Bronislaw Kaper

Green Mansions [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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The scoring of the fantasy-adventure film Green Mansions was only one of a host of problems attending the production, which in one form or another, had been kicking around Hollywood for nearly 30 years and bounced between two studios, RKO and MGM, before settling in the hands of producer Arthur Freed. It was the latter's decision to have the movie scored by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, which initially seemed only to add to the difficulties in getting the picture made. Without delving into too many of the ins and outs, the production languished and evolved over a period of several years, and Villa-Lobos' involvement eventually became almost as much of an impediment as a virtue; his lack of any awareness of film scoring techniques meant that Bronislaw Kaper, the veteran MGM music department workhorse, was obliged to complete the score, adapting as best he could the other composer's work. The resulting CD, mastered from the surviving stereo sources, is still mightily impressive. There isn't much of Villa-Lobos' music here, and what there is has been altered considerably by Kaper, but it is still one of the richest and subtlest scores with which Kaper was ever associated, and one of the most sophisticated bodies of music to which he ever attached his name. The music ended up being a pastiche of Villa-Lobos' relatively subtle and sophisticated scoring sensibilities as channeled through Kaper's Hollywood-trained hands. Devotees of Villa-Lobos' work tend to dismiss it, because of its hybrid status, but as it turns out, the music holds up as a free-standing work far better than all-but-a-handful of scores of its period; the timbres and textures are clearly unusual for a feature film, as is some of the melodic material. Ironically enough, given the problems that the movie itself had -- mostly in Mel Ferrer's direction and the person of Anthony Perkins, cast improbably a young, virile male lead -- the score as represented here has ended up being the best and most successful element of the movie. Much of what is here, when it isn't relatively conventional Hollywood blood-and-thunder music, is quite beautiful and hauntingly ethereal, especially the flute parts (and the winds and reeds in general), and some of the writing for the strings, as though it belongs somewhere else, not in this movie. Certainly it is better on a turntable than it is on the mess of a visual canvas that director Ferrer (husband of leading lady Audrey Hepburn) delivered. Anyone who loves the story or wishes that the movie were better than it is can get some pleasure out of distilling down the best parts of the music. Villa-Lobos wrote his contribution without seeing the finished cut (or any cut) of the movie, to the screenplay, so in a sense what he did was to liberate it from Ferrer's problems by leap-frogging over them. Taken in that spirit, what's here can be savored with special pleasure.

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