Composer Jean Sibelius with his wife Ainola in November, 1955.
The movie Lincoln, bound to win Oscars galore, got only three stars from this movie-goer. But it would have got 4½ if it hadn't used the overrated music of the overrated John Williams to keep telling me what to think and feel about what I was watching.
On lots of occasions when Daniel Day-Lewis, as Lincoln, began to move his lips, soft and syrupy music would strike up. It, the music, said ''Pay special attention this. This is really profound. Isn't he a wonderful man! A kind of American Jesus, really.''
No one else in the movie, even though it is a movie of speeches, ever gets this artificial assistance. This seems a shame. For example, a speech by a surrendering enemy, as an end to the Civil War was negotiated, sounded intellectually really rather profound to me, but couldn't have been because (director) Steven Spielberg, who knows best, withheld all musical help from it. By contrast, one of Lincoln's sentimental statements about the loveliness of democracy got the accompaniment of music that said: ''Yes, there's nothing quite like democracy. It is the system God wants and chose for us, the Americans. It is the American way. If only the rest of the world, especially unhappy, misguided China, was as decent and just as we are.''
This emotional prompting is even more irritating when used by my ABC to enrich the contents of documentary and current affairs shows. ABC TV's Australian Story is the worst offender (Australian Story never allows us to come to our own independent conclusions about anyone or anything) but music is even used in magaziney parts of shows like 7.30 to point out to us that something is more tragic than we realise or that someone is more brave than we will notice without help from some tear-jerking syrup.
Lincoln reminds us of what a shame it is that motion pictures with sound were ever invented. These so-called ''talkies'' are only a passing fad (begun in 1927) and the sooner we return to silent movies and the superior intellectual demands they make of us the better.
And yet, the columnist wrote, engaging in that rigorous self-examination of his motives that so endears him to readers everywhere, perhaps I am just jealous. If I could, would I have music break out at places in my columns so as to emotionally butter up readers? Yes, I think I might.
And surely the day is at hand when digital versions of my columns will be able to appear with, at appropriate points, emerging surges of music that tell readers what to feel. Speed the day! I shall use a lot of Sibelius, my favourite composer. Whenever I am making a ringing declaration of principle about something, the last, soul-stimulating movement of his Third Symphony will begin to swirl behind and through my prose. When I am trying to get readers terribly, terribly excited by an idea (say, floodlight pylons for Manuka Oval) my prose will get the assistance of the most dashing, pulse-quickeningly joyous music I know, Sibelius' hell-for-leather Lemminkainen's Homecoming, the only music proven to make even usually taciturn goldfishes dance in their bowls. When the Abbott tyranny takes the nation in its bitter grip in a few month's time I shall play Lemminkainen's Homecoming every day at dawn to remind myself that is still, just, worth living.
Sibelius is on my mind because, if God spares me long enough (for I am a frail 67), I am going to Helsinki later this year. I'm doing this not only to be unavailable to my employer during the horror of Floriade, but also to visit the house (now a museum) where Sibelius composed. It is the house, too, where he is reliably reported to have thrown the manuscript of his never-to-be-completed Eighth Symphony on the fire. He had high standards and felt his Eighth wasn't good enough. Not enough of us, in my opinion, throw our equivalents of our Eighth Symphonies away in despair. Our newspapers are full of things the writers, like Barnaby Joyce, should know in their bones are not good enough to be inflicted on others.
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DUMB AUSTRALIA. An Occasional Series.
On Monday Minister for Industry and Innovation Greg Combet made an innovative and wrong use of the expression ''gild the lily'' and ever since media people have been parroting the expression, knowing no better. Now the lovely expression is in danger of kidnapping.
After the bad-for-Labor opinion polls published on Monday the minister said Labor mustn't ''gild the lily'' by ignoring the message of the polls. But that's not what the expression means. To gild the lily means to make a futile attempt to improve on perfection, as in trying to improve the already perfect flower of the lily with a lick of paint. The poll results are not a lily (if anything they are, for Labor, a bouquet of poisonous oleanders) and to accept their message is not to gild them.