Friday, September 11, 2009

Alex North: THE LONG, HOT SUMMER; SANCTUARY




THE LONG, HOT SUMMER; SANCTUARY:  Composer: Alex NORTH

Orchestrations: Note: Not Credited, Edward Powell  ? – Varese Sarabande Limited Collectors’ Editions, 29 tracks (mostly stereo)

Producer: Nick Redman, Robert Townson, Performed: 20th Century-Fox Studio Orchestra , Jimmy Rodgers, Julie London, vocals Conductors: Lionel Newman, Alex North

by Ross Care

THE LONG, HOT SUMMER and SANCTUARY are two parts of a trilogy of 1950s 20th Century-Fox films (very loosely) based on the novels of William Faulkner. All three are scored by Alex North who, thanks to his groundbreaking score for the film of Tennessee Williams’ A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in 1951, had developed a reputation for scoring properties that were both literary and erotic. Many also had southern backgrounds well suited to North’s innovative fusion of 20th century orchestral and classic jazz techniques. Collectively North’s southern scores (including these two and STREETCAR) also constitute some of the sexiest music ever composed in Hollywood, and strongly influenced other new ‘50s composers such as Elmer Bernstein and Kenyon Hopkins.

Like THE SOUND AND THE FURY (which completes the trio) the film of LONG, HOT SUMMER is actually more Tennessee Williams than Faulkner. (North’s score for SOUND is the only element that really evokes the Faulkner ambiance in that film). The sharply-scripted, highly entertaining SUMMER seems specifically influenced by Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and the Orson Welles character, gruff town boss Will Varner, is an overtly Big Daddy-like figure.

North’s music is essentially lyrical, and a title song provides the thematic basis for much of the score. As sung by Jimmy (“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”) Rodgers it’s both lyrical and intense, and its melody is associated with the developing relationship between Ben Quick, a drifter bucking a reputation as a notorious barn burner (Paul Newman), Varner’s repressed but self-aware daughter, Clara (Joanne Woodward).

The long, expansive melody reappears in several beautifully rearranged cues, (“Easy Living” “Respect”) peaking in” Ashamed,” a transcendent 5.54 cue for massed strings with dreamy vibes and bells.


Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman as Clara and Ben

Jazz elements represent the film’s other earthier couple, Tony Franciosa and Lee Remick, who play “Jody” and “Eula,” Varner’s put-upon son and nubile daughter-in-law. Eula’s theme is actually a fusion of jazz and ‘50s rock that was turned into a song, “Hey, Eula,” which is not heard in the film or on the disc. North’s cues for the troubled Jody are among the more serious in the score, suggesting the heavier, more intense mode of STREETCAR.


SANCTUARY 

Remick stars as Temple Drake in Tony Richardson’s film of one of Faulkner’s more sordid novels. Befitting the story the sound is darker than the composer’s other two Faulkner scores. Nobody could musically move from the delicate, almost neurotically tender to the raunchy, sometimes ominous low-down like North. SANCTUARY, another tale of a southern lady’s fall from grace, provides ample opportunities for this defining North trait, notably in the extended “I Remember Sanctuary” and “Little Girl” cues.

The score is also built around a bluesy title song that is not heard in the film, though this disc features a mono version of it coolly sung by Julie London. (Rodger’s  SUMMER title track is also mono only). LONG, HOT SUMMER was released as a Roulette LP, but the score for SANCTUARY was never recorded, making this a rare and impressive North premiere. North of course had a remarkably wide range as a composer, but I consider these early southern scores, from STREETCAR to the now finally available SANCTUARY, to be among his most essential work.

I frequently hear that North is “difficult” for some listeners, but for an introduction to his unique work I suggest this disc, especially the lyrical LONG, HOT SUMMER, which is as easy to take as a southern breeze on a sultry day.

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