1.0.1(=ssax).0 - 0110 - keyboard - theremin - perc(2): timp/xyl/drum kit/cyms/gong - 2 vln.vlc.db
Score and parts for hire
I have wanted to score this film since 1986. It was the second film I ever accompanied as an improvising pianist and its theatricality and intensity seduced me on first viewing of the ropey 16mm print then available. When Photoplay mooted (some years ago) the idea of writing a new score for the film with the breathtaking newly available 35mm material I wanted that chance very badly. Why? Because I have realised that my love of cinema comes down primarily to a love of genre.
Leaving the cinema as a child with film music echoing in my head prepared me for a career with silent cinema that I could never have predicted. When I watch films now, silent and sound, I love stumbling across the familiar in the narrative, the recognition of situations visited before which speak with a musical voice bringing instant recall and gratification. The comedy horror genre has given me tremendous pleasure and an equal amount of musical ammunition over the years. Whether in theatre, cinema or fairground I would buy in wholeheartedly to the idea of scary fun. As a composer, to be a player in that game was a huge ambition. Now it has been realised in full, for although The Cat and the Canary may have been the first of its kind the genre it spawned obviously sprang to life fully formed.
Paul Leni gave us the Haunted House of childhood and populated it with the characters of Gothic horror filtered through a wit that was pure 20s. I knew I wanted to create a musical world for these characters to inhabit which was redolent of the Agatha Christie mysteries, the spoofs like Sleuth, Murder by Death and the Laurel and Hardy Murder Mystery (a direct descendent of C and C) but which also prefigured the glory days of Universal Horror to come, of The Bride of Frankenstein and The Old Dark House. I knew I wanted laughs and shivers in equal measure (Bob Hope in the remake) but real warmth and genuine terror when necessary (Psycho and The Spiral Staircase). I wanted the audience to leap out of their seats in shock at the one moment brilliantly directed to make them do just that. Above all I realised that in a sense the band had to be as eccentric and theatrical as the characters in the play. So out of the window went the piano, a crutch I have used in my scoring for too many years – instead I tried to trust to the colours of a real ensemble - flute cosying up to Cathedral Organ, vibraphone to harpsichord, string trio to blaring brass - and over them all, like the ghoulish portrait of Cyrus West himself, the glowering presence of the Theremin.
Celia Sheen taught me all I know about the Theremin and I am indebted to her for her demonstrations of its warmth as well as its Sci-Fi exoticism. I wanted Theremin as an hommage to Waxman and Rosza but I knew it had to be used sparingly. Thankfully its use was already constrained by the plot. The Theremin is the sound of the Cat.
Apart from underestimating the problems of scoring a film in real time and with consecutive narrative (oh for the breather of a title announcing ‘Came the Dawn’!) and the challenge of a film which had so many wonderful things about it that I could potentially ruin I found The Cat and the Canary a joy to work with. The orchestral colouring gave me the chance to ‘turn on a sixpence’ from one emotion to the next while the themes themselves seemed to grow out of the situations, rather than be imposed on them. My only regret was the lack of screen time to really develop a ‘Love Theme’ (it’s in the Overture). Otherwise the musical opportunities came and went from minute to minute, the film’s dancing intelligence daring the music to share the joke, particularly the lunacies of plot and character, and giggle along with the experience. With the latitude given me by Kevin and Patrick and the enormous and masterly contribution of maestro Timothy Brock I have been to musical places I never thought I would see as a composer and I am enormously grateful for the experience.
The Cat and the Canary is, to my mind, about nothing more than having a thoroughly entertaining time and being dumped off at the end of the ride with a daft smile wrapped across one’s face. The process of scoring it did that for me. I hope very much the score helps to do that for you.
© Neil Brand