Friday, August 10, 2007

MOVIES 'TIL DAWN--ELLINGTON EDITION PT.2

Duke

I'm closing out this weeks blogorreah as I began it, with the masterful Duke Ellington on film.



Below is one of the most interesting five minutes of film you'll ever see. (Unless, of course, you prefer action/adventure movies about pirates, comic book movies about men who are spiders, movies like "300" which I don't really know how to define, or paranoid thrillers about the number 23. In other words, unless you're normal.)

"Record Making With Duke Ellington" is a promotional short made for Irving Mills' (Duke's first manager, publisher and promoter) short-lived Master and Variety Labels in 1937. This little movie shows you the entire process of record making using the Ellington band in the real studio (as opposed to a set) and taking you through the whole process of creating a 78 RPM record. In some ways this merely points up, to me, how much more complex technology used to be -- the analogue brain that figured out the various machines required to mass-produce records seems infiniately more elegant than the digital alternative that sends music through my computer now...by why bother to compare things that I have absolutely no real knowledge of anyway.

Duke's career in Hollywood was spotty. There are a couple of fascinating early shorts (I'll post "Symphony In Black" next), his and the bands appearences (not nearly long enough) in the 1930 Amos&Andy movie "Check And Double Check", and the 1934 Mae West vehicle "Belle Of the Nineties." Come the forties and some more shorts (probably made in New York) are starting to turn up--not necessarily "soundies" but rather films of the band that were probably made, I would guess, for the all-black theater circuits. It wasn't until 1958 that somebody--in this case the visionary Otto Preminger--hired Duke to compose an original film score. The resulting score for "Anatomy Of A Murder" is such a singularly brilliant, strikingly original accompaniment to the movie that I can't believe Ellington wasn't hired again by others.

Or maybe Duke, who always presented an impenetrably courtly and modest front but who had to have been something of martinet, just didn't like his music taking a backseat to James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott...

Thanks to a man named Mark, who posted this, and who used to host a radio show called "When Swing Was King."


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