The London Philharmonic Orchestra, subject of Battle for Music, is a grand British musical institution, bigger than any conductor or member of the orchestra, it looms large in the company of the finest musical organizations in the world – and it has done so since its founding by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1932. Battle for Music, a docudrama now in its 70th anniversary, tells the story of the Orchestra’s brush with liquidation during WWII, and is an important story of the arts, a likeable story of determination, and a charming chapter in British cinema, and certainly a film worth discovering.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 14 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayUK Blu-ray Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/04/2014
MSRP: $26.66 (15.99 GBP)
It is 1939. War is declared against Germany, and with the onset of what would be called the Second World War, the arts on the British home front and thrust into turmoil. With the cancellation of performance and sporting events, the players in London Philharmonic, facing dissolution, and the end of a bastion of the musical arts, form a new company and take control of their destiny. With the belief that the high society of London were not the only members of the British public that adored classical composition, nor were the wealthy Londoners the only ones who appreciated and stood behind the talented London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO,) the new players set about arranging a tour, a musical series that would take the Orchestra to the people. An audacious plan that would keep the musicians employed and the LPO intact. But the costs were high, and struggling to afford to carry on, an encounter with writer J.B. Priestley would be a welcome one, as his arrangement of a ‘Musical Manifesto’ fundraiser at the Queen’s Hall would be an enormous boost. And from here they, through leader Jack Hylton, would book a season of music hall concerts that would see them go from strength to strength.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
You would be forgiven for not knowing the story of the players of the LPO and their plucky triumph amidst the dark days of the Second World War. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, and having developed a passion of the music of the orchestra at a young age, I was not familiar with the trials they faced. Important, then, is the film, Battle for Music. A docudrama in the truest sense, recounting the events faced by the Orchestra just a few years prior to production (the Orchestra were approached by the Ministry of Information in 1942) by using members of the orchestra to reenacting moments of their lives (scripted, and naturally embellished) for the dramatization of their trials, the project is at times curious. But a curious success. Actors hired to perform mixed in with players, helping in key moments of the film. Those playing themselves aren’t able to generate dramatic value in their performance, but there is drama in what is happening to them. The cast includes Charles Gregory, Warwrick Braithwaite, Mavis Clair, Jack Hylton, Francis Stead, Francis Bradley, Thomas Russell, Joss Ambler, and Sir Adrian Boult (among others,) and for many, the rehearsed and straight delivery of dialogue demonstrates that acting is a distant second to their prowess as members of the Orchestra. Still, therein lies the charm at the heart of what this story is about; the tenaciousness, step out on faith that these players had in communion with the legacy of the Orchestra, and their understanding of the role music could have for the citizens of Britain during wartime (where they would perform celebrated works of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Greig, Beethoven, Wagner and Rachmaninov.)
Directed by Donald Taylor, a Londoner known for his work on short films and documentaries primarily (as both director and producer,) and from a script by St. John Legh Clowes, Battle for Music tells its tale rather straightforwardly, allowing only a few excerpts from the LPO’s performances to rivet the screen – yet those excerpts are superb. An occasional creative filmmaker flourish can be found among the brisk early pacing and dissolves that establish the mountain the Orchestra players must climb as they seek to keep the music playing even as the shadows of war creep.
The story of music in wartime has been the subject of much consideration, its role as propaganda and of also imbuing the Great British public with a dose of much needed morale during the harrowing days of World War II is well documented. Life in Britain during WWII was made especially dangerous by the German blitz of 16 British cities.). The ‘lightning war’ would rest to rubble entire streets, wrecking catastrophic damage, but the indomitable spirit of Britain’s citizens could not be undone. And in many ways, the struggle and fight of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s musicians to keep the LPO together, to keep the music playing, and to use that music to lift and bolster the upper lip of Great Britain, is a microcosm of the larger war effort at home.
Battle for Music, framed in its original 1.37:1 ratio, was transferred at 2k from the best quality master reserve held at the British Film Institute (BFI.) According to Russell Cowe, founder and owner of Panamint Cinema, two transfers were produced, both being positive separates given fully graded transfers. While dust and other print detritus are noticeable, as much as possible was removed during the scanning process. A full clean-up would have been cost prohibitive for a project this size. The image is sharp, clean under the circumstances, and utterly free of post-scanning film grain or noise reduction (zero was performed).
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Viewed on my 73” display, Battle for Music holds up terrifically considering, with the scale of black and white nicely formed and sharp contrast in areas not expected. In short, despite the dust and specks, this film looks very good indeed.
Note: The version presented on high definition here contains a scene missing from the theatrically released version – a scene near the end of the film.
The Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 audio available on Battle for Music is crisp. Audio balance (levels) is appropriate for the era and there is even warmth in the several musical performance excerpts. Some noise exists on the soundtrack, but not enough to warrant a concern. Dialogue is without issue – so long as you can understand the many English accents, mostly fine examples of the Queen’s English, of the day, viewers should have no reason not to enjoy.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Musical Poster No 1 (1940): An animated film in which colors and abstract shapes vibrate to music illustrating the message 'Careful! The enemy is listening to you'
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Adeste Fideles (1941): The spirit of Christmas in wartime Britain. In the midst of war the British people celebrate Christmas with undiminished faith, despite bombings and evacuations. A stoical view of the British in adversity
C.E.M.A. (1942): RA Butler, MP explains the activities of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. The film shows arts events, including music performances, around the country including seaports and mining towns.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra is also no stranger to Hollywood, having performed for a number of film soundtracks over the years, including Lawrence of Arabia, the Oscar-winning score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and more recently The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This largely unknown chapter of their history, efficiently told with the real players stretching into dramatic roles as actors (though clearly not their forte,) has been given a new lease thanks to the Panamint label. A thoughtful essay booklet rounds out the offerings.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Please note: Currently this Blu-ray release, which is region free (will play on US Blu-ray players) can be ordered from Amazon.co.uk, directly from the Panamint website, or through Amazon.com's 'See All Buying Options'section, where Panamint is one of the sellers.
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
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