Thursday, 14 February, 2008

Elmer Bernstein - I Love You Alice B. Toklas (1968)

Surprisingly produced my a major studio, but nevertheless ultimately conservative, I Love You Alice B. Toklas is a timely comedy that attempts to caricaturize the clash and continuities between the "American way of life" as it was known before the 60s and the hippie movement. Directed by Hy Averack in 1968, it tells the story of Harold Fine, an asthmatic Jewish lawyer who lives out this tension, slides between these two models and "evolves as a human being" in the process. The trigger for such a change is... a woman; or better yet: two women and a dozen marijuana brownies. By embracing the beautiful, sweet, libertarian hippie girl, and rejecting the exhaustive emotional parasite who wants to drag him into a colorless marriage, Harold engages with the Mondo Teeth universe, a world where gurus tell you parables and make riddles about flowers, where junkies bathe in your tub with their clothes on, where directors make extra-long movies about dental realities, and where "it is very unhip to say you're hip". The film is equally sympathetic to both parties, the hip and the square, and concludes by arguing that true freedom and humanity is to be found outside the chartered territories of hypocritical conservatorism and the oft-silly "counterculture" of the 60s.

Elmer Bernstein's soundtrack explores some of the sounds and instruments that were to become a trademark of the decade. It opens with the title theme, in which the Harpers Bizarre sing about Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, the author of a recipe book that teaches you to cook hashish fudge. (This, however, is not the version included in the movie, which has mellower and, er, groovier vocals). Most of the remaining tracks are stop-and-go instrumental restatements of this and other two themes. with a generous use of sitar, bongos, horns and string orchestration, the small musical episodes that compose a soundtrack not being excluded and creating a satisfying succession of miniature approaches to the same basic phrases. The overall orientation of the record is, perhaps as implied in the movie plot, a merging of "psychedelic" grooves and more "traditional" Hollywood orchestral arrangements, and the soundtrack can be read as a mature and ironic document of the musical experiments and stereotypes of the decade as seen through the glasses of a sympathetic outsider. Whether you're hip or square, whether you're into Gertrude Stein and dope brownies or not, whether you're an asthmatic Jewish lawyer or a freewheeling hairy refusenik, it is likely that, like Harold Fine, you'll love Alice B. Toklas.

link@320 [vinyl rip]

This vinyl rip is a courtesy of Phil, whose Eastern Eye offers a sample track of this and other great records. Many thanks for this.


Farlac said...

I love Peter Sellers.

Anonymous said...

Who performs the Sitar music on the soundtrack? Is that really Peter Sellers playing it, in the movie?

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