Royal Albert Hall, London
Composed by John Williams
Conducted by Anthony Gabriele
Directed by Richard Donner
Yet again, accomplished maestro Anthony Gabriele picked up his baton to conduct a cracking orchestra, delivering the cracking score of a cracking movie.
For one night only at the Royal Albert Hall, he offered a rare chance to see Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, not only amidst the hall’s crowded “movie-theatre” audience but, for the first time in the UK, with John Williams’ legendary score played live in accompaniment. The score is so evocative and impressive that even as the opening credits, along with the final bars of Williams’ accompanying opening theme faded, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Those credits themselves were a reminder of the talent that Donner had assembled for his movie - truly a platinum-plated cast.
Superman is one of those movies that blends acting, screenplay and score into a fusion of excellence, with the Royal Albert Hall proving to be the perfect venue. The hall’s darkness provided a perfect contrast to the perfectly pitched luminance of the digital projection and the acoustics of the place, with its ceiling-suspended domes, gave a magnificent body and depth to Williams’ score, as played by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
The evening also offered a chance to look back in time, not just at how much the movie-makers of that era were able to accomplish without the helping hand of CGI, but even more so, at how much our cultural norms have evolved. Superman may have journeyed through thousands of our years on his journey from the planet Krypton to Earth, but in just a few short decades here, one could be forgiven for feeling that our world has changed even more rapidly. The movie sees Marlon Brando (as Superman’s father Jor-El) imbuing his parting words to his baby son Kal-El (the would-be Superman) with no reference whatsoever to his wife (Susannah York), as though single-handedly he had brought his progeny into the world, a concept that would never even be contemplated by today’s screenwriters. Although to be fair, with York resembling little more than a muted Julie Christie on a bad day, one could perhaps have some sympathy towards Brando’s supreme egocentricity. The movie’s sexual politics are equally (some may say deliciously) dated. Superman’s x-ray vision sees through Lois Lane's dress (albeit at her request) while she in turn goes weak-kneed speculating on “how big” he is.
It wasn’t just Brando though, nor the much-missed Christopher Reeve in the title role. Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder are all gems, with even the likes of then-veteran Trevor Howard lobbing in a 5 minute cameo. And of course the screenplay bears the imprimatur of the godfather of great-writing, Mario Puzo.
But at the Royal Albert Hall last night the deserved stars of the evening were Williams, Gabriele, and the 80+ strong ensemble of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. When this evening returns as it surely must, don’t miss it. With Williams’ wondrous score in your ears, you’ll believe a man can fly.