Tag Archives: Miklos Rozsa

My Thoughts on: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

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I have always been a fan of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation and his three Sinbad films are among my favorites. I particularly enjoy The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the second Sinbad film that Harryhausen worked on. The film follows the legendary sailor (John Phillip Law) as he discovers a mysterious gold tablet before finding himself driven to the country of Marabia. There he meets the Grand Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) (who wears a golden mask to hide his burned face) and finds a second gold tablet that interlocks with the first. It turns out the tablets are a map to the lost island of Lemuria and Sinbad organizes his crew to sail there. But Sinbad and the Vizier aren’t the only ones interested in finding Lemuria: this place is also sought by Prince Koura (Tom Baker), an evil sorcerer who is angry that Sinbad has taken the gold tablet that a magical servant was bringing to him. Both sides race to find Lemuria and the secrets it contains.

Kali dances for Koura

As with any Ray Harryhausen film, there are a number of stop-motion creations in this story. These include:

  • the homunculus: a tiny winged creature that Koura uses as a spy
  • the Siren: Koura uses his magic to bring the wooden figurehead of Sinbad’s ship to life.
  • the one-eyed centaur
  • a griffin

All of these creations are amazing to watch, but my favorite out of all of them is Harryhausen’s work on “Kali” a six-armed statue that Koura brings to life in a Lemurian temple. While named Kali, the statue bears more resemblance to the Hindu god Shiva (particularly in its initial pose before it comes to life). There is a beautiful scene where Koura orders Kali to dance and the statue obeys, all six arms moving throughout. Given how much care needs to be taken in stop-motion animation, I always find myself wondering just how long it took to animate the statue.

Centaur vs. Griffin

While the film is enjoyable, it also has several flaws. The one that bothers me the most is how Margiana (a slave girl that Sinbad frees after seeing her in a vision connected to the tablet) received a tattoo of an eye on her palm. It is revealed late in the film that this tattoo marks her as sacred to one of Lemuria’s gods but this revelation is extremely problematic because if Lemuria is a lost island that no one has found in centuries, then how did Margiana receive the tattoo for one of their gods? It seems awfully convenient to the plot that a mysterious tattoo just happens to coincide with the place Sinbad and company are trying to reach.

Time for some interesting trivia!

-That is indeed the same Tom Baker who played the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who. In fact, Baker got the role of the Doctor because of his performance in this film.

-Christopher Lee was a front runner to play Prince Koura

-Miklos Rozsa scores this film and parts of the score are very similar to segments in Ben-Hur (1959)

One thing is for sure, they definitely don’t make films like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad anymore, which is a real shame since it is so much fun to watch. Let me know what you think of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in the comments below and have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: Ben-Hur (1959)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of composer Miklos Rozsa’s film scores. Rozsa (1907-1995) was a titan of film music and his epic score for Ben-Hur (1959) remains a benchmark that few have ever equalled (let alone surpassed).

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I am pleased to announce that Tadlow Music is releasing a completely new recording of this 157 minute score on October 3rd, one that will feature previously unrecorded music. The music has been recorded by the City of Prague Philarmonic and is conducted by Nic Raine.

If you haven’t seen the 1959 epic, it is NOTHING like the travesty that came out in 2016 (in fact, forget that movie even exists). The 1959 version of Ben-Hur is still considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, winning a record 11 Academy Awards (a feat that has only been equaled twice and NEVER surpassed) as it tells the story of a Judean prince (played brilliantly by Charlton Heston) whose life is thrown into turmoil at the same time that a strange carpenter begins preaching a new message to the people.

When you listen to this soundtrack, I highly recommend starting with the Overture. While it may seem strange now for a film to have an “overture” like an opera, back in the day it was fairly common for an epic film to start with a musical overture of some kind (there was also intermission music and exit music) that would play as the audience took their seats.

Another track that I absolutely recommend is the “Parade of the Charioteers” (this is usually preceded by a series of fanfares). This is the music that precedes the climactic chariot race (where Ben-Hur and Messala settle their differences once and for all) and is rightly considered one of the greatest sequences ever put on film. Curiously, the race itself has no music, something I’ve talked at length about.

Another track that I must recommend is the music that accompanies the “Lepers!” scene. As I’ve said previously, this scene features some amazing musical work, as Rozsa must convey with music alone that something terrible has happened to Ben-Hur’s mother and sister without the audience actually seeing what it is.

Truthfully, I could recommend this entire soundtrack, as it is a beautiful masterpiece, whose importance to film music cannot be overstated. In fact, parts of the score were used as temporary music for Star Wars (1977) (and it is said you can still hear its influence in certain places). If you want to hear some fantastic music, please pick up this new recording when it comes out in October. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this information available.

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Quo Vadis (1951): Sword and Sandal Blogathon

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

This post is part of the Sword and Sandal blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

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The 1950s were known for many things, but in Hollywood, they were primarily known as the decade of the Biblical epic. A number of great epics including Quo Vadis were made in this ten year span, films such as The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959), David and Bathsheba (1951), Solomon and Sheba (1959), etc. Quo Vadis is considered one of the greats of this era, and rightfully so.

Quo Vadis- Marcus and Lygia first meet

Based on the best selling novel Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero (1895) by Henryk Sienkiewicz, the film follows the Roman tribune Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) as he encounters a mysterious sect called “Christians” after falling in love with a captive woman named Lygia (who belongs to this mysterious cult). Marcus, who holds token respect for the Roman gods at the beginning of the story, initially cannot fathom this Christ that the Christians hold in great reverence. In his mind, he loves Lygia (Deborah Kerr), therefore Lygia should love him back and that should be the end of it. But even though Lygia DOES love Marcus in return, her faith in God is too strong to permit her to leave her faith for the love of one man.

Peter Ustinov Quo Vadis

Ustinov’s portrayal of Nero is quite chilling at times

All of this takes place during the reign of the Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov), a spoiled, full-of-himself ruler, who believes he is a god on Earth (and is worshipped as such), capable of doing no wrong, a veritable genius (though his musical skills are mediocre at best). His wife, the Empress Poppaea, has eyes only for Marcus, and sees Lygia as a rival that should be eliminated. Attempting to keep the half-mad Emperor in line is Gaius Petronius, Nero’s “arbiter of elegance” (and also the uncle of Marcus). Petronius maintains his place in court by simultaneously mocking and then praising Nero to the heavens in such a witty fashion that Nero cannot bear to part with him.

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Lygia is not happy with Marcus

Impatient to have Lygia, Marcus decides to have her kidnapped from her foster home (since she is technically a Roman hostage, being the daughter of a pagan king who fought against Rome and therefore belongs to Nero) and brought to the palace, to be given to Marcus at a feast, as a reward for being so successful in recent combat. Lygia manages to escape though, and goes into hiding with other Christians. Marcus tracks her to a secret gathering led by the apostle Paul and Peter himself, newly arrived in Rome. While he is intrigued by the Christian teachings, Marcus cannot (as yet) believe in them, but he understands enough to let Lygia go and promises not to follow her anymore.

Quo Vadis- Nero sings while Rome burns

At the same time though, the Christians are becoming an annoying thorn in Nero’s side, as is the city of Rome itself. The former bothers him because they deny his divinity, and the latter bothers him because of its overwhelming corruption. Petronius unwittingly gives Nero an idea when he mocks the emperor’s epic about “burning Troy” because the emperor had never seen a burning city himself. After moving the imperial court safely to Antium, Nero makes plans to have the city (barring the Palatine area where the wealthy live) set ablaze, while he returns to compose his greatest epic. When the arson backfires (thanks to the intervention of Marcus) and many people end up escaping with their lives, the emperor needs a scapegoat to divert attention from himself. Against the protests of Petronius, Nero writes an edict pronouncing the Christians are responsible for burning Rome and are henceforth enemies of the state. In despair, Petronius commits suicide several days later (but not before endorsing the Roman general Galba as a replacement ruler for Nero).

Quo Vadis- Marcus looks for Lygia

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Peter is successfully smuggled out of Rome along with a young boy named Nazarius. But along the way, Christ comes to Peter (speaking through the boy) and when Peter asks “Quo Vadis Domine?/Where are you going Lord?, Christ answers “My people in Rome have need of thee, if thou deserts my people, I shall go and be crucified a second time.” By which Peter understood that he needed to go back to Rome, because it was time that he gave his life while preaching the Word.

The Empress Poppaea, seeing Marcus really is in love with Lygia after he rescues her from the fire, arranges to have him arrested and thrown in jail with the other Christians, among whom are Peter and Lygia’s foster parents. Over the course of several days, the Christians are systematically killed, some by lion, some by crucifixion while being burned alive. But Nero finds no joy in the spectacle, because, instead of screaming in terror, the Christians go singing to their deaths, proclaiming the world that is to come with their words. Nero decides to have Peter crucified upside down as an example, but still the Christians go singing as they die. Poppaea has one final spectacle planned: while Marcus stands bound at her side, Lygia will be tied to a post in the arena, while a wild bull is let loose. Only her giant protector, Ursus, will be able to stop the bull from killing Lygia. As the fight goes on, Marcus struggles to get free, and in a visible leap of faith, begins to pray for Christ to give Ursus strength to kill the bull, which happens!! In the chaos, Marcus breaks his bonds and jumps to the arena floor, telling the people of Rome the truth: that NERO burned Rome and it is Nero who should die, with General Galba set up in his place. Nero flees for his life, but ultimately commits suicide, urged on by Acte, a former wife (who still loves Nero despite everything and doesn’t want to see the crowds rip him apart).

For now, Rome is safe again, as General Galba rides triumphant into Rome, while Marcus, Lygia, Nazarius, and Ursus, ride away from the city, to places unknown.

The score for this film is one of my favorites and was composed by Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa is probably best known for his work on Ben-Hur (1959), and not many know that several themes heard in that film were created for Quo Vadis eight years earlier. Rozsa spent a great deal of time researching ancient music and instruments for this film, and assisted the props team in creating highly detailed replicas of ancient musical instruments that were seen all over the film.

The “Quo Vadis” of the title comes from the pivotal moment when Peter encounters Christ while fleeing Rome and asks him “Quo Vadis Domine?” Where are you going Lord? The story can be found in the Apocrypha of the Bible.

Biblical epics can be hard to get through because of their sheer length, but Quo Vadis is worth watching at least once if you’ve never seen it before. Made in an era long before CGI, the hand-built models and miniatures give scenes (especially the burning of Rome sequence) a sense of reality that you would be hard pressed to find today.

This is my entry for the Sword and Sandal blogathon, and I hope you enjoyed it!

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When the music says everything: The “Lepers!” scene from Ben-Hur (1959)

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(yes I do indeed have Ben-Hur on the brain still)

Film music serves many purposes: it can set the scene, influence the audience, dictate the flow of an action sequence and so on. Occasionally, composers will even use no music at all simply to make a point. On the flip side, however, composers will also use film music when a visual is simply not possible.

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A good case in point is the “Lepers!” scene in Ben-Hur. For those not familiar, I’ll explain. In the 1959 version of the film, after Ben-Hur’s mother and sister were unjustly arrested and imprisoned for over three years, the titular character makes his miraculous return to Jerusalem and demands their release (or he’ll have his former best friend’s head on a platter). The order is given to retrieve them, but once the cell is opened, a horrifying discovery is made…

Ben-Hur “Lepers!” (1959)

Even before the dreaded word is uttered, you KNOW something terrible has happened, the music and the jailkeeper’s expression say everything. This was a moment that HAD to rely on a combination of music and expression to carry the severity of what was going on, because leprosy was (and still is) a very awful disease.

While leprosy is treatable today, back in the ancient world, contracting leprosy was a slow death sentence, and those who suffered from the disease were condemned to live out their lives in isolation, shunned by the world. We could not see Ben-Hur’s mother and sister because the images would have been too graphic for late 1950s cinema (Google pictures of leprosy and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

I love Rozsa’s music for this scene. The shock chord that coincides with the jailer’s face being illuminated gets me every time. The underlying tone set by the music is “they have leprosy, this changes EVERYTHING.”

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See also:

Soundtrack Review: Ben-Hur (1959)

When silence speaks volumes: The chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959)

Miklos Rozsa conducts Ben-Hur suite (1979)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Samuel-Bronston-Robert-Lawrence-Miklos-Rozsa-El-Cid

I confess, I still have Ben-Hur on the brain (if you read my little tirade from yesterday then you understand why). And since I can’t stop thinking about the 1959 epic, I thought I would share a concert clip I discovered several years ago. At the time I was studying the different film composers of the Golden Age of Hollywood and I was learning all I could in particular about Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995), the last composer of that era to pass away.

Having lived so long, I was curious to see if there were any film clips of him giving interviews or, even better, conducting some of his work. That’s when I discovered a clip from a 1979 television program that was looking at film music. In this excerpt, Rozsa himself is conducting a suite from his most famous work, Ben-Hur.

Miklos Rozsa conducts Ben-Hur Suite (1979)

The suite is divided into three sections:

  1. Overture and Main Theme(s) (for more on the overture to Ben-Hur, see “Overture” from Ben-Hur by Miklos Rozsa )
  2. Judah and Esther (The Love Theme): One of the many subplots of the film is the love building between Judah (initially a prince of Jerusalem) and Esther (the only daughter of Judah’s steward and technically a slave as a result, though she’s given her freedom early in the story). The theme is first heard when Esther is about to leave for an arranged marriage (that ultimately never takes place) and returns poignantly when Esther and Judah meet again after almost five years have passed.
  3. Parade of the Charioteers: Actually, this piece wasn’t written for Ben-Hur at all. The music that became this piece was originally composed for Quo Vadis, a 1951 Biblical epic that many credit with launching the Biblical epic obsession of the 1950s. The music comes at the end of the film as Gratus, the new emperor, makes a triumphal entry into Rome. 8 years later in Ben-Hur, Rozsa turns the music into a fanfare as the charioteers ceremonially circle the track before the race begins.

I believe that if you ever have the opportunity, you should always listen to the film score as conducted by the composer, because that will give you the best idea of what the music SHOULD sound like (for example, listen to the overture in this clip and then search YouTube for more performances of the same piece, you’ll hear it a slightly different way each time.)

Enjoy the music of Ben-Hur, composed and conducted by Miklos Rozsa and brought to life by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra-Bex

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When silence speaks volumes: The chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Film composers have the difficult task of choosing music that correctly fits the intended mood of a particular scene or action sequence. But on a rare occasion, the composer will make the decision to give a scene no music at all, because doing so would actually detract from the moment.

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Credit to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

A good case in point comes in William Wyler’s 1959 epic Ben-Hur. Scored by film composing legend Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995), the film broke a record for winning 11 Oscars at the Academy Awards, a feat that has never been surpassed (though Titanic and Return of the King have since matched it).

Rozsa’s score contains a number of musical moments: the “Overture” (covered in Soundtracks); the “Rowing of the Galley Slaves”; “Parade of the Charioteers”; and the ever beautiful “Nativity.” However, what many consider the action climax of the film, the chariot race in Part II, has no music at all after the initial “Parade of the Charioteers.”

Rozsa considered for a long time whether or not he should give the actual race any music, but he quickly determined that the action itself would be “music” enough.

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The chariot race of Ben-Hur was an event over two years in the making. Not only did the race track have to be built from the ground up, but also the horses had to be trained to run in groups of three and four, the various stunts had to be planned out, and the chariots had to be built and tested to make sure they would hold up under stress. Once everything was ready and the cameras were rolling, the entire race was filmed in one take. The production had become so expensive that it was only possible to do the entire race once.

The entire clip runs for about ten minutes, but it is well worth it to watch all the way through. One moment in particular that always stands out to me comes at 5:35 when Ben-Hur’s (Charlton Heston) horses (in white) and Messala’s (Stephen Boyd) horses (the blacks) are running stride for stride down the track. And on a quick side note, the moment when Ben-Hur nearly falls out of his chariot was NOT scripted. The jump over the fallen chariot was planned, but Heston’s stunt double refused to wear a harness, insisting that he could ride the jump without it (oh was he ever wrong).

Please watch the race here: Ben-Hur Chariot Race and note the complete lack of music, diegetic or otherwise until the race is over. In my opinion, the true test of a film composer’s talent comes when they have to decide when NOT to use the music. Enjoy!

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See also:

When the music says everything: The “Lepers!” scene from Ben-Hur (1959)

“Overture” from Ben-Hur by Miklos Rozsa

Miklos Rozsa conducts Ben-Hur suite (1979)

*Everything is copyright to MGM Studio

“Overture” from Ben-Hur by Miklos Rozsa (1959)

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Ben-Hur Overture (1959)

One thing that must be understood about “classic” Hollywood films (usually anything made before 1960) is that in those days, the large epic films were constructed very much like an opera or a play would be. By this I mean, they would have separate screens labelled “overture” (as Ben-Hur does above), “Intermission” and also “Exit Music” (music that would play while the audience left the theatre).

This overture was composed by the Hungarian composer Miklos Rozsa for the 1959 epic Ben-Hur. He won the Academy Award for Best Score and many cite it as being one of the greatest film scores of all time. The image is an extreme close-up of the figures of Adam and God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Above is the first eight measures from the beginning of the overture (from the original score)

I love this overture because of how it begins, with this attention-grabbing fanfare from the brass and woodwinds. The call repeats three times and swells at the last moment before the brass breaks through with the immortal “Hallelujah” motif (my term for it), the timpani thundering in the background. The motif repeats again, and again, building and swelling and then…dying away into the main love theme and other side themes that recur throughout the film. That’s a technique seen multiple times in film overtures: beginning with a brassy motif and transferring to strings (*cough* think of Star Wars *cough*)

The overture ends as it began, with the brass and woodwind trumpet call, more firm this time. This signals that the overture is ending and the main story is about to begin.

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See also:

Miklos Rozsa conducts Ben-Hur suite (1979)