cover art for Svengali



No Soundtrack Release

The Movie

Finally saw it, courtsey YouTube. I think the poster above is misleading.

I never read the original novel, Trilby, no its various movie adaptations; all I know is what I read in Wikipedia and now from having seen the show.

The film takes place in modern (1983) time. Peter O'Toole plays a Hungarian immigrant who was a musical singing star who lost his voice. He was famous for playing Svengali; now he makes a living as a domineering vocal coach. Jodie Foster is a young singer in a garage band who's discovered by talent agent Elizabeth Ashley, who refers to her O'Toole to develop her singing skills.

People are more likely to draw comparisons to Shaw's Pygmalian and the later musical adaptation My Fair Lady, but this is different. Shaw's Henry Higgins was disinterested in Liza as anything more than something he created and set out in the world; Shaw detested any alterations to his play that tried to introduce a love story where Higgins and Liza got together. And of course, that's exactly what happened with My Fair Lady, though again, Higgins was the puppeteer throughout most of the story, and I got the impression life after the curtain drop was going to continue to be Higgins-dominant and a lot of time spent in court-ordered marriage counseling.

This seems much more like a feminist version. Foster's the one who makes all the dramatic choices. O'Toole's character is reluctant throughout. There's never a theme here that O'Toole is truly manipulative. He's loud and abrasive but he doesn't seem to want to use her. When it becomes a love story, it's Foster who talks O'Toole into it.

If anything, it seems to me that this is the most realistic version of the story that I've seen. These seem the closest to real people with real emotions and real minds. It's complicated and it's messy, as life is.

I thought it was well done. Considering it's got both Peter O'Toole and Jodie Foster, who are still name stars, I have no idea why this movie isn't on DVD or Blu-Ray, nor why it never seem to run on TV.

The Music

It's a very good Barry score; typical of his sound in the early 1980s. It works great with the story, which is very personal and emotional. I wish it would get a soundtrack release, even if it has to be paired up with something else to have enough music to make it worthwhile.

The three songs (lyrics by Don Black) haven't aged so well. This is from the early 80s and it has that adult contemporary sound of the time, kind of a Country-Crossover, that worked well for people like Helen Reddy and Anne Murray. Now forty years later it just doesn't work so well. It's not a surprise that the best song in the film is the one Foster sings to O'Toole's solo piano accompaniment. According to the book John Barry: the Man with the Midas Touch, a plan to release a couple of the songs foundered from record company disinterest. It would be interesting to take a couple of the best songs and give them modern arrangements for someone like Adele or Carrie Underwood, and see if they play.

Release Notes

No soundtrack release, which isn't entirely surprising for a made-for-TV movie.

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