Krakow Film Music Festival: Polanski, Desplat and Goldsmith

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By Ray Bennett

KRAKÓW – The plaintive trumpet solo that Jerry Goldsmith wrote for Roman Polanski’s 1974 film “Chinatown” hovered like a blessing over a concert of music from the Polish director’s movies to kick off Kraków’s annual Film Music Festival on May 25.

Legendary Polish jazzman Tomasz Stańko performed the theme with the mix of hope and disillusionment that reflects the film and would have delighted the late Hollywood composer as much as American trumpeter Uan Rasey’s original.

Polanski was on hand with frequent collaborator Alexandre Desplat, winner of the Polanski 3 x325festival’s second Kilar Award (left with concert host Magda Miśka-Jackowska),  as Belgian maestro Dirk Brossé conducted the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (photo below).

A lyrical and sweeping suite from “Tess” (1979) opened the 140-minute programme followed by an ominous suite by Philippe Sarde from the 1976 thriller “The Tenant” and after French-born local-boy Polanski was introduced to rapturous applause, Stańko stepped forward with his trumpet and the success of the evening was assured.

Producer Robert Evans said in his autobiography that he called on Goldsmith to write the film’s music after preview audiences reacted badly to the original score by classical composer Phillip Lambro. Robert Townson, however, tells a different story.

The record producer and concert promoter, who runs the Varèse Sarabande label and was very close to Jerry Goldsmith, tells me that it was Polish composer Bronislau Kaper who saw a screening at Polanski’s house and told the director he needed to ditch the music, which had a distinctive Chinese flavour due to Lambro’s impression of the film’s title.

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Four pianos, four harps, two percussionists, a string section and a trumpet were Goldsmith’s immediate selection when he was brought in at the last minute and wrote 23-minutes of music in nine days. Clips played above the orchestra at the 2,000-seat ICE Kraków auditorium as Brossé demonstrated once again that it was the right decision as the mix of instruments conveyed the film’s deepening mystery, the trumpet melody floating above a score that is sinister, melancholy and haunting.

The plangent “Moving to the Ghetto” cue from Polanski’s Oscar-winning “The Pianist” (2002) by the late Polish legend Wojciech Kilar, for whom the Kilar Award is named,  followed and Tomasz Stańko added his exquisite tones to frequent Polanski collaborator Krzysztof Komeda’s  “Ballada for Bernt” from “Knife in the Water” (1962).

KFMF-2016 x650Kilar’s stark “Paulina’s Theme” from“Death and the Maiden” (1994) led to a cue by Desplat from “Venus in Fur”  (2013) that began playfully and then went off-kilter to pulsate with danger, and Kraków Opera star soprano Wioletta Chodowicz sang beautifully on Kilar’s ethereal “Vocalise” from “The Ninth Gate” (1999).

After an intermission, the show resumed with a genuine treat for lovers of great jazz as  Stańko joined the wonderfully impressive Obara International Quartet for a joyful 30-minute suite of themes by Krzysztof Komeda.

Polish composer and alto saxophonist Maciej Obara led his foursome – Dominik Wania on piano, Ole Morten Vågan on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums – with Stańko on themes from the feature films “Cul-de-Sac” (1966) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967) and the 1958 short, “Two Men and a Wardrobe”.

The five men performed Komeda’s eclectic and expressive music – sometimes aching, then frenzied and thrilling – with a finesse that was so disciplined that even though they played from a score, it sounded like sublime improvisation.

A suite by Ennio Morricone from the Harrison Ford thriller “Frantic” (1988) was all tense strings, French horns and the inevitable guitar with a touch of Gallic mystery. Stańko returned for Komeda’s baleful lullaby from “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and the venerable musician, now 73, had to be persuaded to return for a standing ovation.

Kilar’s percussive and propulsive “Roberto’s Last Chance” from “Death and the Maiden” preceded two more Desplat suites. Typically playful at first, the music from “Carnage” (2011) soon heated up to reflect the picture’s escalating conflicts while his intricate score for “The Ghost Writer” (2010) engaged the full orchestra and a deep bass guitar as it accelerated towards the film’s assassination scene, shown in the clip onscreen.

The audience were on their feet immediately to applaud Brossé, the orchestra and the soloists, and they turned to acclaim Polanksi and Desplat in the balcony as director and composer tore their bouquets apart to toss roses out into the crowd.

The festival continues through May 30.

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Why Donovan said he would get me a knighthood

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – When Donovan, who turns 70 today, announced in Cannes that the internet is the new Sixties, my story about it made headlines around the world. When I ran into the folk-rocker later at a BMI gathering in London, he told me it had given him  the greatest publicity he’d had in years. “I’m going to get you a knighthood,” he said. Continue reading

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The Queen, the Happy Hooker and me

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – I went to London to see the Queen and met the Happy Hooker, who led me astray.

In June of 1973, Queen Elizabeth II, who turns 90 today, made a tour of Canada and The Windsor Star newspaper sent me to cover it at the nearest city in Southern Ontario where she would be seen – London. Continue reading

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Memories of Gregory Peck, born 100 years ago today

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – “It all goes by so quickly,” Gregory Peck told me. “It’s like a flash. Suddenly, one is in the home stretch and where did it all go? How did it flash by so fast?”

That was when the “To Kill a Mockingbird” Oscar-winner was aged 66. He was born 100 years ago today and he died on June 12, 2003. Among the hundreds of entertainment figures I have interviewed over the years, Peck (pictured above right with David Niven in “The Guns of Navarone”) is still the one who stands out, not least because we shared the same birthday nearly 30 years apart. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: ‘The Railway Children’ on stage

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – There’s a perfect family treat available at 400 cinemas across the UK and Ireland on Easter Monday with the first screenings of a film of York Theatre Royal’s acclaimed stage presentation of “The Railway Children”. Continue reading

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Six things we learned from the 88th Academy Awards


By Ray Bennett

LONDON – There were not many surprises at the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday but we did discover a few things about Oscar, predictions, balloting, marketing, music, and sentimental choices.

1/ Hollywood will always protect the brand. Continue reading

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THEATRE REVIEW: Gemma Arterton in ‘Nell Gwynn’

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Jessica Swale’s thoroughly entertaining play “Nell Gwynn”, about the strumpet turned actress who beguiled a king of England and became a queen of the London stage, is filled with laughter and music and a few tears and best of all Gemma Arterton in the title role. Continue reading

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Art meets science in space at the Natural History Museum

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The Natural History Museum’s exhibition “Otherworlds: Visions of Our Solar System”, on show now through May 15, is as good as a movie as it takes visitors on a journey through space with spectacular still images and clever dialogue, and it even has a terrific score by Brian Eno. Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren in ‘Trumbo’


By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The infamous treatment of filmmakers in Hollywood during the communist witch hunt of the 1940s and 1950s should have made for a powerful movie but Jay Roach’s “Trumbo” misses the target. Continue reading

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Academy Awards diversity: a look at the numbers


By Ray Bennett

LONDON – In the discussion about diversity in the top prizes of the Academy Awards, the depth of the problem for the Academy is clear as in the 14 awards from 2001 to last year, on the AMPAS database I could find only one Latin American (Benicio Del Toro) nominated for 70 acting spots and only two black men (America’s Lee Daniels and the U.K.’s Steve McQueen) and two female directors (Sophia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow) were among the 70 nominees for best director. Continue reading

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