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FILM IN FOCUS No. 16:

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

and

Dimirti Tiomkin's Film Score

 

 

The Film

DVD: THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)

 

Music composed and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin.

Music Editor: George Korngold.

Two-Disc Deluxe DVD Edition. Film running time = 179 minutes.

Disc One:

Film Feature
Feature Commentary with Bill Bronston and Mel Martin
Rome in Madred: 1964 Promotional Film
Original Theatrical Trailer
Filmographies
Still Galleries

Disc Two:

Film Feature Concluded
The Rise and Fall of an Epic Production: The Making of the Film
The Rise and Fall of an Empire: An Historical Look at the Roman Empire
Hollywood vs. History: An Historical Analysis
Dimitri Tiomkin: Scoring the Roman Empire

Genius Products, Inc. The Miriam Collection. The Weinstein Company, 2008.

DVD 80397WRP1

Rating: ****

 

Filmed in Ultra-Panavision and Technicolor, this is the most visually impressive and intelligently written of all the Ancient Roman Empire epics of the 1960s, though the last scenes are overly melodramatic and unconvincing. Naturally there are historical inaccuracies and they are discussed in the bonus features on the DVD.

The monumental score by Dimitri Tiomkin with over two hours of music is
among his finest achievements and received a Golden Globe for Best Original Score of 1964. See also the listed of 100 Essential Film Scores.

Some may find his score a bit over the top but I believe it adds significant impact to the static scenes with legions of costumed warriers on horseback as well as the dramatic dialogue scenes. The acting is top notch with such accomplished actors as Alec Guinness (Marcus Aurelius), James Mason (Timonides), and Christopher Plummer (Commodus). And the beautiful Sophia Loren (Lucilla) and handsome Stephen Boyd (Livius) add appeal as the lovers in conflict with the deranged Commodus. This massive epic film was produced by Samuel Bronston and directed by the still underrated Anthony Mann.

The opening Overture and Main Title music is one of the most unusual of any from an epic film. It begins with a festive antiphonal brass franfare lasting less than a minute that at once sets the mood for this film. Tiomkin makes ample use of one of his distinctive devices, the flutter-tongue technique in the trumpets.

Then the pipe organ comes in for the Main Title as if beginning a Bach prelude or fugue, accompanied by the huge orchestra of about 130. Tiomkin titled this main theme, "The Fall of Love, " and there were lyrics written for this theme by Tiomkin's collaborator and Oscar-winner for HIGH NOON, Ned Washington. This song is sung by a subdued Italian choir at the Intermission (end of Disc One).

To my surprise nobody has yet mentioned the similarity of Tiomkin's theme with the opening melody of the aria"Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's opera, L'Elisir d'Amore. Just listen to it and compare it to to Tiomkin's love theme in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. I don't know if he intended to quote it or if it was merely a coincidence. But in any case, Tiomkin's main theme is absolutely gorgeous and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it...so majestic and yet also very sad.

Though Tiomkin was musically trained in Russia, he rose to the top in Hollywood, known for his unforgettable melodies, including hit songs such as "Do Not Forsake Me" from HIGH NOON and "The Green Leaves of Summer" from THE ALAMO. There is no film composer today, with the exception of John Williams, who can write such consistently memorable film themes.

This DVD has sharp images and the colors are beautifully rendered. The sound is also top notch, with the music very much up front and not ashamed to show itself off in all its orchestral splendor.

As far the bonus features on Disc Two, all of them are worth watching but the one concerning Tiomkin's film score is of the most interest for music fans. Lasting about 20 minutes, it features perceptive comments from several authorities, including film music historian Jon Burlingame, and conductor John Mauceri.

The composer's widow, Olivia Tiomkin-Douglas, also adds a few complimentary comments. This is one of the most extensive DVD features yet released devoted to a composer and just shows how significent and important Tiomkin's music was to this epic film.

Christopher Palmer in his wonderful biography, Dimitri Tiomkin: A Portrait quoted the composer's comments about this film score:

"I decided I must dismiss all idea of giving this picture quasi-documentary-style music. I excitedly started to block important dramatic and lyrical passages and found myself, to my great surprise, involved not with characters from eighteen centuries ago but with characters whose problems were remarkably like our own and practically co-incidental with all human drama. They were amazingly alive, close to me...and then the melodies started to come."

The melodies that came from Tiomkin for this film are remarkable in their rhythmic flow and their emotional power.

Besides the main theme there is the highly memorable "Pax Romana" theme and a spiritied Tarantella used near the end of the film, which quotes the main theme.

The composer's widow mentions that this film was a most enjoyable working experience for Dimitri Tiomkin and was one of his favorite film scores.

I believe THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is one of his great masterpieces of film scoring.

 

 

The Soundtrack Recordings

The LP soundtrack album was a best-seller when it was first issued on a Columbia LP in 1964 --

 

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE - ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK LP

 

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE LP


Also a CD of some of the music from the original soundtrack titled,

More Music from The Fall of the Roman Empire  (Original Soundtrack)

MORE MUSIC FROM THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE


These recordings have become collector's items commanding high prices.

For fans of past epic films and especially for Tiomkin fans, this DVD deluxe edition is a must have for your collection.

Now, when do we get a restored complete CD soundtrack for this film?

Hopefully soon, because Dimitri Tiomkin's score is one of the finest for any epic film.


-- Roger Hall, 1 May 2008

 

2011 Update:

My wish has come true.

Like the previous excellent Prometheus CD release of THE ALAMO, this is the CD to have if you enjoy this superb Tiomkin film score. Because of this superb restoration of the complete score it has been designated as...

  Special Merit 

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (2 CDs, Prometheus)
- with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus,
conducted by Nic Raine, produced by James Fitzpatrick

 

See also

Interview with album producer, James Fitzpatrick

 

For comments about this review, write to:

Film Music Review

 

Hear the majestic film score of THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE at

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