Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pipe Organs of Crom! The Conan Soundtrack Lives Again...

Basil Poledouris' score for the classic (well, it might not be a masterpiece, but it has attained classic status) 1982 film, Conan the Barbarian, is one of the great fantasy film scores of all time. Without a blush, I would rank it alongside the Star Wars trilogy, the Lord of the Rings films, and (to move into science fiction), Horner and Goldsmith's Star Trek scores. Watch the film again sometime and notice how symphonic the movie is: it's almost all music, with hardly any dialogue, or little more than a page here and there.  It's almost a silent film in this regard, though a silent film with a score--making what could be a very stupid movie incredibly beautiful throughout. Certain moments even come close to ballet, such as the famous "Orgy" scene, where Conan and his companions sneak into the palace smeared with white and black paint to blend into the background. Watch how the worshippers sway to the slyly seductive music, while the thieves clamber about the set, always in time with the music. It's stunning stuff--but would mean absolutely nothing without the music.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Machiavelli Among The Stars: A Re-Reading of Frank Herbert’s Dune

“How would you like to live billions upon billions of lives?” Paul asked. “There’s a fabric of legends for you! Think of all those experiences, the wisdom they’d bring. But wisdom tempers love, doesn’t it? And it puts a new shape on hate. Now can you tell what’s ruthless unless you’ve plumbed the depths of both cruelty and kindness? You should fear me, Mother. I am the Kwisatz Haderach.”

If someone asked me what my favorite science fiction book was, my immediate instinct would be to shout: “easy, Frank Herbert’s, Dune!” However, my actual memories of the book were hazy, colored largely by David Lynch’s eccentric adaptation of the book (which I still adore). So which Dune was I responding to, book or film? To answer this question, I decided to re-read the first book (at least) to separate fact from fiction, myth from matter. The results surprised me, but largely in the way I expected. For one, the book is much better than I remembered, and certainly a far more complete work of art than the film. In many ways, Dune is the work Machiavelli would write if he was born in the early 20th century rather than the 15th. Indeed, it bears the unmistakable stamp of the Italian Renaissance in its philosophy, political intrigue, and bizarre characters, any one of which might have existed in the courts of Lorenzo di Medici. When I read Dune, I was haunted by memories of not only The Prince, but works such as Castiglione’s The Courtier and More’s Utopia—as well as a subtle perfume of Shakespeare’s darker works such as Measure for Measure or King Lear. I say this not only because of the work’s literary merit, but because it shares age-old themes about power and the sacrifices required to maintain it. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Novels Aren’t Movies: Or, Why The Book is Always Better

We live in an age of film and digital media, which often exists uncomfortably with the world of the book, that wayward child of libraries and cathedrals, thinkers and scoundrels. Since most books today are novels, their direct pedigree goes back to the eighteenth century, when diverse literary forms such as the romance, the travel narrative, and the spiritual autobiography became entangled in a hodge-podge contraption which captured the emerging middle-class’ imagination. Indeed, some of the first novels were dramatic collections of letters detailing the melodramatic pursuit of a young girl’s chastity (Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa), or the no-nonsense journal of a castaway forced to create a replica of England in “savage” lands (Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe).