© 2012 Ian
© 2012 Ian C. Bloom
The uses of music in film are multitudinous. For example, music can anchor a scene, giving it the emotional gravity to pull the viewer in and help him forget about his life outside the theater. Paradoxically, music can also take the scene into another dimension of heightened reality, inner reality, or false reality.
Bernard Herrmann's last work for Hitchcock, his score for Marnie, is a lesser triumph than the nihilistic ecstasy and jaded loneliness of Vertigo and Psycho, respectively, but still functions on a plane few other scores can aspire to. Right with the opening titles, Herrmann's onslaught begins with his aggressive motif that represents Marnie's adverse reaction to red stimuli, her indistinct terror, by giving us a dissonant tremolo in the strings that is repeatedly launched up to the violin's furthest reaches. (This motif of a rapidly ascending minor-major seventh chord is applied throughout the film, usually in a clarinet variation.) But with the title "Marnie," the lyrical, but boxed-in, melody appears, and provides relief. The titles end very sharply, the silent jump from the card "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock" to the abstract shot of a yellow handbag as confrontational as Herrmann’s Wagnerian angst.
The music is not always bombastic. With the harp or the flute, Herrmann pares down the orchestra and gives us gentle moments that reflect Marnie's loneliness and isolation. Tremolo strings signify intrigue, particularly relating to Lil’s snooping.
It is an
orchestral score, similar to the old
forty-one cues in the movie, if one excludes the opening and closing titles
music. Herrmann deftly handles a limited
amount of melodic material, turning to short, sequenced ‘cells’ to fill space
before the next musical ‘event.’ Rarely
is this event a ‘hit,’ per se. For
example, when Mark takes Marnie to the farm to meet his father, the music
shifts from strings to winds upon their going inside. And a few minutes later in the film, when the
camera finds Mark and Marnie kissing in the stables, the music, intense and
bumped into a higher register with the cut to their kissing, becomes vaguely
discordant once Marnie turns her face towards the camera, the smile suddenly
lost (her displeasure hid from Mark). Herrmann
plays little on the nose, and many weighty scenes go without music, like
Marnie’s honeymoon disrobing, the flashback, the killing of Forio, and the
The Marnie theme (G-F-G-F-G-B-flat-A-flat-F) and its variants are used in all but fifteen of the cues. But Herrmann is not taking it easy. Cues are not reused. Though melodic material is recycled, different tempi and orchestrations abound. And, truly, the score works too well to betray an indifferent composer on the cusp of his notorious split with Hitchcock. Also, Herrmann saves certain melodic material for late in the film. Just when the ear has become familiar with the material and is content making (unconscious) associations between different scenes thanks to their similar music, Herrmann does something different. Good examples of this phenomenon can be found in the gliding tracking shot that shows us Marnie on the job at Rutland’s, when Mark is frantically searching the ship for Marnie, and when Marnie spots Strutt at the party. The film’s best motif is not developed at all and is used but twice, in contrasting octaves. It appears during the hunt sequence, just after Forio has been critically injured—a falling B-G-F-sharp.
Probably the greatest scoring in the movie is when the window in Mark's office is smashed by the tree, and as Marnie cowers, lost in her own world, Mark looks at the shattered relics of his dead wife and makes the decision to forge ahead. Just before the shot of the cabinet, beginning with Mark grasping Marnie and looking toward the broken window, the music becomes nostalgic and tender, a short melody that climbs and falls, as if from hopelessness, in the strings. By this gesture the fearful Marnie and the dead wife are unified, and we realize that Mark is now turning a page in his life. And soon the melody is pitched up an octave, but falls no more, as Mark gently kisses the helpless, trembling Marnie, so unknowingly desperate for love. It is a knockout scene, and Herrmann's music is a wonder to behold.
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