High Noon

Jun. 19th, 2010 11:27 am
stickmaker: (Default)
I have pretty good ears. For years I wondered what the strange percussion instrument played in the opening credits music of the movie _High Noon_ was. The same part was played by things such as drums in other versions, but the sound was distinctly different. Even the version Tex Ritter released later used a different instrument.

I finally got a CD with the sound track. The pamphlet included had a great deal of information on the movie and its production, including the music. That odd, eerie percussion is actually more interesting than I had imagined.

The Hammond Novachord ( http://www.novachord.com/ ) was the first commercial keyboard synthesizer. Introduced in 1938, its career was cut short by the War. Even today, though, there are fans of the instrument.

So, how did it come to be used in a Western? Dimitri Tiomkin wanted something particular for the title music, and was willing to experiment to get it. Pianist Ray Turner discovered that if he set the switches on the studio Novachord a certain way and struck the keys in a certain way the result was an eerie, percussive sound.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
stickmaker: (Default)
_High Noon_ is in many ways the quintessential western movie, yet it actually omits many of the tropes of westerns. It even violates many of the elements normally considered necessary for a successful movie. For example, you get the whole story in the lyrics of the title song, instead of having the plot evolve from dialog and action. Then you watch it play out in real time. Despite these divergences from convention, the movie has wide appeal. The morality play nature - love vs. duty, honor vs. pragmatism - is eternal.

Though plot is very basic, it is not a simple movie. The hero is conflicted on several levels. If he just does what he had planned to do - leave town with his new bride - he avoids trouble, and maybe saves the town trouble. But if the bad guy doesn't find his target there, won't he just switch to the town as a whole? The bad guy hasn't actually done anything wrong, yet, but everyone knows he plans to. The hero is a lawman; it's his duty to not only protect the town but to stop lawbreakers. But if he's not there, the bad guy may simply leave without doing anything wrong, in which case, staying could incite violence.

All his friends urge him to leave, including his mentor. No-one will help him, including his mentor (who wants to but is physically unable. "You'd get yourself killed lookin' after me.").

There are many interesting contrasting elements in this story. Aging hero and young bride, of different faiths. Loyalty, revenge, ambition. Fate vs. freedom of choice. People violating their principles and oaths, for reasons good as well as bad. It upholds the spirit of the classic western while deliberately ignoring or turning on their heads many of the cliches of traditional western movies.

Made during the McCarthy era, written by a blacklisted screenwriter, it was condemned by both US anti-communists and the Soviet Union. It was praised by both the American left and - though later - by conservatives. All of them giving the same reason: It portrays a determined individual defying the morally weak to defeat evil.

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