December 1999 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger





She OST  A BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY Film Music Archives Production FMA/MS104 [72:12]

SHE is available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment (Craig Spaulding's mail-order soundtrack company) in Linden Virginia.

Max Steiner's considerable score for She (1935) proves, once again, the genius of 'the granddaddy' of the pioneering film composers of Hollywood's Golden Age. This film was produced by Merian C. Cooper who had been at the helm of King Kong (also for RKO) and Steiner's score is not too dissimilar from his Kong music. [In passing it is interesting to compare Steiner's score with that of Dimitri Tiomkin for Lost Horizon another film with eternal youth as its theme but in a more benign context!]

The film itself was another early example of a Hollywood concept film where the special effects and fantasy-like character of the plot took precedence over the stars. Hence the employment of Randolph Scott (hardly of stardom's first league) in the role of the hero - very much like Bill Pullman (a wasted talent if ever there was one - so far!) in the more recent Independence Day.. [Scott, it will be remembered went on to fame as a western hero in a number of films for Warner Bros. and Columbia in the 1950s.] Briefly, the film is about a quest to the Arctic to find the Flame of Life. This is located in a mysterious lost world of Kor where She has achieved immortality in the flames but her jealousy and possessiveness is her undoing when she tries to claim the love of one of the adventurers, Leo Vincey (Randolph Scott).

Steiner's opening Main Title music immediately evokes the flame of life and grandly states She's theme that becomes progressively colder and more remote to suggest not only the 'agelessness' of her character but also her isolation from love. Cleverly the music fades into a clock-ticking motif as the opening scene shows the dying John Vincey awaiting the arrival of his nephew to whom he will relate the legend of the flame of life that prompts the polar expedition. A few evocative cues illustrate the journey before 'Campfire' introduces the sad but contrasted (i.e. contrasted with She's cold romantic theme) warm romantic theme for heroine Tanya. Another impressive cue and thrillingly vivid evocation is 'Avalanche.'

But it is the music for the entrance of She that really lingers in the memory. Quoting Ray Faiola, "Through a wall of volcanic steam, the shrouded figure of Hush-A-Mo-Tep (Helen Gahagan) appears while a wordless choir wails longingly the theme of She. "I am yesterday, I am Today and Tomorrow. I am Sorrow and Longing. I am Hope Unfulfilled. I am She. She who must be obeyed. I am I. " After gong strokes, the music becomes sensual and sinuously wavering; flickering and shimmering awesomely, mysteriously. This is Steiner at his best creating, so concisely, music that perfectly fits mood, scene and drama. In fact the music for this scene has since become something of a cliché, another tribute to Steiner's genius. The following cues take us through She's discovery of Leo (now wounded) and her conviction that he is the reincarnation of the lover, an earlier John Vincey, whom she had killed in a fit of jealous rage, centuries before, to the exciting rescue of Tanya who She had ordered to be sacrificed, and to She's final degeneration in the Flame. All the cues are beautifully wrought and indeed the whole score was once aptly described as Max Steiner's "Opera Without Arias." In the lovely 'Memory Pool/Cremation' cue, She's theme is allowed some warmth as she shows Leo the image of the man she loved centuries before. Again to quote Faiola: "This entire musical sequence is full of pleading, longing developments of She's love theme and the theme of Estrangement, interrupted by whirling cyclones of orchestration to overscore the immolation of John Vincey's corpse." The most substantial cue is "The Hall of the Kings" (12:55) for the sacrificial scene. The use of odd wind and percussion instruments for the priests' procession, wild pagan dances, huge gongs, dizzying string progressions and exciting suspense music add vivid colour. Mention must also be made of the music for the climactic scene where She reverts to a centuries old living mummy through passing through the Flame of life once too often. The music very vividly evokes the flames surging, twisting, licking about her but Steiner also has a great sympathy and pity for her too as she sinks and cries out: "I die, I die. Have pity on my shame…"

James V. D'Arc, the curator of the BYU Film Music Archives and his team are to be congratulated on this fine work of reconstruction. Ray Faiola in his notes describes the painstaking job of restoring all the elements of this album from a variety of source materials (acetate and aluminum discs etc.) via multiple transfers to digital audio tape followed by laborious digital editing and assembly by Faiola. Again the presentation is excellent; the CD comes with a lavishly illustrated 32-page booklet with full details about the film and the score plus a track-by-track analysis by Faiola. An interesting essay by Janet Bradford explores the authorship of the score and reveals that orchestrator Berhard Kaun contributed significantly particularly to the early cues. The pictures include drawings and scenes from the film together with a multitude of posters and lobby cards. A bonus cue is a demonstration theme in which violinist Elsa Grosser accompanies Max Steiner (on piano) in an early version of the She/Flame theme. This composition is even weirder and more dissonant than the more accessible theme that Steiner eventually used in the film.

An excellent production and an absolutely essential acquisition for all Max Steiner fans.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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