Brussels Philharmonic | The American Dream: 10 Must-Watch Films…

Film Selection: The American Dream

With the concert Gershwin & Dvořák 9, we travel to The American Dream: the Brussels Philharmonic highlights Antonín Dvořák's symphony 'From the New World' and performs the legendary Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. The latter premiered exactly 100 years ago and is intended as a musical portrait of New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. As a jazz-infused composition that sets the tone from its very first note, it has starred in countless unique films.
Perhaps less obvious, but also the music of the Czech composer has also been warmly embraced by Hollywood. Especially the well-known Symphony No. 9 is popular, and even recently, the piece continues to appear regularly in blockbusters like Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) and Fantastic Four (2005), in children's movies like Barbie as Rapunzel (2002) and Trolls World Tour (2020), and TV series like The Simpsons and Ted Lasso.
Discover these compositions on the big screen with the film selection by Robin Broos.

Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

director: Irving Rapper

Rhapsody in Blue is more than just a milestone in George Gershwin's career, it is also a romanticized biopic of the composer's life. The director takes creative liberties with the facts, even inventing Gershwin's love affairs. As a result, critics gave it mixed reviews, but the audience loved it, especially the music that highlights Gershwin’s major works. Essentially, it serves as a two-hour celebration of his oeuvre.

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Manhattan (1979)

director: Woody Allen

“Chapter 1: He adored New York City, he idolized it all out of proportion. No – make that, he romanticized it all out of proportion. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black-and-white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.” This is the opening of the film Manhatten. New York is director Woody Allen’s city, and the film - a type of romcom as only he can create it - is his tribute to the Big Apple. It starts with Rhapsody in Blue, set against the black-and-white skyline of a city that never sleeps.

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Fantasia 2000 (1999)

director: Eric Goldberg

It was Walt Disney's ambition to release a new Fantasia every year, but it wasn't until 1999 that his nephew, Roy Disney, decided to produce a sequel. Fantasia 2000 is filled with fresh interpretations of classical pieces, including Rhapsody in Blue. The story unfolds during the Great Depression while the bustling life in the metropolis continues. Composer George Gershwin himself makes an appearance in the animated film, completely in the style of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, who frequently made caricatures of the man.

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The Great Gatsby (2013)

director: Baz Luhrmann

According to historian Peter Quennell, the book The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald embodies "the sadness and the lonely joy of a Gershwin tune." It's a statement director Baz Luhrmann takes to heart when he adapts the novel into a film with actor Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. Rhapsody in Blue acts as a sort of leitmotif for the character: when DiCaprio appears on screen, it is accompanied by Gershwin's tune.

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King of Jazz (1930)

director: John Murray Anderson

Gershwin composed Rhapsody in Blue at the request of bandleader Paul Whiteman, who played himself in the 1930 film King of Jazz. It was only the nineteenth movie filmed in two-color Technicolor technique. In the process, red and green were mixed to create other colors. All colors, except blue. Challenging, since King of Jazz was supposed to be a spectacular homage to Rhapsody in Blue. One might say, the result is more of a 'Rhapsody in Turquoise'.

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Hallelujah (1929)

director: King Vidor

As early as 1929, Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 'From the New World' was used in the soundtrack of one of the first talkies: Hallelujah, a major musical film featuring primarily black actors. Director King Vidor aimed to paint a realistic picture of black life in the film, but the studio found it too risky. Vidor ultimately funded much of the film himself. He ended receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

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Malcolm & Marie (2021)

director: Sam Levinson

Malcolm & Marie is a prime example of what you might call a lockdown film. Amidst the pandemic in March 2020, Euphoria director Sam Levinson and lead actress Zendaya found themselves jobless and thus decided to create a film with a limited cast, including actor John David Washington. He plays Malcolm, an up-and-coming director who forgets to thank his girlfriend Marie during his latest film's premiere, creating tensions at home. The music plays a key role during their conflict: it is an interpretation of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony by the jazz duo Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan.

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The Departed (2006)

director: Martin Scorsese

Apart from its renowned cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson, the director also crafts a grand soundtrack. In the funeral scene, the theme from Dvořák's symphony resounds, played by the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes and Drums on bagpipes.

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Paradise Road (1997)

director: Bruce Beresford

Paradise Road deeply weaves music into its narrative. The film tells the story of a group of women imprisoned by the Japanese in Sumatra during World War II, featuring Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, and Cate Blanchett. They use music, particularly Dvořák's 'From the New World,' as a source of solace, offering hope and strength.

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Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

director: George Lucas

No, Antonín Dvořák's music isn't literally in George Lucas's space saga. However, composer John Williams has noted he drew inspiration from many great classical composers for his legendary score. Dvořák's influence surfaces, particularly in 'The Throne Room' piece accompanying the final scene of the first film. Experts in this video present their case with snippets from both compositions.

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expo: George Gershwin

2024 marks the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Discover more about the incredible success of the American composer.


expo: Antonín Dvorák

In 1892, the Czech composer Antonin Dvořák arrived in the New York to create an American national style of music. Read along and discover how he accomplished his task.