Film Concert Review
Flesh and the Devil with music by Carl Davis, orchestrated by Colin & David Matthews. London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. Royal Festival Hall 22 January 2000
The LPO's series of Silver Screen Classics attracts capacity audiences to the Festival Hall, and they are rewarded with some of the most lavish and satisfying shows in town. This 1926 Greta Garbo vehicle, directed by Clarence Brown, is set in pre-war Prussia, with the Germans presented in a sympathetic light - in a pre-screening talk it was explained that Germany had once again emerged as a lucrative market for MGM films, so they stopped making German-hate films! It is a story of male bonding disturbed by a destructive woman who causes marital mayhem (two duels!) before blood brotherhood is restored and final retribution strikes.
Flesh and the Devil was shown on a large screen in a fine print, preserving the exceptional quality of William Daniels' photography and revolutionary lighting, which helped to create Garbo's undeniable screen magic. It was introduced charmingly by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, daughter of John Gilbert, Garbo's co-star and lover.
The role of Carl Davis's music cannot be overstated. The original, though derivative, score underpins the confidence of pre-War Prussia, with military music for the opening scenes in an army barracks. Strings are saved for Garbo's entrance, Brahmsian and lush. Romantic solos and string chamber music vary the texture, with a lot of cunning deployed by the Matthews brothers, more often featured by Seen&Heard in contemporary music contexts. For more dramatic scenes, suitably Wagnerian music is provided. It is not easy to characterise this score but, although I would be unlikely to want to listen to it straight through apart from the film, its quality and effectiveness should not be under-estimated.
Played with finesse and enthusiasm by the full LPO it complemented and counterpointed the film, making a combined whole that was totally absorbing. The most hardened doubters went home with a renewed respect for 'silent' films of the twenties, which originally never were silent, but shown in large cinemas (few of those remain) with integral orchestral accompaniment. Photoplay Productions have, through these presentations, demonstrated to modern audiences the power and excitement of early films, long relegated and dismissed as primitive and inaccessible.
Peter Grahame Woolf
The next LPO film presentation at the Royal Festival Hall will be Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) with music by Charlie Chaplin, adapted by Carl Davis; 2 December 2000, a date for your diaries. PGW
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