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Batman: Danny Elfman Film Music at the National Concert Hall (Review)

This event was held as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

One of the best aspects of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival is the way that it extends beyond the cinema, into a wider appreciation of film and cinema all around Dublin. From the Jameson Cult Film Club screening of Reservoir Dogs through to the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle awards and even the Untitled screenwriting competition, the eleven-day celebration of cinema seems to encompass all the city and all walks of life. The wonderful folks at the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the National Concert Hall have a long history of getting into the spirit of the festival, offering high-profile tributes to cinema. Last year, for example, they held a screening of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with a live orchestral accompaniment. This year, they took the penultimate evening of the festival to host a tribute to Danny Elfman, undoubtedly one of the most iconic and influential composers working today. And it was an absolutely brilliant evening.

Conductor David Brophy had, as per usual, done his research. Taking silently to the stage, the orchestra opened with a piece of music that many more casual cinephiles in the audience might have mistaken for one of Elfman’s own. Recognising Elfman’s acknowledged debt to classic composer Bernard Herrmann, citing a 2008 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the orchestra treated us to a wonderful sample of the iconic score to the original The Day The Earth Stood Still, complete with a Theremin from Charlie Draper.

Just in case any of the audience might have missed the more obvious influence of Elfman’s work, Brophy and the orchestra followed up with a powerful rendition of Elfman’s theme to Mars Attacks! I love the film, even if it is (as Brophy conceded) divisive, but that score is a thing of beauty, evoking those fifties B-movies almost perfectly. It’s amazing how clearly Elfman was able to reference his idol, while still making sure that his soundtracks were very distinctly his own.

Not that the rest of the evening wasn’t as carefully constructed and thoroughly researched. Every once in a while, the orchestra would diverge from Elfman for a moment, to give the audience a bit of insight into his influences and the artists that may have inspired him – and they were certainly a diverse collection. We were treated to a sampling of Philip Glass’ work on The Hours and the overture to Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood , a wonderful cocktail of influences both classic and relatively modern.

Brophy and the orchestra deserve considerable credit for the way that they put the evening together – offering a startlingly holistic approach to Elfman’s work, willing to stray outside the canon to offer a somewhat broader perspective.  As a side note, it’s fascinating how evocative Elfman’s music is, even in isolation. Covering a huge swathe of Elfman’s work – from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Edward Scissorhands to The Nightmare Before Christmas – it’s incredibly how deeply rooted Elfman’s work is in those films.

The score conjured up images from the films perfectly and unconsciously, illustrating how thoroughly connected Elfman’s score is to the films in question, and how deeply integral it is. It’s hard to discuss Elfman without bringing his frequent collaborator, Tim Burton, into the discussion. Elfman has scored all but two of Burton’s bigger films – Ed Wood was produced during a brief creative rift between the pair, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street obviously came with its music pre-prepared.

I think it’s telling how connected the pair are that their visions are so inseparable. It’s hard to imagine watching any of Burton’s iconic films with different music, and it’s hard to listen to Elfman’s music without conjuring up Burton’s imagery. Still, Brophy and the Orchestra made a conscious effort to include some of Elfman’s other work, closing the first interval with a selection of pieces from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The Concert Hall was a wonderful venue for it, with the accustics allowing Elfman’s distinctive sound to fill the auditorium. I think that this might just be one of the best concerts I have ever seen.

The execution was top notch. From the use of a Theremin, which I don’t think I’ve seen in ages, through to the presence of the New Dublin Voices choir to provide the vocals, there was no expense spared. In particular, the Theremin sounded amazing during the opening half-hour, and the choir truly soared while delivering the theme from Alice in Wonderland. That’s another example of where Elfman delivers a truly exceptional piece of work, even if overall quality the final product is open to debate and discussion. That piece in particular sounded genuinely awesome.

On a purely personal note, it was amazing to hear Brophy lead the orchestra into a ten-minute rendition of Elfman’s Batman suite. I am fonder of Burton’s conception of that character than most, but I think it’s actually impossible to disconnect that version of Batman from Elfman’s score. More than the iconic sixties theme song, and with no disrespect to current composer Hans Zimmer, that grand sweeping Elfman theme is how Batman sounds to me. To hear it delivered with such aplomb and in such style is quite possibly the highlight of the entire festival – it was truly transcendental.

And, of course, the use of Elfman’s theme to The Simpsons provided a suitable encore. “And, of course, no night of Danny Elfman music would be complete without this,” Brophy stated as he got ready, and he was entirely correct. It’s amazing how brilliantly

The Concert Hall and the Concert Orchestra have always been exceptionally kind to Irish movie fans, and seem to always find room in their schedule for concerts celebrating composers, or live accompaniments to classic films, and I think that we can be exceptionally proud of them. The Concert Orchestra will be back on 10th May with a tribute to John Williams, celebrating the composer’s eightieth birthday. If it’s anything like this, it’s already a highlight of 2012’s cinephile calendar.

https://them0vieblog.com/2011/02/28/the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse-at-the-national-concert-hall/

2 Responses

  1. I’m envious. That would have been a terrific event to attend. I am a huge fan of Danny Elfman.

    • It was awesome, I have to say. I will gladly confess that it was, along with The Raid screening that morning, the highlight of the festival.

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