Legendary composer Maurice Jarre has enjoyed an astounding career of sumptuous cinematic scores, but nothing has found quite the iconic status as his work with filmmaker David Lean. Through “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “Ryan’s Daughter” and “A Passage to India,” Jarre’s lavish music has found ideal symbiosis with Lean’s gargantuan visuals, crafting enduring music for timeless movies.
Lean’s 1991 death encouraged Jarre to assemble a tribute to his fallen comrade the following year. Gathering the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and inviting a special guest in Lean’s widow Sandra, the pressure was pushed on Jarre to dream up nearly 60 minutes of adoration that not only showcased his musical dexterity, but highlighted the splendor of Lean’s work. The final program is a demonstrative, triumphant affair, with Jarre in full command of his talents, plowing through his celebrated scores with the symphonic eye of the tiger.
“Tribute” appears so simple in execution, but it’s hardly an effortless performance. Jarre is testing himself with this special, trying to mold the selections into a flowing river of remembrance, seamlessly vaulting from score to score, revealing the connective tissue that binds film to music. It’s an inspiring display of conviction from Jarre and the Royal Philharmonic players, who thunder through the evening with a striking confidence; Jarre himself looking as though he’s feverishly reaching for the heavens to touch Lean’s memory one last time. His intensity and concentration is incredible.
The most fascinating challenge Jarre laid out for himself is a sequence later in the special, where the orchestra attempts to score a scene from “Passage to India” live onstage. While more impressive a technical achievement than a visual one, it still speaks of the daredevil atmosphere of the evening, where Jarre went wild to spice up the hour.
In addition to the film scores, there are two new selections written specifically for the evening (“Offering” and “Remembrance”). Merging the sweet mix of orchestral fireworks and screen romance, the new tracks are a swell addition to the night’s offerings, but who are we kidding here. Jarre’s greatest moments are his most famous pieces of music, the top being “Lawrence” and “Zhivago.” Not only are they representative of Jarre’s outstanding oeuvre, they are two of the finest pieces of film score I’ve personally ever come across. To hear them performed in the special is a loving moment of nostalgia for Lean’s greater filmmaking triumphs, but also a rare chance to hear Jarre’s work (albeit slightly tweaked to fit a smaller orchestra) emitting straight from the source.
A television special from 1992, “Tribute” is not going to knock anyone’s socks off visually. A full frame presentation recorded with early-90’s video equipment, the DVD looks fine considering the source material. Watching it reminded me of the hazy PBS nights of my youth, which added to the fun of the experience.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is offered, and while that seems like a losing proposition, I was surprised to find both depth and quality from the sound mix. The DVD retains the feel of the original concert without overworking the sound quality. A solid effort.
An audio commentary is provided by Maurice Jarre during the special. The 83-year-old composer (now retired) supplies an interesting subtitled chat during the performance. Discussing the challenges of the tribute, his history with Lean, and the specifics of the instruments, Jarre might lack a little on the energy side, but he has much to share during this track. The best reveal comes with his admission of white-hot panic during most of the concert, fearing one little misstep would derail the whole endeavor.
“Maurice Jarre interview with Christian Lauliac” (35 minutes) sheds more light on Jarre’s history and passion for composing. We also learn how producer Sam Spiegel pretty much screwed over every “foreigner” involved with “Lawrence of Arabia” on Oscar night. Ouch!
A CD of the evening is also available in this set, missing the “scoring session” track from “Passage to India.”
Certainly a must for Jarre fans, “A Tribute to David Lean” is an enchanting evening set aside for a cinema master, flush with the kind of epic sweep that the director craved and that Jarre spent a good portion of his career trying to keep up with. It’s only an hour long, but it manages to resuscitate a lifetime of moviegoing feelings that extend far beyond the DVD experience.Rating: A-