Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bronislau Kaper: LILI



Orchestrations: Robert Franklyn, Skip Martin – Film Score Monthly vol. 8, no. 15, TT: 72.21,  22 tracks (mono)

Producer: Lukas Kendall Performed: MGM Orchestra and Stars, Conductor: Hans Sommer

by Ross Care

Climaxing with its monumental 3-disc set of Mutiny on the Bounty, Film Score Monthly has single handedly brought about a revival of the film music of the talented, versatile (and until now relatively lesser known) Bronislau Kaper, a composer discovered in  the 1930s by the beloved (by some) father of MGM himself, Louis B. Mayer. On a European tour Mayer heard Kaper’s melodic songs and signed the composer on the spot. While amply fulfilling LB’s faith in his song (and hit) writing potential during the ‘30s and ‘40s, Kaper also developed into a composer of major symphonic scores as well.

One film, Green Dolphin Street (1947), covered both bases: its epic symphonic score also produced one of the great melodies and popular jazz standards of the era, “Green Dolphin Street,” a song covered by a variety of artists including Miles Davis and Nancy Wilson over the ‘40s and ‘50s.


 PHOTO: Leslie Caron appears at the American CINEMATHEQUE screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

Kaper returned to his songwriter roots in 1953 when he chose to score an intimate “quasi musical” entitled Lili over the epic Plymouth Adventure. Lukas Kendall’s liner description of Lili is an apt one, for the film includes only one song, “Hi –Lili, Hi-Lo.” It’s an unforgettable one, however, and beautifully serves as the haunting theme for the film’s bittersweet romance, the story of an orphaned French waif’s discovery of Life and Love in a touring provincial carnival. Kaper’s theme song, a simple, haunting Continental waltz with lyrics by screenwriter, Helen Deutsch, became one of the most popular movie themes of the decade.

The film’s carnival setting provides a pleasant blur between source music and traditional underscoring. Kaper provides a colorful kaleidoscope of melodies, ranging from energetic and witty background music for the various acts to bittersweet waltzes. (The cue “Magic Act” includes both). Many of the actual film’s 12 tracks heard here are in this intimate  mode. Some are scored for solo accordion while even the ensemble pieces are intimate enough to forego the impression that the carnival is touring with the Paris Philharmonic.

Orchestral sound does come to the fore in the two dream ballets, the sophisticated “Adoration,” a glittering set piece with a new theme that was recycled in later MGM films, and a jazzy, big-band interlude (for the carnival sexpot,  Zsa-Zsa Gabor), and “Lili and the Puppets,” based on the film’s main theme. A more traditional underscoring mode is heard in the very dramatic “Ladderpole,” when the despairing Lili contemplates suicide near the opening of the film, and in “Curtain Down” and “Lili Leaves Paul” near the end when complications arise in the story’s central relationship. The latter cue leads into the second ballet that alternates both modes, but climaxes in a deliriously romantic orchestral epiphany.

The Lili’s lyrical Continental mode also reminds me of Nino Rota’s use of similar melodies in Fellini films such as La Strada. Indeed the “Magic Waltz” seems suggestive of Rota’s later “E Poi” in La Dolce Vita. Bonus material (tracks 13/22) includes alternate takes, piano rehearsal   cues, and an interrupted stereo cut of Caron and Mel Ferrer’s version of the title tune (which reached #30 on the Hit Parade in 1953).

The attractive booklet with color scenes from the beautifully designed film includes a photo of the original extended-play 45rpm soundtrack, which included the only four original tracks issued at the film’s original release.

- Ross Care

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