The Movies and Music of Hollywood

Through the experimentation with style during 2013 and early 2014, world of ideas became open to me. I knew that I enjoyed creating "thematic" works, i.e. theatres, Havana, the 1930s, and I longed for a project that would combine my appreciation for a wide assortment of disciplines.

Ideas often just come to you in an instant, but more often than not a series of events allow an idea to coalesce and turn an idea into a mission. That is how my series of paintings, The Movies and Music of Hollywood, was started.

Driving home after work I listen to the classical/jazz radio station WRTI. Towards the 6:00 hour, the station transitions from classical music to jazz with music that borders on both musical styles. Gershwin's and Bernstein's music are often played, as well as music from  movie scores. One composer who's work is frequently represented is Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Korngold grew up a child prodigy in Austria and was writing serious music by the age eight. By thirteen he had written music for a ballet, The Snowman, that is beautiful and still played today.

It’s a Wonderful Life - acrylic on canvas - 48" x 24"
My introduction to Korngold was his score from the 1938 film Robin Hood, played in the musical twilight hour on WRTI. The score is rich and melodious, and Korngold received an Academy Award for the score while earning nominations for two other scores that same year. I then heard The Snowman on a Saturday broadcast, and I got the idea of creating a series of paintings combining images of film scores and composers with the stars, directors and themes of movies.

As I sought out other composers, I realized that some of the movies with music I admired were foreign. I decided to focus on American films..all of the 20th Century.

With Robin Hood fresh in my radar, I researched photos and video of the movie, the characters and the style, as well as photos of Korngold, his signature, and personal copies of his scores. I also defined a size and shape: movie poster format at 48" x 24."

I worked out some rough ideas on the computer that would provide a starting point for the final Robin Hood, and I was pleased with the results. It combined some of my more traditional styles with those I developed during the creation of New York in the 1930s. Having completed one painting, I knew that I should target a number of films to include in the series...so I arbitrarily picked twelve as a number for the series. I figured that twelve would allow me enough paintings to explore the many types of movies and music of the 20th Century.
painting. I stretched and mounted the canvas, and began the series working from my "scrap." It took me nearly a month to complete

With my attachment towards Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra's film, It's a Wonderful Life I took that painting on next. The Urkranian born Dimitri Tiomkin was responsible for the score of this Christmas classic, but I soon learned in my research that much or most of Tiomkin's score was never used in the final film.

As well as creating a painting, I made it my mission to find the score in it's entirety. The only version (at the time) was on a CD containing the scores of three Christmas films by David Newman and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1988. It was created by Newman from Tiomkin's notes, score and cue points. I purchased a copy of the CD from E-Bay and found the score to be both beautiful and haunting. The liner notes also contained the cue points for the music, or where the approximate places where sections of music would begin and end in the film.

Robin Hood - acrylic on canvas - 48" x 24" (original art at left with Fritz
Reinhardt image, Corrected image at right with Eric Korngold's portrait,
Now, in addition to painting, It's a Wonderful Life, I decided to use my sound and video editing skills to attempt to merge the score back into the film. From what I read, I know that Capra and the producers were not pleased with the score because it was too “dark” for audiences of the time. The theme of the movie was dark enough, and the Tiomkin score emphasized the “noir” qualities of the film. After all, the movie was released in in December, 1946, and in this time after World War II, audiences wanted "light" fare.

My main concern with merging the score with the film, was that I might not be able to eliminate music already in the film since it could overlapped dialogue. Fortunately, so little of the score remained included, that I was able to merge nearly thirty additional minutes of music.

Wizard of Oz  - acrylic on canvas - 48" x 24"
I completed several paintings in the series including The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca prior to the Jimmy Stewart Museum's Harvey Awards in 2014, and was fortunate enough to present a signed and numbered framed print of my version of It’s a Wonderful Life to Carol Burnett who was being honored that year.

The complete series previewed at the Philadelphia Flower Show in February, 2105, and twice
reprised at the Hedgerow Theater and the Jimmy Stewart Museum in 2015. The complete series is also part of  “The Diverse Artistic Universe,” my one-person show at Villanova University

When I was more than 3/4 of the way through the series, my project was featured in a local newspaper, and a copy of the article sent to Kathryn Korngold, granddaughter of the famed composer. After visiting my website on the subject, she emailed my and told me how excited she was about viewing the painting that contained her grandfather's portrait, only to find the photo I had sued was not of her grandfather but of Fritz Reinhardt, the Austrian composer who brought her grandfather to the States for a project.

Realizing this I worked with Kathryn to find a suitable image and showed her how I would incorporate it in the painting. Nearly 25% of the painting needed to be redone. A few prints remain out there with the incorrect image, but I view that as making them more valuable at some point in time.

In my conversations with Kathryn, I learned that her son was named “Robin” after Robin Hood, and that her own name was based on the main character in her grandfather's fifth and last opera.

Overall, The Movies and Music of Hollywood is one of my favorite projects. I was able to combine actors and composers I admired with movies I either grew up with, or a part of the evolution of film. As a semi-professional filmmaker, had a chance to rethink and listen to the films I painted, and discovered stories about the making of the movies that I had never known.

For all of the paintings, and stories that go with them, visit MovieandMusicofHollywood.com

Click to Chapter 19: Social Conflicts in America