Blasting drums and trumpets accompanied by enormous searchlights. A regally dressed torch-lady offering glorious, blinding fire. A snow-capped mountaintop surrounded by revolving stars. A fairy-tale castle emblazoned with light. A lion roar. These are some of the grandiose sights and sounds that have served as introductions to American films, the studio logos and musical themes that inform viewers that they’re not only about to enter the world of a movie, but that the movie is, no matter its address, an event. There is perhaps no clearer evocation of the lasting notion of film as spectacle than these brief preambles, which place every marked film on the same level playing ground. (The Warner Bros. logo, in all its permutations over the decades, has remained a consistently subtle rejoinder to the hyperbolic pronouncements from such outfits as Fox, Columbia, Paramount, Disney, and MGM.) The movie as monolith, even as holy entity: the opening moments, functioning like the glossy wrap on a present about to be opened, are sparkling enough to make one forget that we’re simply watching product branding.
The bombast of these pronouncements couldn’t be further from the world of a non-studio, intensely personal artist like Terence Davies, but the British filmmaker nevertheless begins the narrative proper of his 1992 masterpiece The Long Day Closes with the blazing brass pomp of Twentieth Century Fox’s iconic fanfare, written by Alfred Newman. Indeed it’s the first thing you hear post a particularly lengthy (almost five minutes) opening credit sequence set to a familiar minuet by Luigi Boccherini that has come to stand for arch European elegance. In its own way, the classical piece is as instantly recognizable as the ostensibly more crass one that follows: these are two undeniable mood-setters, and they’re uncomfortably buttressed against one another. When the Fox theme begins to blare, we’re disturbed out of reverie. Read the rest of Michael Koresky’s entry in the Reverse Shot Sounds Off symposium.