HISTORY GOES TO THE MOVIES: HANS ZIMMER, RIDLEY SCOTT, AND THE PROPER LENGTH OF THE GLADIUS - PDF

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HISTORY GOES TO THE MOVIES: HANS ZIMMER, RIDLEY SCOTT, AND THE PROPER LENGTH OF THE GLADIUS 41 Kay Dreyfus (SOPHIS, Monash University) In his article Hollywood s German Fantasy: Ridley Scott s Gladiator,
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HISTORY GOES TO THE MOVIES: HANS ZIMMER, RIDLEY SCOTT, AND THE PROPER LENGTH OF THE GLADIUS 41 Kay Dreyfus (SOPHIS, Monash University) In his article Hollywood s German Fantasy: Ridley Scott s Gladiator, Marc A. Weiner does something that is quite novel in the literature of film as history. He bases an historical reading of Scott s Roman epic film (2000) on a close analysis of two seminal music cues. 1 Briefly told, the film s narrative is an invention that draws on certain historical elements the death of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD180 and the succession of his son, Commodus but develops a fictional story around the character of General Maximus Decimus Meridius, a Spanish farmer and landowner turned soldier who, having defeated the barbarians of the north in a battle in Germania, is betrayed by the treachery of Commodus. (Maximus s Spanish origins are perhaps the only link between this essay and the research interests of the dedicatee of this book.) Maximus becomes a slave, then a gladiator, and finally a saviour of Rome; he is the gladiator of the film s title and the story concerns his journey. 2 Weiner s reading of the film focuses on the musical underpinning of two key moments: the first an evocation of the opening bars of the Prelude to Götterdämmerung (with its echoes of the prelude to Das Rheingold) that accompanies the audience s first view of the ancient city of Rome; the second, a reminiscence of the opening of Siegfried s Funeral March that is heard at the moment when Maximus, a masked gladiator, reveals his true identity to Commodus at the conclusion of a great battle in the arena of the Coliseum. The Wagnerian emphasis emerges from the study in which Weiner s essay is published, a collection of writings on Wagner and Cinema. Of course there is more to Weiner s reading than a consideration of the music alone; as he writes, the function of the music is reinforced by a number of other signs within the film, iconographic, textual, cinematic and so forth. But while the vision of Rome that is 1 Marc A. Weiner, Hollywood s German Fantasy: Ridley Scott s Gladiator, in Wagner & Cinema, ed. Jeongwon Joe and Sander L. Gilman (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010), A detailed study of the development of the script by two of its three different writers David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson each of whom brought particular dramatic qualities to the final filmed version, may be found in Jon Solomon, Gladiator from Screenplay to Screen, in Gladiator Film and History, ed. Martin M. Winkler (Malden MA, Oxford and Carlton Vic: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005), 1 15. the starting point for his discussion is defined equally in significance by cinematic imagery and music, the import of his second example is attributable to the music cue alone. Scholars of the potential or particular character of film as history do not in general pay much heed to music or, if they acknowledge music as an element that differentiates film history from written history, they do not accord it a function of any importance. Hayden Whyte may have coined the term historiophoty to cover the role of images in film history, but no such term has appeared to capture the role of music. For Marnie Hughes-Warrington, for example, music has only ancillary functions: it serves to foster the conscious appreciation of films as illusions and becomes a merchandising and marketing element that assists saturation promotion of the film. 3 Her last observation could certainly be said to be true of the soundtrack to Gladiator: as the recipient of a number of industry awards and nominations, the original soundtrack spawned a sequel, More Music from the Motion Picture Gladiator (2001), and a cinematic clone in the Franzoni-Zimmer collaboration King Arthur (2004). 4 Scholars of music in film, on the other hand, ascribe a central role to the affective power of music. In direct contradiction to Hughes-Warrington s idea that music distances the viewer from the filmic illusion, Anahid Kassabian, for example, asserts that music functions to draw the viewer into the illusion. Music, according to Kassabian, is at least as significant as the visual and narrative components that have dominated film studies. It conditions identification processes, the encounters between film texts and filmgoers psyches. 5 Weiner introduces a different element into the debate: for him it is not just the presence of music but the particular style of the music in this instance, the evocation of the music of Richard Wagner s Der Ring des Nibelungen that invests these scenes in Gladiator with what he calls ideological importance. 6 His discussion beautifully exemplifies Robert Rosenstone s recognition that [an] important part of [a] film s creative strategy for rendering the past comes in its use of the soundtrack... to render historical complexities not easily obtainable by the written word. 7 Taking Weiner s 3 Marnie Hughes-Warrington, History Goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 157 and For a discussion of the King Arthur soundtrack as an attempt to recreate the success of Gladiator, see the unattributed Filmtracks Editorial Review. Accessed October 2012, 5 Anahid Kassabian, Hearing Film. Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), 1. 6 Weiner, Hollywood s German Fantasy, Robert A. Rosenstone, Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to our Idea of History (Cambridge Mass and London: Harvard University Press, 1995), 149. He gives the single example, from the film Walker, of the use of joyous music as a counterpoint to images of death and 42 article as its point of departure, this essay aims to look more broadly at the soundtrack to Gladiator with a view to suggesting how, and in what ways, the music contributes to our engagement with the film. In so doing, I will look at elements that are not considered in Weiner s discussion: the role of Lisa Gerrard (Hans Zimmer s creative collaborator), the shaping influence of the film s genre on musical style and choices, and the fact that the soundtrack references iconic elements of the music of other composers than Wagner, most notably Gustav Holst. Since, it is claimed, music mediates in very particular ways between the film and its viewers, I will attempt to scrutinise the potential of Hughes- Warrington s statement that Any search for the reality of historical films is thus a search for viewer responses. 8 Gladiator facts and figures Gladiator is loosely based on events that occurred in the Roman empire in around AD It has been described as a remake of the 1960s Hollywood film The Fall of the Roman Empire; Ridley Scott attested to the influence of two other films, Spartacus and Ben Hur. 9 A nineteenth-century painting entitled Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) (1872), by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, was also an important source of inspiration for the film s gladiatorial motif. As in Shakespeare s so-called historical plays, events and characters are freely interpreted and historically real characters exist alongside others who are inventions or composites. The result is a mixture of fact and fiction in which, as Martin M. Winkler notes, the story takes precedence. 10 Riding on the back of the film s success, and of its interest as the first historical epic set in Roman times to be produced in Hollywood since the mid 1960s, Winkler, a classical scholar, assembled a volume of essays devoted to various aspects of the film, with an emphasis on its status as historical. The conclusions of the writers, who included the film s historical consultant, were generally negative on this count: Right from the opening scene, the film s historical inaccuracies are, well, legion. 11 _ destruction in war. A similar example occurs at the end of the opening battle sequence in Gladiator and will be discussed below. 8 Hughes-Warrington, History Goes to the Movies, Accessed December An excellent synopsis of the plot may also be found on this site. 10 Martin M. Winkler, Gladiator and the Traditions of Historical Cinema, in Gladiator Film and History, ed. Winkler, Allen M. Ward, Gladiator in Historical Perspective, in Gladiator Film and History, ed. Winkler, Hans Zimmer, Ridley Scott, and the proper length of the gladius Aside from Weiner s eloquent but selective discussion, consideration of the music of Gladiator is situated at the opposite end of the discourse continuum from the academic critiques of the film as history: blog discussions of the Holst estate s lawsuit claim over alleged plagiarism of Mars from Holsts s The Planets, an online review of the soundtrack CD and an online interview with Hans Zimmer hardly tip the scales. This despite the fact that the soundtrack album was a significant success for Universal and Decca, selling more than three million copies worldwide. 12 Zimmer received an Oscar nomination for the score, though in fact it was the result of a number of collaborations, most notably with Lisa Gerrard, but also with German film composer Klaus Badelt and duduk virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan. 13 Though it did not win the Oscar, the soundtrack attracted a host of other nominations and awards, 14 which has led to the claim that the soundtrack, along with those to Titanic and Star Wars, is one of the most important in the modern age of soundtracks in terms of mass recognition of film music as a genre. 15 According to the author of the most substantial discussion of all the music of the film, an unsigned online Filmtracks Editorial Review of the soundtrack compact disc, The overwhelming success of the score within the film (for most viewers), however, is what gave true life to the music, and Gladiator has since become recognised as being, at the very least, in tune with Ridley Scott s vision of the film. Weiner s article has suggested a very specifically focussed way in which this might be said to be true, but unfortunately, as he himself admits, it is likely that Few of its viewers will have recognized the Wagnerian allusions, fewer still the resulting inter-textual connections, and probably not even all that many the references to Hitler and the Nazis, and therefore not to the Weimar Republic either, for that matter. 16 I will come back to the question of recognition later, but for the moment it is sufficient to say that Weiner s reading of Scott s vision, however eloquent and persuasive, is probably not what the editorial reviewer had in mind. If the latter s assertion has any validity though and the response of viewers as reflected in the sales of the soundtrack strongly suggest that it has some might one not expect that those academic commentators who devoted so much energy to their discussion of Scott s vision of the film might have given some attention to the music? The film-maker s perspective on the importance of the music to his/her film is 12 Gladiator: Music from the Motion Picture (CD), U.S. Decca, , Gerrard s was the only significant thematic contribution. Filmtracks Editorial Review. 14 For a list of nominations and awards, see accessed December Nominated for an Oscar for best soundtrack, which it did not win, the Gladiator soundtrack has nonetheless won other prizes, including a Golden Globe and a Grammy. 15 Filmtracks Editorial Review. 16 Weiner, Hollywood s German Fantasy, rarely considered, though Natalie Zemon Davis quotes director Gillo Pontecorvo s description of his great moment in filmmaking as the point when you have nearly finished the cutting, and you begin to put the music and the visual together. In this moment, you see the object and the purpose come alive. 17 A hint of something similar comes through the special features interview with Gladiator script-writer Bill Nicholson, who accedes that music has an immense role to play in this film, and speaks of the fine cut of the film, though very good, not quite working before the music was added to it. 18 There are three references to Hans Zimmer in Winkler s edited collection Gladiator Film and History. In the first essay in the book, Jon Solomon notes that, at a turning point in the opening battle, Hans Zimmer s music modulates from the rousing battle waltz in ¾ time to an adagio victory hymn. 19 His single sentence hardly nuances the details nor the effect of this musical modulation, in which a fortissimo orchestral tutti dissolves into a passage in which foregrounded strings play a quiet major-key version of the opening minor heroic theme, still in ¾ time but a tone lower in pitch and slowed right down, with accents shifted and the melody stretched across bar lines so that metre is almost imperceptible. This transformational moment has been commented on elsewhere: the changes in the musical tempo, timbre and dynamic level accompany a visual and oral transition as the sounds of the battle fade and images dissolve. I am reminded at this point of the film of George R. R. Martin s description of hand-to-hand combat in his novel A Clash of Kings, his battle fever : [How] time seemed to blur and slow and even stop, [how] the past and the future vanished until there was nothing but the instant,... there is only the fight, the foe, this man and then the next and the next and the next... death is all around you. Though the fighting continues unabated, the on-screen carnage is distanced by the music, which produces anempathy. 20 The term is from the French criticmusician Michel Chion, and refers to music that seems to exhibit conspicuous indifference to what is going on in the film's plot, creating a strong sense of the tragic out of an apparent incongruity of affect. 21 Tempo, dynamic, falling phrases, and an end cadence on the minor sub-mediant are all features that problematise the notion of the 17 Natalie Zemon Davis, Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), 7 and n See Echoes in Eternity: Release and Impact, Special Features Disc, Gladiator. Tenth Anniversary Two-Disc Edition, Universal DVD B [2010]. 19 Solomon, Gladiator from Screenplay to Screen, According to James Buhler, Caryl Flinn and David Neumeyer eds., Music and Cinema (Hanover NE and London: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), 178. George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (London: HarperVoyager, 2011), As cited in Claudia Gorbman, Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987), 24. The term originally referred to music that occurred within the dramatic scene and is adapted here. 45 victory hymn at this point in the film; even as Maximus announces victory: this is a battle in which, no matter who wins, men have died and brutally, as Maximus reflects when distancing himself from his soldiers post-battle carousing. More than a hymn to victory, this moment looks forward to Marcus Aurelius s question, what has it all been for? The description victory hymn would better be reserved for the triumphant version of the hero theme that follows Maximus s revelation at the conclusion of the great battle in the arena of the Coliseum. Arthur Pomeroy, writing on The Vision of a Fascist Rome in Gladiator, has four sentences for the music in which he elides two distinct families of music within the film and blurs their affective functions: Hans Zimmer provided the film with a stirring neo-wagnerian score, as is most obvious during the initial fighting in Germany [sic]. This changes to a parodic waltz in the Battle of Carthage sequence. Yet the music associated with Maximus when he appears alone on screen separates him from the rest of the characters. He is given an exotic, vaguely Arab-Celtic motif by Lisa Gerrard, as befits the erstwhile Spanish landowner and head of a family, not the general and leader of the gladiators. 22 It is hard to know where to start with the carelessness of these comments. First of all, as Weiner has shown, the neo-wagnerian elements of the score would seem to be deliberate and are certainly deliberately placed, and not in the opening battle sequence, which is most often noted for its resemblances to Holst s Mars. The same musical elements appear in the Barbarian Horde [Battle of Carthage] sequence; though reordered, there is no significant change, parodic or otherwise. Both sequences subvert the waltz s origins as a triple time accompaniment to social dancing, but such subversion is well within an established tradition of demonic waltzes including Liszt s four Mephisto waltzes and Ravel s La Valse which may or may not be parodic in intent. Finally, Pomeroy ignores the purpose of Lisa Gerrard s feminising themes, which are not really all that exotic in content, though their sound is deliberately different from and a contrast to that of the orchestral cues. The vocalise heard at the start of the film, admittedly accompanying a shot of Maximus alone though it does not function as a leitmotiv for his character, is a melodic elaboration over a dominant pedal of the chords 5/3, 6/4, 5/3, and soon resolves into the main heroic theme as the Roman military camp comes into view. The other, heard over the closing titles, is clearly based around an ascending triadic major scale. The truly exotic colouring (at least in terms of the western symphonic tradition in which Zimmer s music generally sits stylistically) comes from instrumentation, most notably the duduk, which is associated not with Maximus specifically but with the geographical 22 In Gladiator Film and History, ed. Winkler, setting in North Africa. 23 Several authors in this collection are at pains to reproach the film for its errors: its Latin language mistakes, its erroneous representation and use of gladiatorial weapons. Proximo should really be called Proximus, we are told, while the inscription over the gladiator school in Rome should really be Ludus Magnus Gladiatorum (or Gladiatorius) and not Ludus Magnus Gladiatores. 24 In the light of such exactness, what are we to make musically of Pomeroy s notion of Arab-Celtic, and its alleged association with the Spanish landowning class? The editor himself, Martin M. Winkler, leaves the reader in no doubt either of his wide-ranging cinematic expertise nor his low opinion of the score. In a list of the soundtrack s derivative elements he notes, The music score of Gladiator, composed by Hans Zimmer, carries overtones of Carl Orff s Carmina Burana and is heavily influenced by orientalising film scores ranging from Pier Paolo Pasolini s Medea (1969) to Franc Roddam s television Cleopatra (1999). This list can easily be expanded [it isn t]. In its use of silly Latin, however, Gladiator is on its own. 25 In a book that is so particular about the major ancient sources (reproduced between pages 173 and 204), about the exact length of the gladius, or about who contributed what to the various drafts of the script, it is revealing and disheartening that so little care is taken to get the musical details correct. Lisa Gerrard does not get a mention here except obliquely, for those who know where the silly Latin comes in the film. One assumes the reference to Carmina Burana is loosely inspired by Zimmer s use of a choir, though this is in fact a Zimmer fingerprint, and Orff does not immediately come to mind, except fleetingly, and then at a stretch, in one short moment of the film. Again, the use of the choir is specific to certain scenes, as are the so-called orientalising elements, presumably again linked to the duduk. Such a sweeping generalisation hardly does justice to different sound worlds of the film, nor does it testify to the writer s musical discrimination. Nit-picking is a speciality of bloggers among whom one might well include this group of writers who, despite their assumption of superior expertise, share with the fans an emphasis on verisimilitude of historical details and viewer point scoring, a claim to 23 Ian Lace, Hans Zimmer and the Gladiator: An interview with the film
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