Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Anecdote of the Week: "That's Just Not an Orgasm."


When paraphrasing from memory the immortal words of movie composer Dimitri Tiomkin, below, the Siren tried to link to an old post about this anecdote that she did for Nathaniel R. Alas, it has disappeared. Well, this cannot be allowed to stand. The story, in its full glory, must be available somewhere on the Internet for all to…savor, if that is the word we want here.

From Otto Friedrich's forever fabulous City of Nets, the story of Tiomkin, David O. Selznick, and the orgasm music.


David Selznick summoned Tiomkin to his studio one day and asked him to become the seventh composer to try writing the music for Duel in the Sun (1947). He wanted, he said, eleven main themes: a Spanish theme, a ranch theme, a love theme, an orgasm theme--

"Orgasm?" Tiomkin said. "How do you score an orgasm?"

"Try," said Selznick. "I want a really good shtump."

Tiomkin labored for weeks on his eleven themes, then assembled an orchestra and played them for Selznick. Selznick was pleased. Tiomkin labored for weeks more to produce a complete score. It included forty-one drummers and a chorus of one hundred. Selznick kept worrying. He asked Tiomkin to whistle the love theme for him. Tiomkin whistled.

"Fine, fine," said Selznick. "Now the orgasm theme."

Tiomkin whistled. Selznick shook his head somberly.

"That isn't it," said Selznick. "That's just not an orgasm."

Tiomkin went away and worked some more. He combined the sighings of cellos and a brassy stirring of trombones, all in the rhythm of what he later described as a handsaw cutting through wood. Once again, he was summoned to Selznick's studio, once again the orchestra assembled…Everything seemed to go splendidly until the orgasm theme, which Selznick wanted to have repeated, and then repeated again.

"You're going to hate me for this, but it won't do," he finally said to Tiomkin. "It's too beautiful."

"Mr. Selznick, what is troubling you?" Tiomkin protested. "What don't you like about it?"

"I like it, but it isn't orgasm music," said Selznick. "It's not shtump. It's not the way I fuck."

"Mr. Selznick, you fuck your way, I fuck my way," cried Tiomkin. "To me, that is fucking music."


*****

The Block Museum at Northwestern University has posted podcasts of the two panels on which the Siren appeared last month. The first, Past Perfect—Critical Histories, Seminal Touchstones, and Rediscoveries, was moderated by Nick Davis and included Jonathan Rosenbaum, Fred Camper, Dave Kehr and Gabe Klinger. It is available here.

The second panel, Critical Voices: Style, Substance, and Scope—The Art of Film Writing, was moderated by Hank Sartin and included Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Wesley Morris, Scott Foundas, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. It is available here.

The Siren will just go ahead and said it: Nobody, print or online, writes about the art of acting with more insight, detail and profound respect than Sheila O'Malley. To prove the point, please treat yourself to her post about a single scene in Steve McQueen's Hunger.




Finally, the National Film Preservation Foundation is bringing out a box set on September 27, Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938. This is wonderful news for us all, especially Marilyn and Greg, because the 3-DVD set with book includes The Sergeant and The Better Man, saved through our very first For the Love of Film Blogathon, and 38 other early films about the West. We will all be watching for it.

Oops, one more very important note: TCM's Star of the Month is our very own beloved Jean Simmons. Among the rarities, tonight (tomorrow morning) at 2:15 am EDT, Uncle Silas, which the Siren has always wanted to see as she's crazy about that crazy J. Sheridan Le Fanu.

43 comments:

Mark Lancaster said...

Dear Siren,
Thanks for the laugh, and for the tip about "Uncle Silas" tonight. I'll be sure to set my DVR!

X. Trapnel said...

"How do you score an orgasm?"

Further proof (if proof be needed) of Tiomkin's musical illiteracy. Either he never heard Der Rosenkavalier or had no idea what the orchestral prelude (very graphically) depicts. And for a good metaphysical shtump there's always Tristan.

Vanwall said...

Keep an eye on Katina Paxinou in "Uncle Silas" - great stuff.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You want an ogasm? HERE'S YOUR ORGASM!!! (via Richard Wargner, Patrice Chereau and Pierre Boulez)

Rozsaphile said...

The story goes that Selznick wanted all the major composers to compete for the chance to score what he considered his magnum opus. Korngold declined, asking, "What if I win?" Rozsa had had enough after the SPELLBOUND experience and said he never wanted to hear from Selznick again.

X. Trapnel said...

Otto Friedrich's book is indeed superb, but his contemptuous dismissal of Korngold (and of Charles Boyer who's shown at the wrong side of the Conversations with Cockroaches anecdote) is irksome. Friedrich's Before the Deluge (on Berlin during the Weimar years) is also very good.

The Siren said...

Oh no, it isn't a perfect book--he also gives short shrift to some films I love, in favor of his own greatest hits--but he writes so well, and with such an eye for detail. And even if I disagree with some of his angles, I have never caught him out in the accuracy department, although I am sure there's something in there somewhere, there always is. His source citation is meticulous.

Rozsaphile, is there anyone on your site with any love for Dimitri Tiomkin? The Siren likes several of his scores, but then she doesn't mind a big score. I love 'em, as a general rule. When she reviewed Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pauline Kael remarked that the music swelled when Karen Allen and Harrison Ford kissed "like the place was going to be nuked"--and I read the review and thought, "Pauline. You say that like it's a bad thing." So that's where I'm coming from.

The Siren said...

BTW Roszaphile, someone on my FB page wants to know who the other composers Selznick talked to were. Any idea, besides the two you named?

pvitari said...

No discussion of orgasmic music is complete without mention of Ravel's Bolero. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-4J5j74VPw

LinGin said...

DavidE - Peter Hoffmann (Siegmund) passed away either earlier this year or late last year. Sang way too much Wagner for his particular voice and the downward slide was pretty quick. The MET featured him in a broadcast of "Lohengrin" (which apparently has not been issued on DVD) and with his blond hair, sweet voice, and commanding presence, well, let's say Hitler would have ecstatic.

Korngold has been getting an enthusiastic reappraisal in the music world. His one successful opera, "Die Todt Stadt" is moving into the standard repertory at a fairly quick rate. You can usually find several production in the European houses and his violin concerto is a favorite of Hillary Hahn.

WV: ovago. I'm not going to touch this.

X. Trapnel said...

Nor should we forget the deliberately sleazy sex music (described by one critic as "pornophony") in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It was these passages in particular that provoked the official campaign against DS (the True Dmitri as against Dmitri the Pretender.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh my that's terrible LinGin. He was incredibly beautiful in Die Walkure. With Chereau's "Ring" for once the sex was on stage and not just in the orchestra pit.

X. Trapnel said...

Korngold's crowning masterpiece is his Symphony in F written at the end of his life, both a summation and a projection of what might have been. Although some of the thematic material comes from his film scores the feeling is less "Hollywood" than the world at war and after (especially the last movement with its sinister, repeated quoting of "Over There"; Shostakovich would have loved that). The incredible slow movement reaches a pitch of tragic grandeur and beauty unheard since Mahler (this in the parched desert of 50s music). I heard Andre Previn (an old Korngold hand) conduct the in NY several years ago and I never sensed such rapt attention in an audience, most of whom were undoubtedly unfamiliar with it. Normally I can't stand between movement applause, but the near-ovations after the scherzo, and especially the slow movement were deeply gratifying (incredibly, this may have been the work's first performance in the US).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Die Todt Stadt (from Aria)

X. Trapnel said...

Speaking of Rosenkavalier (I was, anyway) Otto Friedrich tells us that Marlene Dietrich and Max Ophuls discussed a film version with herself as the Marschallin and (who better?) Gerard Phillipe as Octavian. Sigh.

Yojimboen said...

From Manhattan:

Party Guest: I finally had an orgasm, and my doctor said it was the wrong kind.
Isaac (Woody Allen): You had the wrong kind? I've never had the wrong kind, ever. My worst one was right on the money.

Obviously Mr. Allen has never seen – or heard - Duel in the Sun - for me, right on the money as the most gloriously stinking piece of gorgonzola ever to emerge pre-fermented from H’Wood.

Peck, Jones, O’Selznick and Tiomkin – I don’t care if they’re all dead, they should all be dug up and tossed in the hoosegow for that insult to perforated celluloid.

Rozsaphile said...

The oft-told DUEL competition anecdote has never really been documented, and I've never heard the other composers named. I'd be surprised if Max Steiner was not among them. Selznick appreciated his "rescue" of SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. Whatever Selznick thought of Tiomkin's final orgasm music, his blood pressure certainly went up when the saw the final music bill of $253,000 against a budget of $82,000 -- some of the inflation doubtless due to Selznick's meddling. There's a terrific recent dissertation on "Musical Collaboration in the Films of David O. Selznick" by Nathan Platte (Musicology, U. of Michigan) that takes you inside the veritable looney bin of the producer's musical team.

X. Trapnel said...

I wish Spellbound and Notorious could trade scores (minus the theramin).

Robert Avrech said...

"shtump."

The correct Yiddish is "shtup."

Literally means "to insert."

Either David O was hammered on Dexies—which he was. Or his Yiddish was long forgotten—which it was. Or Otto Friedrich made a spelling mistake.

Meanwhile, the entire film is one long, jaw-dropping shtup.

Casey said...

I'm not crazy about Tiomkin, but he did some good work. Siren, since you say you like the big, romantic stuff, what do you think of Bernard Herrmann's score for Jane Eyre? (Actually, if you don't like it, don't tell me. I'd just get bummed out.) Or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Babs Does Dimitri

X. Trapnel said...

Dmitri and Babs? A marriage made in...well. Or a marriage of true... Oh, never mind.

Re: Herrmann scores; it amazes me that the best film composers lavished such great music on a culturally, if not physically perishable form. Until the 70s, film music recordings and concert performances were extremely rare and when a film faded from view the music followed. This, and the fact that "movie music" was generally looked down on serves to emphasize the integrity of Herrmann, Rozsa, Korngold, and a few others. It is interesting that Hugo Friedhofer's music for Best Years of Our Lives was the first Hollywood score to get serious critical attention. This, I suspect, had something to do with the fact that it was not in the Austro-German late romantic idiom and was closer in style to the then-reigning Copland populist aesthetic. Herrmann's music, despite occasional nods and the inevitable Tristanism (a pan-European thing by the late 19th cebtury), is not rooted in either. A lifelong Anglophile (and Bronte devotee), he is closest to English music: Elgar, Delius, RVW,(a friend), Walton, Holst. Listen to the andante cantabile passage toward the end of Ghost and Mrs. Muir and try to find anything in all of American music of such piercing emotional intensity.

DavidEhrenstein said...

LIsten!

I adore this movie.

X. Trapnel said...

Sublime. I remember when this recording first appeared on LP as the first issue of Elmer Bernstein's privately issued Filmmusic Collection (like his namesake, EB was a terrific conductor), a follow up to the incomparable Charles Gerhardt Classic Film Score Series which initiated the golden age of film music recording (no subsequent recording has equalled Gerhardt in the Citizen Kane music, with Kiri te Kanawa, no less, in the Salammbo aria). The only problem with Bernstein's GAMM is that it mysteriously omits the andante cantibile passage (maybe the purest distillation of the Herrmannesque). This can be found though on later recordings by Joel McNeely and Paul Bateman, both excellent, the latter's conducting of the GAMM finale is exquisite

Karen said...

Robert Avrech: yes, shtup is literally "to insert" but it also can mean "to stuff." My mother, now in her mid-80s and raised in a very sheltered Jewish community, used to sigh and push away from the table after a particularly large meal, saying, "I'm shtupped!" That didn't register much with me when I was a little girl, but as I got older and wiser it was a source of enormous amusement.

Siren, I was confused when I saw your FB notice about this post, because I do remember the original, but I commend your recreation of it. Indeed, this anecdote MUST be on the internet. One might almost argue that the internet was created for anecdotes such as this. I'm sorry that the wonderful conversation that followed upon the original is lost to the ages, however.

taci said...

Well, the siren wrote about this topic in one of my favorite posts about Movie Books http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/2009/07/10-books-from-cinephiles-past-city-of.html
when commenting City of Nets (great book, bought it and read it) and there is also a link to the post on Nathan's blog:
http://filmexperience.blogspot.com/2008/10/anecdote-of-week-how-do-you-score.html.
So, nothing is lost for posterity that a little digging can't uncover. But, like with great movies, this is a great anecdote that can be revisited many times. As is any list for our host (my I hint that the sequel of such list of movie books would be much appreciated).

taci said...

Well, the siren wrote about this topic in one of my favorite posts about Movie Books http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/2009/07/10-books-from-cinephiles-past-city-of.html
when commenting City of Nets (great book, bought it and read it) and there is also a link to the post on Nathan's blog:
http://filmexperience.blogspot.com/2008/10/anecdote-of-week-how-do-you-score.html.
So, nothing is lost for posterity that a little digging can't uncover. But, like with great movies, this is a great anecdote that can be revisited many times. As is any list for our host (my I hint that the sequel of such list of movie books would be much appreciated).

Exiled in NJ said...

Uncle Morty: So, Mr. Swann, we've spent time, we've broken bread together. I feel I know you.

Swann: Morty, I feel I know you even better.

Uncle Morty: So you won't mind if I ask you a personal question.

Benjy Stone: Uncle Morty!

Uncle Morty: What's the matter, you think I was born in Minsk a Pinsk?

Swann: Morty, ask your question.

Uncle Morty: That paternity rap a few years ago - did you shtup her?

Exiled in NJ said...

Is it just me or do my ears need cleaning, but every time I hear DT's rousing Missouri theme in Red River, I think he had his hands in Constant Lambert's pocket as the latter wrote The Rio Grande?

X. Trapnel said...

Hm. Must check that out. Of course, Tiomkin had more arms than an octopus or the goddess Kali for reaching into others's pockets (still the most blatant bit of thematic thievery I've ever heard is Max Steiner's Sibelius 2nd ripoff in Passage to Marseilles; odd since Steiner never lacked for melodic invention).

Glad I'm not the only person in NJ who listens to Constant Lambert. I especially love his ballet score Horoscope.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I guess we now know the real meaning of the O in David O. Selznick.

Exiled in NJ said...

I don't necessarily mean the melody was stolen but the method of an introductive melody (Lambert's piece was very jazz influenced) and then, of a sudden, this chorus bursting into song.

The other thing that bugs me about Missouri is the contrast with 'Settle down little doggies.' Hard to conceive the same man could write both.

X. Trapnel said...

I don't think Tiomkin would have gotten that from Lambert. Doesn't the opening music to How Green Was My Valley begin something like that? I remember a chorus and God knows that would be Fordlike.

Yojimboen said...

With respects, Messrs Exiled and XT – I can’t hear a note of “Red River” in C. Lambert’s “Rio Grande” – not a note.

(I’ve just listened carefully to Part one and Part two.)

Granted I don’t have your ear or expertise X, but to me “Rio Grande” [1927] reeks (not the right verb but you know what I mean) of equal parts Walton’s “Façade” [1923] and G. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” [1924].
One man’s opinion…

X. Trapnel said...

No argument on the contents of Rio Grande, Y (I intend to do a little comparative listening tonight). Lambert was rather dismissive of Gershwin (jealousy? maybe) in his great book Music Ho, but America was a great liberating myth for a number of English composers either via Whitman (RVW and Holst) or the place itself (Delius). More than Ives, more than Copland, Delius's Appalachia is the American sublime.

Tom Block said...

>More than Ives, more than Copland, Delius's Appalachia is the American sublime.

I'm still rendered immobile by the second movement of the "New World Symphony".

X. Trapnel said...

Oh, me too (especially in Bernstein's mesmerizing Israel Philharmonic recording), but Delius needs proselytizing. Another candidate is George Whitfield Chadwick's Jubilee (from his Symphonic Sketches). This is the America of The Strawberry Blonde and the meltingly beautiful second subject (which you'll think you've known all your life) is sure to tighten the throat and cause you to brush away a furtive tear.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I think the O in David O. Selznick is like the O in "Roger O. Thornhill."

Mark T Lancaster said...

Siren,
Would love to read any comments you might have on "Uncle Silas" when you've had a chance to see it. I loved it, and do appreciate when you give us a "heads up" about something special and rare coming up on TCM or elsewhere.

Bobby Wilson said...

Check out this new indie film:

http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/movies/Jelly/155899/1464430233/Jelly/videos

Mary said...

I've read Selznick's memos when I did research on Showman, and I don't remember any other composer ever mentioned for DUEL except Tiomkin. Yes, directors were replaced on his films (and they all remained his friends, even if they never wanted to work with him again), but no one else was replaced.

The Rush Blog said...

Obviously Mr. Allen has never seen – or heard - Duel in the Sun - for me, right on the money as the most gloriously stinking piece of gorgonzola ever to emerge pre-fermented from H’Wood.

Peck, Jones, O’Selznick and Tiomkin – I don’t care if they’re all dead, they should all be dug up and tossed in the hoosegow for that insult to perforated celluloid.



Amen to that! I think Selznick had lost himself by the time he produced "DUEL IN THE SUN" . . . or "LUST IN THE DUST", as I like to call it.

cgeye said...

Tne andante cantabile?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elAbwxtw5j8