While the rest of us spent the summer wincing at the news and Instagramming our hot dog legs, Neil Brand has been in a better place. In a Hollywood vision of Sherwood Forest, to be specific, cooking up a new score for Allan Dwan’s 1922 blockbuster Robin Hood, starring the wonderful Douglas Fairbanks. The score will be performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Brock, at a special screening of the movie in the Barbican Hall on 14 October.
You can book your tickets here. And you can read a little more about the movie here. But what I am dying to tell you, and you can call me Boasty McBoastFace if you like, is that I have had a sneak preview of the score. Yes I have. Wanna know what it’s like?
- If you’ve seen the movie before, you might remember that the big love scene between Huntingdon and Maid Marian is a curious stop-start affair. She likes him. She doesn’t. He’s going to kiss her. He can’t. She leaves. She turns. Maybe yes, maybe no. With Brand’s shimmering new score, there’s a sparkle of enchantment over each endearingly dorky twist and turn. In Brand’s words, the music ‘opens up like a flower’ and the romance at the heart of the scene overwhelms the awkwardness – courtly love at its finest. Aw.
- Robin Hood isn’t all merriment and mayhem. Brand showed me a scene in which Guy of Gisborne infiltrates King Richard’s tent in the dead of night, and viciously murders … the wrong man. Guy’s sinister villainy shifts gear into tragedy, and Brand’s score shifts too, with sparkling harp providing chills and punchy brass for the blows – and then it all dissolves into something much more lyrical for the King’s sorrow.
- Sometimes you can’t beat a joust – and we first see Fairbanks in Robin Hood preparing for such a battle. A lot of the film is taken up with these chivalrous shenanigans, and Brand was influenced by Korngold’s courtly themes for royal movies (and maybe a certain 1938 Errol Flynn number?). When Fairbanks enters the film there’s a heroic fanfare and the mood, as well as the music, bounces with good humour. But as the horses begin to charge, the blood pumps through the orchestra and we’re firmly in blockbuster territory.
- And if that got you going, the scene as Wallace Beery and Douglas Fairbanks lead their men off to war is really sit-up-and-take-notice music. The brass and the strings take the lead again, but here it’s stirringly patriotic, music to match the scale of the Lionheart’s ambition – and a silent Hollywood spectacle too.
- The moment the audience will be waiting for is when Fairbanks’s Earl of Huntingdon finally appears as Robin Hood, the noble robber chief, and Brand’s music revels in the joy of the big reveal. A jubilant theme rings out as Fairbanks is silhouetted in a castle window, and from then on, it’s a delight to hear each springing step backed with gleeful sounds. There’s a shimmer as Robin receives some spritual inspiration and a satisfying thwack of percussion as each arrow hits its target. This is Hollywood on hyper-real mode and the music matches that. How do you score something as sublimely silly as Fairbanks whizzing down a giant tapestry? By capturing the glee of it, as much as anything. A hint of radio morse code as rumours circulate Nottingham about a man who robs from the rich and gives to the poor? Why not? And as Robin Hood’s Merrie Men prance into his secret forest lair, this joyous music helps you to believe that it could all be true.
- The score has its work cut out, chasing Fairbanks up and down and around Nottingham Castle, not to mention Sherwood Forest. Happily, Brand’s music moves every bit as fast as Fairbanks and conveys the sheer joy and exuberance of a massive movie star play-acting one of history’s most dashing legends. Brand told me that although the film was shot at 19 FPS it was intended to be projected a little faster than that, so Fairbanks’s stunts are meant to have the magical momentum that a slightly unnatural tempo gives them. Let alone the fact that the Sheriff’s men looks twice as clumsy clattering after him at the speed.
- If you can’t make it to the Barbican on 14 October, don’t fret yet. There will be another orchestral screening in February at the Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden.
- Plus, Brand and Brock hope to be able to tour the film in the future with a small ensemble playing a modified version of the score.
- Plus, and you heard it here first, the full orchestral score will be recorded very soon with the intention of putting it together with the movie on a forthcoming DVD/Blu-ray release. Cross your fingers!