Sunday, November 1, 2009

Afterthoughts ("Walking Distance")

I watched "Walking Distance" Friday night as scheduled. It was my hope that perhaps this time around (I haven't watched the episode in at least ten years, probably more) I'd absolutely fall in love with it. While I've always admired the episode, it's never quite grabbed me enough to achieve a place among my all-time favorites. It's widely considered one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) episode of the entire series, so I've always felt a bit self-conscious about my apparent ambivalence toward it, as if perhaps the problem is with me and not with the episode. The theme of the episode is nostalgia, a longing for the past so intense that one's appreciation of the present is compromised. It certainly sounds like something I'd identify with, especially since my 40th birthday is looming ever closer (25 days now), and I find myself increasingly discontented with my life. The time certainly seems right for a revelatory rush of appreciation for this episode. Perhaps now, with Friday's viewing, I'd finally get it, so to speak.

Well, I didn't. That's not to say I don't still appreciate the episode on many levels. It's well written. It's technically well put-together. The performances are fine. I just don't.... Christ, I don't know. It should touch me. My eyes should well up with tears. I should ride the emotional roller coaster and break down when Martin Sloan achieves the devastating realization that the past is off limits to him, that he must focus on the present (and future). It's certainly a valuable lesson, one I'd be wise to learn, and yet I remain relatively unmoved. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I dead inside?

One thing about the episode that DOES move me is the musical score. Using strings only, composer Bernard Herrmann manages to capture the floating, bittersweet spirit of nostalgic longing perfectly. I can listen to the music in a darkened room and cry, so no, I'm not dead inside. But in the context of the episode, the music is somehow less powerful. it certainly elevates things, but overall "Walking Distance" is somehow less than the sum of its parts (for me). I hate that I feel this way. There are certainly other Twilight Zones that touch me ("In Praise of Pip" comes to mind, the very thought of which causes a lump in my throat), but I reamin somehow detached in this case. I honestly don't know why.

Regarding Herrmann's score: the original recording has been released a number of times, first in the 80's by Varese Sarabande on The Twilight Zone: The Original Television Scores, Volume One (on both vinyl and cassette; later on CD in Japan only). The score later appeared on CD here in the states on The Best of The Twilight Zone, Volume 1 (also from Varese Sarabande), and later appeared on the Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection from Silva (which compiled all the music from the five Varese Sarabande LPs, plus additional Zone music).

Additionally, the "Walking Distance" score has been re-recorded twice, first by Joel McNeely on his Bernard Herrmann: The Twilight Zone album, and more recently by John Morgan and William Stromberg (as a bonus on their recording of Herrmann's Fahrenheit 451 score). Of the two, the Morgan & Stromberg version is superior (McNeely has recorded many Herrmann scores over the past twenty years, and unfortunately many of them are inferior to Herrmann's originals; his Twilight Zone recordings are particularly problematic). However, the preferred version (for me, anyway) is Herrmann's original. I'll be spotlighting the various Twilight Zone soundtracks in the weeks to come.

Here are a couple of links regarding Herrmann's "Walking Distance" score:

Next up: "Escape Clause" on 11/06/09. Guy wants to live forever. Guy makes a deal with the devil. Guy finds out the hard way that the devil never plays fair.

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