Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The Story of a New Film Score, Round II

In a previous post, I told the story of how I came to write a new score for the 1910 version of Frankenstein, done by Thomas Edison's company. Needing to come up with at least three ten to fifteen minute films to score for an upcoming screening, I eventually found my number two: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from 1912, directed by Louis J. Henderson of The Tanhauser Company.

As with Frankenstein, the film is another early horror delight. I feel as if James Cruze, who plays both Jekyll and Hyde, might be the earliest screen presence with "star quality" in the history of cinema. His charisma and good looks are the earliest movie-star presence I have seen. But I am no film historian...

The plot of the film is, of course, simple, based on Stevenson's novella and also upon a play version written by Thomas Russel Sullivan in 1887. In this short film, Dr. Jekyll, seeking a pharmacological way to separate evil from good within the human animal (ostensibly as a start to purging evil from mankind) designs a concoction that he is willing to test upon himself. But, as Sting so succinctly puts it in his song "If I Ever Lose My Faith," it's hard to find miracles of science that don't go "from a blessing to a curse," and, after repeated use of the drug, the evil Hyde begins to have his way with Dr. Jekyll and pop out whenever he wants.

The classic 19th, early 20th century mix of fear of the overreach of science and a bit of a pessimistic view of the nature of good and evil then ensues. But, I don't want to give you every detail. I'll let you see the murderous, little-girl-knocking-over fun for yourself. (You'll see what I mean...I can't imagine Hyde was meant to have done anything else to the poor girl in such an early film...but...knocking down little girls is evil!)

My approach to scoring the film was, again, traditional, with thematic motifs for Jekyll and Hyde as well as a theme for Jekyll's love, who is simply billed as "Jekyll's sweetheart," played by the ironically named Florence La Badie. The love theme was a result of some research. I found that the biggest hit song in America at the time of the film was "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," and, although I could have simply used it, since it is public domain, I decided to create a thinly-veiled variation on its main melody.

I writing the Frankenstein score, I had realized that the approach had to be carefully done. I had no desire to write tongue-in-cheek scores that, in any way would mock the films, nor did I want to do what I had seen countless other silent film re-scorers do: go all...bizarre and noisy and synth-ey. I wanted to to capture the films' innocence and a mix of the tone of the early silent film music approach and that of the post Bernard Hermann era.

The "horror" of these films must have seemed more intense to audiences of the day, but, the films -- and live accompaniment scores of the day -- had a certain melodrama to them which meant completely dark and humorless score would not have captured the spirit. Somehow, I remembered -- probably imperfectly -- Carl Stalling's brilliant introduction music to the Bugs Bunny short, "Hair Raising Hare," which I always had loved, and I fashioned the opening chords with their echo in my mind. The rest took shape from there.

By this time, I had upgraded my sound samples a little bit [I had mentioned in the post about Frankenstein that my samples on that one were "stock" with my new program and not top quality]  and I had gotten some orchestral "effects" -- some quirky and spooky articulations of the strings and winds, which I put to use not the J&K score; you can hear plenty in Jekyll's first transformation. I also did some simple -- even predictable -- but effective things, like using a downward-running sweep of the wind chimes for Jekyll turning into Hyde and an upward-running version for his turning back into Jekyll.

In the end, I hope I did the movie justice by writing a sincere score. It was hard not to, because while working on this film, as with Frankenstein, I had come to care about both the creators and the characters. Two weeks of scoring is a long time to spend with them all. I think I got to know them pretty well. I hope you enjoy it:

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