Friday, September 10, 2010


George Harvey Bone is a composer whose work is obsessing me this week, mostly through his "Nocturnes 1-3" for piano and clarinet. The mood of the pieces is strikingly dark, but there's a certain amount of romantic yearning in them. These are mostly expressed through the clarinet parts in 1 and 2 (which dance almost along the surface of the skittish and somber foundations laid by the piano), but in 3 something in the piece seems to break free - one would almost call it hopeful.

I'm distressed by what I've read about Bone - the man was apparently given to blackouts, during which he would commit acts of murder. There's something in his music that does suggest this, moments where the notes seem to jump out of the framework to the point that they sound almost improvised (but further listening reveals that the work is very tightly structured - his work calls to mind some of Bernard Herrmann's soundtracks, particularly those with jazz elements such as TAXI DRIVER). His work seems to be eclipsed by his notoriety, and there's a certain amount of derision that seems to be leveled at Bone, at those who would perform his work, and even those who would give it ears.

But there's something genuinely soulful, almost optimistic at the heart of his work. Interestingly, some suggest that the few popular songs he wrote at the end of his career speak to something larger, giving his romantic side a full airing only hinted at in his more "serious" work - there's some division in the small, passionate cult that surrounds his work as to whether or not these songs can be considered part of his canon.

I'm intrigued by what I've read about Bone's "Concerto Macabre" - clearly its sole performance was a spectacular event, culminating as it did in Bone's death. His detractors hold this up as further evidence of what has been called his "loopiness", an over-the-top manifestation of a humorously unhinged mind. But as lost in his music as I've become these last few days, the notion of this makes me strangely sad, the idea of this brilliant but hopelessly fucked up man, giving his life to give expression to the only thing that made sense in his world. The "Concerto Macabre" was lost along with Bone, and today remains, like its creator, a ghost lost in murder and time.

Though today's audience tends to laugh when (and if) confronted with Bone and his work, I only see a kindred spirit, a tragic figure doomed in spite of his genius. I like to presume that he was able to find some satisfaction in finally realizing his masterwork in his final moments, that it took him to a place beyond pain. But Bone's romanticism is only out of our reach if we will it to be so.

(A more straight-up review of John Brahm's Hangover Square, by one of my favorite bloggers, Arbogast on Film, can be found here.)

Monday, September 6, 2010


Your proprietor had been less than thrilled with the films of horror/fantasy auteur Neil Marshall: I'd always faded out of Dog Soldiers after about ten minutes, and I admired The Descent more than I actually liked it. And yet Centurion, Marshall's tale of Roman soldiers of the Ninth Legion waging a desperate escape attempt deep behind enemy lines, seemed an interesting game changer for him, and I'm very glad I checked it out.

There's a curious vogue for blood-soaked tales of war in ancient times, and Marshall dives straight into widescreen battles and captures every CGI bloodspurt with care. But this thing sneaked up on me, offering some generous space for its talented cast to flesh out their characters. Particularly pleasing was seeing Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (whose twenty-minute conversation offered an oasis of humanity in Steve McQueen's Hunger last year) back together in the trenches. Marshall also captures gorgeous tableaux of war and peace in direct, simple images that offer an earthier, smarter counterpart to Snyder's slavish Miller-copies of 300 (and gets bonus points for offering a soundtrack without a single lick of overblown faux-metal). It's not a great or original story, but Marshall and co. put every foot right in telling it. Even Fassbender's voice-over narration, which comes very close to overexplaining some of Marshall's more profound images, brings it all full circle in the final moments, drop-kicking this simple, mythic story into a place of genuine grace.