The thunderous crash that announces ‘Star Wars’, the wonky zither of ‘The Third Man’, the eternal dread of underwater cellos in ‘Jaws’… modern audiences take it for granted that the soundtrack is an integral part of the filmic experience. But as this first of three programmes investigating the role of music in cinema reminds us, it wasn’t always the case.
Concentrating mainly on orchestral music (forthcoming episodes cover pop/jazz and electronic noodling), composer Neil Brand takes us back to the silent era to chart the rise of the movie music from live accompaniment to the first full-length film with prerecorded soundtrack for 1926’s ‘Don Juan’ to the subtleties of Max Steiner’s score for the original ‘King Kong’ in 1933.
Things get a little more up to date with the modernist-influenced, postwar ambiguities of film noir sounds of ‘Double Indemnity’ and the woozy, knife-edge sumptuousness of ‘Vertigo’ and the work of John Williams. Vangelis, Hans Zimmer and – but, of course – Martin Scorsese add their thoughts, but this episode mainly forgoes the talking heads in favour of a straight-up history lesson which can tend to get a little fusty.
Brand is a game guide, but not everyone is going to be entirely gripped by the sight of him swooning over the actual baton used to conduct the music for 1938’s ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’. A necessary and very decent scene-setter, but hopefully later episodes will prove a little more energetic.
The Black Penny
It was a marketing wheeze that really, really worked. This new café/takeaway in Covent Garden sold every dish for a penny on opening day, and when we went a few days later there were huge queues waiting for tables and (mostly) takeaway. It reminded us of the old drug dealer’s trick to get new clients: ‘the first one’s free’. Addiction to Black Penny may become a recognised medical condition, but it won’t be because of cost – low though that is. When you finally reach the counter, you see dishes that look like those at many another coffee place: soup, sandwiches, salad, quiche, a stew, lots of baked sweet things. But when you finally sit down in the small back dining room, you realise this isn’t the stuff of two-for-a-penny cafés. The quality is high in both sweet and savoury dishes. Salads are a particular strength, with confident seasoning in the dressings and excellent assemblies of sprightly ingredients to carry them. The kitchen has a masterful pasty-maker, as we saw in both a savoury tart and a Pennsylvania-Dutch-style apple pie. They also had a good ceviche on the menu when we were there. Portions are enormous and prices eminently reasonable - £7.50 for a salad box that some people would be happy to share between two, sandwiches just under a fiver. In the food, the only downer was inelegant presentation of salad selections. The separate components were piled together so that their flavours blended in some unappealing ways: ceviche on top of couscous is never a good