music Hall in NYC. We arrived early because the Will Call message said there would be line ups, but we were so early I could walk right up. With some time on our hands, the three of us walked over to have dinner at the Lawry’s Carvery on the corner. This is an informal dining experience that features some of the same foods served at my favorite dining establishment, Lawry’s The Prime Rib. We each ordered a prime rib based sandwich, and a drink, as well as a dessert to share. The total was just over $60, that is until they ran my VIP card and discovered my accumulated points. The three of us ended up dining on .48 cents. That was a nice treat.
We walked back to the theater and enjoyed all the lighted marquees for the restaurants and events and movies and television programs that were being advertised. The Electronic marquee of the Nokia had the logo for the event on it in dramatic red, white and black. There was a minor glitch in trying to enter the theater. I had three sets of keys in my pocket and on two of the key rings I have small tools which include knife blades that are maybe an inch long. I hardly every think of these, much less consider them as potential weapons, but the woman at the metal detector was having none of it so I sent my wife and daughter in and I walked back to the car to unload my dangerous tools.
On returning to the theater, I sought my companions but I ended up on the mezzanine level instead of the loge level and had to be redirected. The theater is impressive in size and elegantly simple. It is not overly ornamented but it has some classic lines and there are subtle colored florescent accent lights on the loge boxes on the sides of the theater. When we first sat down, the seats were nearly empty, we were almost forty minutes away from the start of the program. By the time 8:00 arrived, every seat was filled. Seven thousand people had shown up to see a movie that is forty three years old.That is the power that “The Godfather” still holds over cinema lovers.
Instead of one large screen, there were three. One located immediately above the orchestra on stage and then one on either side of the stage. You would have a very clear view no matter were you sat in the venue. The movie would be digitally projected, which must certainly simplify the process of synching up the score as played by the musicians with the images on the screen. It was never distracting to me, but I could see that the conductor had a computer screen on the podium in front of him, with the click track imposed on top of the film images so that everything would be timed perfectly. For three hours that is exactly what happened.
The score by Nino Rota, is filled with original music but also traditional Italian melodies and American popular jazz of the 1940s. The musicians moved seamlessly from style to style and they were all excellent. Special notice should however be given to the lead trumpet, the pianist, the mandolin player, and the principle cellist. They had to work the hardest and there are several sections in the movie where they are unaccompanied by any of the other musicians and their solo work was excellent.
One thing that is very noticeable when watching a film with an orchestra playing the music, is the number of times that there is no background music. The dialogue in so many scenes weaves a musical tapestry all by itself. At the convocation of mobsters, the voice of Marlon Brando, and the words that he speaks, flow smoothly through the scene as if they were a music passage. The sounds of gravel and crickets in Sicily, and the noisy children and gunfire on the New York City streets also fill the atmosphere a number of times with any musical sweetening. Of course when a dramatic act takes place, there is a powerful punctuation of the emotion with a fanfare or motif that fits just as it should.
One of the first dates I took my wife on, was a double feature of “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II”, at the State theater in Pasadena, California. Together, the two films are almost six and a half hours long. At that distant screening way back in 1976, as the first movie ended and we stood up to take advantage of a break, the lights suddenly went down again and the second film stared almost immediately. We sat right back down and made it through both movies without a break. Last night, the screening inserted an intermission right after Michael assassinates Sollozzo and Captain McClusky. I know all too well that there was no intermission in the original film, but it worked well last night and I’m sure it was as much for the musicians benefit as it was for the audience. That gave us an opportunity to narcissisticly have our picture taken in our seats. Those are very genuine smiles because we were having a wonderful time. The love song from “The Godfather”, “Speak Softly Love” was the music we played at our wedding back in 1980. The minister at my childhood church questioned us about it a little but she understood that it was a love song and not really an endorsement of the gangsters in the film and she went along with our preference very easily.
At the end of the film, when I was waiting in the lobby for my companions in the ladies room, I checked my phone and saw there was a message on my Facebook page. I’d posted that we were attending and an old high school friend messaged me that he was there as well. I would have loved connecting with him for a few minutes, we haven’t really seen each other in forty years but it looks like the movies of that decade still hold sway over those of us who came of age at that time. Next time Ron.
Amanda heard someone in the bathroom suggest “Lawrence of Arabia” for a similar experience. I am already waiting for such an announcement, “long live classic movie music!”. I know that this event played in New York last summer, I hope it makes it to your town so that you can share the experience of a great film with a magnificent score, performed right in front of you by professionals that really know how to bring it all home. Here in Southern California, we have the finest studio musicians in the world and they did this movie and it’s score proud.