RESTORATION OF WILLIAM WALTON’S THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, THE

October 25, 2010 | By

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When originally released in 1969, the film dramatization of the Battle Of Britain had already endured a series of highly publicized cost overruns, but perhaps the most lingering controversy of this otherwise dynamic recreation of Britain’s stand against Nazi invaders during WW II was the rejection of Sir William Walton’s film score by certain executives.

Selected by director Guy Hamilton and producers Harry Saltzman & Benjamin Fisz to compose the score for the 128 minute film, Walton was faced with a rather dramatic challenge of his own: after being absent from film scoring for several decades, could one of England’s most esteemed composers still create a stirring musical underscore for a major (and in this case, extremely high profile) film?

The question seems a bit insulting, given Walton’s obvious talent was evident in the lone surviving cue used in Battle‘s final mix – “The Battle In The Air” – which also appeared on the soundtrack album, surrounded by Ron Goodwin’s excellent replacement score.

To commemorate the D-Day landing this year, MGM-Europe has issued Special Edition DVDs for the films A Bridge Too Far and the Battle Of Britain, both in 2-disc editions, and containing a substantial array of extras.

While A Bridge Too Far doesn’t offer any specific film music materials, the full-length commentary track brings together screenwriter William Goldman, camera operator (1 st unit) Peter MacDonald, assistant art director Stuart Craig, and special effects Supervisor John Richardson. Also making a modest contribution is music historian John Burlingame, who provides some excellent biographical notes on Addison’s pre-film career as a tank commanders in the largest Allied parachute assault in history.

Like the Bridge DVD, MGM has included similar extras for the Battle Of Britain, including something truly unique: the option to view the film with a fully mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of the film soundtrack featuring Sir William Walton’s complete score.

Several years ago, Universal mixed some of Bernard Herrmann’s rejected score tracks over selected scenes from Torn Curtain, but the mixes were in mono, and the handful of scenes merely gave viewers a glimpse at another composer’s creative interpretation of a film; unless it’s applied to the complete film as the composer and director intended, the rejected score snapshots are mere teases.

No one’s ever dared to remix a rejected score for a film’s commercial DVD release, and it’s a rather courageous decision by MGM, given the kind of personal hurt that can linger, long after a composer’s work was dismissed for any number of reasons.

Offended fans may be the most vocal critics of a corporate or political or financial decision to rejected a score, but it’s part of the realities of any film composer’s profession, and while the DVD contains no background info to the film’s controversial musical history, the film’s original mixer – Eric Tomlinson – and sound a& picture editor – Timothy Gee – graciously spoke with Music From The Movies, and discussed very candidly Walton’s score, and the tough chore given to Ron Goodwin when a colleague’s approach proved most unwanted.

For this web exclusive, we have chosen to include a tantalizing overview of some of the areas discussed by Gee and Tomlinson. Interviewed separately, their comments have been edited into extended highlights, with more detailed discussions and Walton anecdotes reserved for MFTM ‘s next print issue.

Music preservation is a major theme in this examination of two special scores, and Timothy Gee’s determination to see Walton’s music applied once again to the Battle Of Britain remained undaunted in spite of disappointments and lengthy delays.

“It had always been in my mind that I thought the film benefited by having the Walton music on it,” says Timothy Gee, “and it just seemed to me that at some point, whoever the copyright owners were, [they might] go back to it and replace the Walton score… at least for their television sales, and say, ‘Here, we’ve got a new version of the film. What do you think?’

“It didn’t happen… and then as the year 2000 approached, obviously there were going to be reunions and celebrations of the Battle of Britain in September, and I thought this would be an ideal opportunity…. At that point I had no idea what materials still existed. I was in touch with [Eric Tomlinson], and as I say, I was starting from scratch.

“I contacted [director Guy Hamilton], who obviously didn’t have a copy of the Walton music on tape, and I got very little help from United Artists’ man in London, who’s stock in trade seemed to me to say ‘Oh, I hope to have an answer for you by the end of the month,’ and I got that on a monthly basis throughout 2000.

“So I realized there was going to be no possibility of doing it on the 60th anniversary, but it did occur to me that one only had to wait until 2002, and one had the Walton Centenary, when once again one assumed that there would be certain events marking it, and MGM could sort of say, ‘Abracadabra – Here we have the Walton score for Battle of Britain, which you’ve never heard before.

“I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who at that time ran the record shop in Festival Hall in London, and one time when I was there, he said, ‘Tim, look – Have you seen this?’ He produced the master catalogue – and there [was a CD listing for] Walton’s Battle of Britain music, conducted by Malcolm Arnold.

“Two or three things happened one on top of the other, but basically I got in touch with [Silva Screen’s] David Wishart, who is the person that was dealing with [Eric Tomlinson], apart from something else, and said ‘Well you haven’t got something else, have you Eric? And he said, ‘Well I’ve got the Walton Battle of Britain score,’ and in the first instance I was a bit hesitant about doing anything on the strength of that, because I didn’t want to get Eric in trouble… I mean, what was he doing with somebody else’s property?”

Eric Tomlinson explains: “The whole story is that I was running the music recording studio at Anvil Denham in England (which was the old Korda studios and then became Anvil Films, where we did a lot of good film music)…The lease came up, expired, we had to move, and there were many, many tapes left in the archives in the storage room. I went round to see if there was anything there of any interest, and to my horror I saw William Walton’s tapes still on the shelf. And I thought, ‘Well they can’t stay there, you know? Bulldozers are coming in tomorrow, and [that’ll be the end of that], so I just put them in my car and took them home and they stayed in my garage for about 3 or 4 years, until I happened to mention it to somebody.

“The film had been released and that was it, you know; it was all over and done with. I mentioned it to a guy at Silva Screen Records, who expressed an interest in hearing them… We played them, and he said, could he put out the album? And I replied, ‘Well it’s nothing to do with me, it’s MGM. I just sort of rescued the tapes; an international rescue, as it was.”

But as Timothy Gee continues, album producer David Wishart said there was no reason to worry. “‘We have cleared the rights with United Artists, and got the Ron Goodwin music as well,’ and that was when I got the disc,” adds Gee, citing Ryko’s CD of the two scores as proof there was little need to commission a new recording or reconstruction, since the original recording sessions conducted by Malcolm Arnold not only existed, but were accessible – but to a point.

“I don’t think they withstood many, many playings,” adds Tomlinson. “I think they were transferred out quickly to digital and kept that way… They had been in my garage for 5 years, and although it wasn’t damp in there, it was cold and [had] fluctuating temperatures… and that doesn’t do a lot of good to tapes.”

A common problem with certain brands of recording tape from the 1960s and 1970s is a gradual degeneration as the emulsion peels off the base. By heating the tapes (affectionately called “baking”), one can gain one or perhaps a lucky 3 playbacks before the tapes are thoroughly useless.

“That had been done to another tape I had found,” continues Tomlinson. “I had it ‘cooked’ by Ampex, and that seemed to work alright, but there were times with early tape where as you played it, the azimuth heads got locked up, and by then end of it, all you could hear was something coming from under a blanket.”

Once MGM made the decision to create an alternate mix with Walton’s original cues, Timothy Gee proved to be the project’s most valuable consultant.

Explains Gee, “Julie Feldman is the lady who actually came over to this country said that they couldn’t have done it without me. I certainly realize that there is probably nobody alive who could have done it, because for the bits that Wishart wrote to go with the Rykodisc score, he told me that he hadn’t had a copy of the film, and he had to allocate names which were never allocated in the first place. He didn’t really know where the particular pieces of music fitted; there is one piece which he called “Scramble,” which he puts well down the line, but is which actually the opening piece of music.

“One other thing that had ticked off my thinking in that direction [of the Walton restoration] was of course Blade Runner had been re-released in the Director’s Cut… Well I knew there wasn’t [additional footage for] Battle of Britain, but I did know that with which [director Guy Hamilton] concerned in letter – he talked about Walton’s carefully crafted score and so forth – and that it could be released as the Director’s Preferred Soundtrack… [the one] Guy prefers to the one that went out as ‘the pick & mix version.'”

Both Gee and Tomlinson are very clear in expressing the utmost respect for Goodwin’s score – a solid work in its own right – and MGM’s decision to include the alternate score isn’t an attempt at revisionism, but a special opportunity to watch the same film scored by two very distinct, and very exceptional musical talents.

Remixed in Dolby 5.1 (the dialogue remains in mono, with the mono sound effects slightly enhanced for simulated spatial depth), Eric Tomlinson finds the upgraded music mix is quite faithful to his original approach. Walton’s score was “originally recorded just onto 3-track half-inch tape, interlocked with the picture… Just in left-right-and centre stereo, and that’s the way I used to work in those days before 48-track and all that sort of thing came in… You just put it up on 2 speakers, and it was a finished recording, theoretically. No mixing afterwards, just transferring.”

The new Battle Of Britain is well worth acquiring, if not for the music scores (with Goodwin’s own music given a similar 5.1 treatment), than certainly for the spectacle in seeing vintage aircraft recreating jaw-dropping combat dog-fighting.

The longer version of this article in MFTM ‘s Issue 43 addresses some of the differing qualities between both scores (recently reissued by Varese Sarabande from the previous Ryko CD). We thought we should close, however, with some final words by Tomlinson that weren’t wholly germane to the longer piece.

“Just before I left,” recalls Tomlinson, Anvil Denham “was closed down, and one of the managers went round looking at all the shelves to see what he could re-sell to new clients. Of course a lot of this stuff was originally recorded on 35mm – not onto tape, but onto 3-track [magnetically-coated 35mm film stock] – and unfortunately there were 2 scores there: one by Alex North for the film 2001 , and also another score by Frank Cordell for the film 2001, which Kubrick had set up at the time as tryouts to see what sort of music he wanted in his film.

“Unfortunately one of the managers went around and said ‘That’s all virgin stock We can sell that again to somebody,’ so it was all bulk-erased, rather sadly. Particularly the Alex North one. I mean, Alex North was no mean composer, and it would have been great to have heard that. I never did hear that, unfortunately. I didn’t record that; I was away doing something else at the time. It was all erased.”

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Special thanks to Timothy Gee for extensively discussing his quest to reinstate Walton’s music in the Battle Of Britain, and Eric Tomlinson for his candid thoughts (and delightful wit).

An additional thank you is gratefully extended to Alex Smith at DnA Public Relations Agency, for arranging the interviews, and forwarding media that would not have made this article possible.

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This article originally appeared in the online editon of Music from the Movies in August of 2004, and in a longer version in Issue 43.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This article and interview © 2004 by Mark R. Hasan

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD/Film: Battle of Britain (1968) — Bridge Too Far, A (1977)

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