Tuesday 24 November 2015

Simians and Serialism

Killer Serialism

Simians and Serialism: A History and Analysis of
Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Planet Of The Apes
by John O’ Callaghan
Pithikos Entertainment
ISBN: 978-1-5136-0066-6

STOP THE PRESS! This book had already sold out it's entire print run by the time I'd finished reading it and written this review. However, a limited reprint is now available from the author. Don't miss out on this second opportunity to acquire your own copy of this superb tome. You can purchase your book directly from the publishers here at http://pithikosentertainment.com/

When John O’ Callaghan brought it to the attention of the cantankerous Film Score Monthly message board community that he was about to publish a new book, Simians and Serialism, concentrating on Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Planet Of The Apes (the film is reviewed by me here and slightly updated in light of information disclosed in this new book) the response was much more enthusiastic than you may expect from the particular message board in question. The author wanted to gauge how big his print run should be and I was one of the many people who eagerly sent an email expressing interest in the project. I’ve always been an avid listener/buyer of film and television music and, naturally, Jerry Goldsmith is one of my favourites... one of the giants of musical composition to support the moving image. It’s also one of his best scores. I’ve often disagreed that the music is a serial score although, as it turns out, my belief that all serial music was strictly atonal music as the reasoning behind this was actually false. Because of this book I now know Schoenberg’s rules of serialism in music can, if you are as good a composer as Mr. Goldsmith, produce melody, harmony and rhythm and still be totally serial. So already this book gets a shining review from me because it taught me something... and it doesn’t stop there but I’ll come back to that in a minute.

When the book was finally ready for sale a few months later I found myself in the position of having to see if I could justify to myself the excessive shipping cost for overseas customers that was attached to the total price tag. I did try to find cheaper alternatives such as Amazon, Abe Books, Ebay and so on but it soon became fairly apparent that the only place I was going to be able pick up a copy of this was from the writer’s website. A week or so later I went to a live performance of the score, played against the film at the Royal Festival Hall, and so I enquired at the British Film Institute book store to see if they could get me a copy... actually thinking they’d already have some in stock to coincide with the show just along the same stretch of river from them. Alas, the BFI cupboard was bare but when it became clear the organiser of the concert had also been dipping into a fresh copy of the book, when he was joined by the conductor for a pre-concert talk... I realised that I really should just bite the bullet and go with it. The Pithikos Entertainment website was, indeed, the only game in town when it came to this particular tome.

Of course, the advantage of that was that, when the book did finally land, not long before the writer managed to impressively sell out his entire limited edition print run a week or two later, it was signed by John O' Callaghan himself.

Now, one of the things I have to make clear is that I don’t know a heck of a lot about music. Almost any of my friends would probably be able to tell you that I absolutely love music and have a particular penchant for motion picture scores but, when it comes to the notation of them, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t even realise until I asked my lady friend about one of the terms used in this book that when it comes to music, what I thought were called notes are actually called tones. Apparently, tones are the sounds and notes are strictly the ‘written form’ of the same... which was news to me but makes perfect sense to me semantically because, obviously, when you unscramble the letters of ‘tone’ you get ‘note’. So, yeah... note short for notation perhaps? I don’t know... I have no idea. But either way, a little of the murkiness in comprehension I was having from the cobwebs in my brain at some points in this book suddenly got brushed aside when she said that.

Of course, being English, music notation was a million miles away from the thorough and actually quite intriguing technical sections of this book compared to what I had been expecting. Where were the crotchets and minims and semibreves? What was all this fourths and fifths nonsense? I have to say that I got a heck of a lot from this book but I did struggle in the technical parts of the score analysis, for sure. Luckily for me, the writer also includes a handy glossary of terms at the rear end of this book so, if you are having trouble like I was at understanding certain of the more elaborate, technical sections... you at least have a ‘handy help’ section to refer to at the end.

It turns out that the author, a director in his own right, went to a lot of time and trouble to try and decode what is apparently the original ‘serial grid’ that Goldsmith must have been working from which, after a lot of musical detective work, became his Rosetta stone. So the score is pretty thoroughly analysed in this book but, even if you’re like me and not musically minded, there’s still plenty of other stuff to get your teeth into because O’ Callaghan did a lot of research into how all the movies in the series came to fruition and each one of those is also touched on. In fact, he uncovered a lot of information which has not been made public before, or possibly swept under the carpet it would seem, and which is only now seeing the light of day.

For instance... some myths are very quickly dispelled in the book. I myself have always been guilty, for instance, of attributing the famous trick ending of the movie, which isn’t in the book (the book is a lot different to the movie inspired by it), to writer Rod Serling because the endings on his famous TV series The Twilight Zone are exactly that kind of writing. However, from correspondence about the various drafts of the script and studies of said manuscripts etc, O’ Callaghan reveals that, although it was Serling's idea to have some kind of stronger ending... the idea of the famous Statue of Liberty reveal and all it implied came from other quarters. Serling worked on a couple of versions of that ending but not, by the looks of it, the one which they finished up with in the final film.

Information like this about the production and the way the varied movies were produced etc. are all over this book and it also goes for the development of the sequels including, of course, the choices for composer on each of the original five films. For instance, I didn’t realise that Jerry Goldsmith was originally attached to do the score for Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and it tells the story of why, in fact, he didn’t end up scoring it. There’s lots of telling, perhaps sometimes damning, information like this scattered throughout the details of Simians And Serialism. After reading it I felt, as much as I learned about the score to the first film, I also learned a great deal about how this motion picture got off the ground, how the production went and various other things about the stars, writers, directors and composers of the entire franchise that I didn’t know before... a fair amount of the information revealed in this book for the first time, it would seem.

All in all then, despite my inadequacies to fully appreciate some of the technical aspects of the score and its use of strict twelve tone serialism, I learned a hell of a lot from this tome and, if nothing else, it was a fascinating read. It’s definitely worth picking up and having a look at this one, for sure but, be warned, Apes fans who think they know their stuff might have to be prepared to have a few of their myths busted when they sit down to read this. One of the better books I’ve read on both films and film scoring in recent years and certainly a hearty recommendation from me. Hopefully the writer can be coaxed to go to a second print run sometime so that more people can get a chance to look this one up. I’m certainly glad I did.

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