RADIO / Hear the film score's swan-song: Dermot Clinch reviews Listening in the Dark and Anorak of Fire

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The Independent Culture
Given the terrifying string chords that accompany the shower scene in Psycho, it was a surprise to learn from Radio 3 last week that Hitchcock doubted the value of music in film. He excluded it entirely from early versions of Lifeboat: after all, he argued, you'd never find an orchestra hanging around in the Atlantic waiting for ships to sink.

To which one disgruntled composer, fearing perhaps for his livelihood, responded by asking how a camera came to be there.

It was a neat story to kick off a four-part series about music in film. However, the anecdote's main role was to back up the central premise of Listening in the Dark - that 'cinema can't work without music'. You only have to look at a home video to see that this is untrue, but nobody had bothered.

It was a shame that an otherwise intelligent series shrank from debating its own terms, but it had few other drawbacks. Over four consecutive nights - bold, no-nonsense scheduling - the programmes delivered a thorough survey of music in film. From the influence of rock 'n' roll, through the use and abuse of indigenous music in the depiction of foreign cultures, to cinema as the great patron of composers, it was an ear-opening run-through.

Michael Nyman, Maurice Jarre, Elmer Bernstein, the late Henry Mancini: the documentary truffled up some big names. Top of the chart was Ennio Morricone. His score or The Mission - a gorgeous pastiche of a Baroque oboe concerto, could be heard vibrating through more than one of the programmes. It was as good as anything you might hear in a concert hall. Morricone came across as a serious genius altogether, belonging to 'the Roman school of composition dating from Palestrina', and claiming that at least one of his scores derived from a rhythmic template based on music by the 17th-century Italian harpsichordist Girolamo Frescobaldi. Nobody argued with him.

The sobering news was saved until last. Cinema - the great musical patron of our century - is abandoning composers. With record companies and film studios now owned by conglomerates with an interest in cross-promotion, the day of the 'music supervisor' is upon us - he whose weighty job it is to know which pop song to insert into which film. It all sounded mighty gloomy, the way the presenter, Phillip Dodd, talked about it. Let's hope it was just one final flourish in his over-dramatic script.

If Listening in the Dark was marred by an apparent belief that the more fancy phrases you pile on top of a script, the closer you get to the truth, Radio 4's Thirty Minute Theatre, 'Anorak of Fire', had script problems of a different order. It had a bad script. Humour is, of course, a funny thing, but it did look on paper as though this comic monologue - a 'triumph at Edinburgh' - might raise a few laughs. In the event it had to be endured with grim stoicism.

The climax of the piece came when Gus Gascoigne, the train-spotting hero, mistook a low moan of passion from his partner - Jackie, a check-out girl from Boots - for the whistle of a train. It was the end of Gus's relationship, and he soon reverted, we understood, to his sad and lonely life.

Alan Bennett might just have made a go of the subject matter. However, 'You can't get Aids from standing by a railway track', and 'It's etched on my memory like losing my virginity would have been if I had lost it' are not exactly lines of Bennett standard. James Holmes delivered them bravely and the production itself - a continuous, barely audible clanking of points and porters' trolleys in the background - was tastefully restrained. But it was not challenging enough: too many bad jokes being lobbed at too many defenceless sitting ducks.

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