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Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures Part 2 Cleopatra

Ever since silent pictures were shown with live organ accompaniment, music has been an important asset in enhancing the dramatic development of a cinematic story.

A truly magnificent motion picture score not only enriches the viewing experience, it becomes inextricable: completely genuine and deeply immersed in its subject matter. The composers of these scores have demonstrated an uncanny gift of knowing how to perfectly capture the emotional heart of the story, influence the narrative's pace, and enter and exit with amazing precision. They boldly tell us through their considerable skill, what the visuals alone cannot begin to describe but nevertheless take nothing away from them. (For a further introduction on this subject please see: Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures Part 1.)

(They are listed in alphabetical order)

Cleopatra (1963)

Composer: Alex North

There are many so-called "sword and sandal" epics that have possessed lavishly breathtaking musical scores. Miklos Rozsa's Ben-Hur, Alfred Newman's The Robe, and Elmer Bernstein's The Ten Commandments are a few that come to mind. The inherent scope and length of these historical spectacles not only present composers with an opportunity to demonstrate artistic prowess on an advanced level, but are also a stringent endurance test of their utmost creative commitment. These films will repeatedly challenge a composer's ability to marshal huge orchestral forces to produce sounds of military might or pageantry, which may suddenly require a seamless transition to graceful intimacy performed by a small chamber ensemble. Lifetime Achievement Oscar Winner Alex North composed two of the most exceptional scores for this type of motion picture, both set around the same period and place: 1960's Spartacus and the film represented here, 1963's Cleopatra.

Sometimes the colossal budget overruns during production contribute to the finished product being unfairly maligned by critics as was the case here. Even though its original running time at 5+ hours had been shorn considerably by Fox executive Darryl Zanuck, it remains a monumental accomplishment: fully coherent, possessing grandeur, sophistication and engagingly developed relationships provided by the highly literate and dedicated oversight of writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and magnificently bonded by Mr. North's voluminous compositional contribution. 

Cleopatra contains a treasure trove of musical imagination, illustriously illuminating its various themes of love and ambition. This most splendid score resonates with the opulent beauty of Cleopatra herself and all of the unbridled passion she stirs in others, right through to the fiercely aggressive conflicts she helps bring about as well as the poetic sadness of defeat, superbly displayed by Alex North's unlimited resource of creative talent.



Cleopatra is available on Blu-ray here:

Cleopatra [Blu-ray]
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison

It is also available on DVD here:

Cleopatra: 50th Anniversary

Its soundtrack can be purchased from Varese Sarabande here:

Cleopatra 2CD Soundtrack








Next time: King Kong (1933)

Composer: Max Steiner