Music and Film: An offer the Jerusalem Film Fest could not refuse

The Godfather Live is the closing event of this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

The Godfather Live (photo credit: PR)
The Godfather Live
(photo credit: PR)
When film critics are asked to distill their favorite movies of all time into a compact list, the roster invariably includes The Godfather. Francis Ford Coppola’s Mafia-based epic was so well crafted that it coaxed the reclusive Marlon Brando into performing an Oscar-winning lead role and launched the career of Al Pacino.
In addition to the gripping onscreen action, the movie also came with a stirring soundtrack written by Italian master Nino Rota.
The two disciplines will combine at the The Godfather Live event, which will take place at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem on July 18 as the official closing feature of this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.
While the audience enjoys the outdoor screening, Justin Freer will join forces with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA to augment the visuals with a live and full-bodied rendition of Rota’s score.
Freer says there are plenty of soundtracks out there just begging to be given a public airing in tandem with the screen images, and it was with this in mind that he initiated the CineConcert program.
The venture is a natural product of the interdisciplinary fusion.
“I have long admired the art of film and film music,” says the American conductor-composer. “Some of the best music written in our literature happens to be from film. CineConcerts was founded on the principle that preservation and presentation of some of our most cherished scores was important. There are so many great scores in the repertoire, they deserve to be heard.”
While the two elements may indeed complement each other, there may also be a danger of one detracting and distracting from the other. For his part, Freer firmly believes that it is a win-win situation for all concerned.
“Certainly the film enhances the music and vice versa. When the music is performed live by an orchestra on stage, there becomes a very unique and visceral experience that you cannot replicate anywhere else. It must be seen to be believed.
This presentation format also helps to show audiences the true power of what music can do for a film. I believe music is one of the most vital elements in story telling through film,” he says Although the 30something Freer was not even born when Ford Coppola’s masterpiece was released, he was immediately taken by the movie and its musical backdrop.
“I first saw The Godfather nearly 23 years ago,” he recalls. “I was a 12-year-old boy who was blown away by the quality of the film and the incredible power of Nino Rota’s music score.”
Even as a youngster, Freer got an emotional and cerebral handle on the power of the soundtrack.
“Rota so eloquently describes the drama of the film, the psychology of the characters, the beauty of the scenery and much, much more. The opening trumpet solo is a stroke of genius and remains to this day as one of the most instantly recognizable melodies in film history. I think perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this score is that without it, the film becomes naked very quickly,” he says.
Movie music was a staple of Freer’s youthful cultural diet.
“I adore the art form. I think film music is easily one of the most important art forms in the history of music. Never before film did music have a delivery vehicle to transport itself to both the singular person and the masses at the same time. Great film music makes us cry, makes us laugh and makes us yearn for more.
But the best thing about film music is that I don’t believe film could live without it. We are somehow better off emotionally when there is music to help guide us,” he observes.
Even though he is enchanted by the sensory synergy, Freer says he has to keep his wits about him when he is conducting a CineConcert event.
“The difficulties of keeping an entire orchestra synchronized to film for several hours are plentiful. I didn’t realize how relaxing conducting symphonic music could be until I started to conduct several full-length film and film scores,” he says.
Challenge notwithstanding, there are rich rewards to be had, too.
“I think the concentration required of everybody on the stage to make these events successful makes it more fun,” Freer notes. “[It is] a new challenge which I think musicians are always seeking.”
Not surprisingly, Freer’s sources of inspiration feature several leading composers of film and TV scores, such Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Elmer Bernstein and William Walton. The influence spread also takes in other areas of musical exploration.
“It’s impossible not to admit the genius of [jazz artists] John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong,” says Freer.”
So I think from an early age, I realized the importance of learning all styles, as there is brilliant music in all styles to learn from as there continues to be even today.”
Freer, who has presided over The Godfather Live events all over the world, says he traversed a steep learning curve and an illuminating process.
“Never watch the film from the podium – focus, focus, focus!” he declares. “Beyond that, it has become clear that film music is being appreciated around the world in a whole new way. It’s very exciting.”
Rota, who died in 1979, would have been quite happy with the Freer project.
“I can only hope he would have been,” the conductor surmises. “Rota was a musician’s musician. He had a brilliant mind, and I think that presenting music this way would have been a natural extension for him, as he was always pushing the boundaries in his own art.”
The roll call of prestigious locations that have hosted The Godfather Live thus far includes a legendary London venue.
“Performing The Godfather Live at the Royal Albert [Hall] was fantastic,” exclaims Freer. “[It is] very enjoyable sharing this iconic film with the audiences of London, and I am just as excited to bring this presentation format to Israel, to a culture that truly appreciates this art form.”
Freer says he is very much looking forward to bringing the venture over here and that he expects the local ambience and cultural background to provide added value.
“Admittedly, I have never been to Israel; it has been on my bucket list for a long time. I think the passion and history that exist in Israel will be a beautiful addition to an otherwise incredible film and film score,” he says.
For tickets: *6226 and