Watching a film with a live orchestra is somewhat of a magical experience. At first, you watch with rapt attention as the music seemingly comes out of nowhere, perfectly in time with the film. Your eyes might flitter back and forth from the screen back to the players — how does it work so perfectly? After a while, you begin to forget the orchestra is even there. Now, this doesn’t mean that the orchestra isn’t noteworthy — rather it demonstrates just how talented the players are.
This summer, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra played live along to the acclaimed Steven Spielberg classic “Jaws” at the Hollywood Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl, with a capacity of 17,500, is located just north of its namesake boulevard and houses the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, managed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association but comprised of different but equally world-class performers. With “Jaws,” the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was conducted by David Newman.
“Jaws” is the perfect film to have a live orchestra play along to — and during shark week, no less. The music is iconic but not overpowering, and a live orchestra brings something of a new life to a classic film such as “Jaws”; it emanates from the dome of the Bowl itself and rings through the massive stadium. Other popular films commonly played with a live orchestra include Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (with a long, flowing score that dominates many parts of the film without any dialogue) and other epics. Often, the most enjoyable films to watch are those in which you know the music, even if you’ve never seen the films. “Jaws” is a such a score, with its intense shark leitmotif and otherwise tragically beautiful score.
“Jaws” at the Hollywood Bowl is also an experience beyond film and music. Starting just past 8 p.m., the sun sets and fills the Bowl with a soft glow as patrons scurry to their seats. The sky goes gently from hazy orange, to light blue and finally to a dark black depth — and before you know it, you’re watching a film in the dark. Audience members are eerily silent as they watch the film intently, only interrupting to clap for the shark when it attacks and for when the shark is momentarily defeated. It’s a much different experience to be watching films with other people, and watching them in the Hollywood Bowl in the dark with a live orchestra, no less.
In the final moments of the film, the orchestra seems to explode with fervor. Even with a small screen hung gently in front of the orchestra, the full force of the live score along with the film’s diegetic sound creates something of a moment that one can never get back. If you get a chance to watch a film played with a live score, do it. “Jaws” is an example of how the method of delivery caters to the cinematic form in such an astounding way.
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.