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Academy to honor Alex North with a screening of ?The Misfits?


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*Academy to honor Alex North with a screening of ?The Misfits?*



Tue, Sep 14 2010

Published in *NEWS, MOVIES/FESTS






The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will celebrate the career of Alex North (1910?1991), the 15-time Oscar?-nominated composer, with a centennial salute featuring a screening of ?The Misfits? (1961) on Friday, September 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy?s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. The event also will include film clips and an onstage discussion hosted by journalist and film-music historian Jon Burlingame, with Oscar-nominated composer Laurence Rosenthal, producer Steven North (Alex?s son), and North?s biographer Sanya Henderson.



Between 1951 and 1984, North received 14 Academy Award? nominations for Original Score and 1 for Song. He finally took home an Oscar statuette in 1985 when he was presented with an Honorary Award ?in recognition of his brilliant artistry in the creation of memorable music for a host of distinguished motion pictures.?



North?s ?brilliant artistry? included his work for ?A Streetcar Named Desire? (1951), which was the first major score to draw heavily from jazz influences, ?Death of a Salesman? (1951) and ?Who?s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?? (1966). His ability to handle epic subject matter led to such assignments as ?Viva Zapata!? (1952), ?Spartacus? (1960), ?Cleopatra? (1963) and ?The Agony and the Ecstasy? (1965). In 1955 he wrote the now-classic music that was recorded as ?Unchained Melody? for the prison movie ?Unchained.?


North?s musical background was unique; born in Pennsylvania, he studied in New York, Moscow and Mexico. He composed music for the New York stage and for such dancers and choreographers as Anna Sokolow, Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille. North was one of the first composers in Hollywood to incorporate contemporary music styles in his film scores. He demonstrated a particular affinity for specifically American subjects, and his music provided the themes for the film adaptations of numerous literary classics by such writers as Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Highly respected by his peers, North was an active mentor to the next generation of composers, including Jerry Goldsmith.



Featuring a jazzy and dramatic score by North, John Huston?s complex film ?The Misfits? was the last screen appearance for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. The film follows a sexy divorcee and three aging cowboys who make a living capturing wild horses in the Nevada desert.



The movie also stars Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach, one of the Academy?s 2010 Honorary Award recipients. ?The Misfits? was directed by Huston and produced by Frank E. Taylor, with a screenplay by Arthur Miller.





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In point, Alex would have never made it to Hollywood, had it not been for his close association with director Elia Kazan and the American theater in general. Alex had already made a name for himself, those early years he worked extensively in New York, creating some admired original music compositions, long before embarking on his celebrated career in Hollywood. The truth about Alex and film composing is that he was a late comer to that classic period of movie music that dominated the late 1930s and into the 1940s. It?s hard to say as to which period of his career was the best. Some fans might say the 1950s, while others will pinpoint the 1960s. It was during the 1960s, when Alex wrote scores for some pretty big movies. It?s interesting to note that Alex has always been associated with first the American avant-garde of progressive music that evolved around the 1940s. He might have become a classical American composer had it not been his getting sidetracked by Hollywood. This doesn?t mean his career was wasted, but he would never be able to go beyond his motion picture status, once it was established.


The last great score to me that Alex wrote was in 1981, for the adventure/fantasy ?Dragonslayer.? There seem to be a return to the beautiful and fine-tuned artistry that was Alex North in that one score that for the most part wasn?t really noticed, except by the fans that Alex was able to hold-on to and keep their admiration over the course of the years he became as important to a movie as the rest of the cast and crew; I of course was one of them! There were times Alex didn?t exactly relished his role in motion pictures. He sometimes clashed with the various filmmakers and studios he worked for. Through it all, he managed somehow to keep his reputation in tact and never did it waver and lose its sparkle. There was a tremendous identity, in the way Alex managed to create a motion picture score that had his undisputed musical signature. Yet, his technique was in some ways innovative to areas that I believe set new standards for other film composers to follow. Most notable were Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.


Alex once remarked that he wasn?t so surprised, having been nominated for 15 Academy Awards and never won! He felt that this was in some ways his fellow film composers feeling that he was never such a ?Hollywood-Insider.? As good a composer that Alex was those years of the 1950s, right into the 1960s, his career marked the twilight of that Golden Age of Hollywood film scores that seemed to have a separate life of their own! Of course, with this period came the demise of the studio system that Alex may have not liked working within, but in the end, he had to respect the idea that all its creative process and proficiency allowed him and others to be a part of entertainment history. The results in my opinion will always lead towards a high level of artistic thinking. His abilities and qualities are in many ways unique among the annals of movie music. He covered just about every genre, even though his career in motion pictures wasn?t as long or numerous as others. Yet, what there was of his work and career, stands as an example to stimulate the imagination of anyone who hears his music or watches a film with one of his scores.


I?ll always remember hearing someone in a darken theater once say, ?What beautiful music for a movie . . . I didn?t think there could ever be anything like this. . .? Well, that movie turned out to be the restored version of ?Spartacus,? on its first re-release in theaters. Over thirty years had passed since that first time the movie appeared and yet the music was still able to be so wonderfully noticeable! Truly, ?Spartacus? is one of the great highpoints in the career of Alex. It was his score for this ancient epic that forever stamped his reputation as one of the greats of creating music for the movies. If anything, Alex always wanted the music to be as pretentious and exciting as the visual that was placed on the film! He had in a technical way, two great mentors in Hollywood: Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann. These two men helped Alex immensely and they stood behind him through the thick and thin of it or the hassles that came amid the atmosphere of the studio system. In the end, Alex finally received his much deserved Academy Award in 1985. Although, most of us would say it came rather late, he was grateful to receive it on an honorary basis. It meant that he was not forgotten. But, throughout the remaining years of his life, Alex never would give in to allowing himself to forget the problems he had faced many times, when he composed some of the finest music in motion picture history. His was a ?love-hate? relationship with Hollywood that despite his differences saw him become one of the most imaginative and versatile film composers of the 20th Century.


As for my favorite Alex North score, I actually like his music for another ancient epic, the ill-fated 1963, ?Cleopatra.? While this movie is remembered for a lot of other things, certainly Alex wrote some beautiful music to perhaps give the motion picture some added interest, if not, quality. It?s probably the best thing ?Cleopatra? has going for it! And, I think Alex would have agreed with me.:)

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