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.