August 2008
On DVD: The Fall of the Roman Empire

The Fall of the Roman Empire, featuring music by Dimitri Tiomkin, is now available on DVD from the Miriam Collection. The release features the original 1964 Roadshow production, the longest version of the film for which a complete set of picture, sound, and music exists. Audiences can enjoy a full five minutes of instrumental and choral music by Tiomkina brassy antiphonal overture and a choral version of the lyrical love themethat opened and closed theatrical screenings of the film. Three discs are included in the Limited Collector’s Edition of the DVD; the Deluxe Edition features two.

Directed by Anthony Mann and produced by Samuel Bronston, The Fall of the Roman Empire stars Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer, Alec Guinness, and James Mason, with Omar Sharif and Mel Ferrer co-starring. The production team included historian Will Durant, co-author of the multivolume Story of Civilization, and music editor George Korngold, son of the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and a noted record producer in his own right.

Filming of this epic took place at Samuel Bronston Studios in Madrid, Spain, where the mighty city of Rome was painstakingly re-created, as documented in the DVD’s extras. The grand scale of the film was matched only by its marketing campaign, which included four full pages in the New York Times—believed to be the largest ever for a motion picture. Travel agencies, Italian restaurants, and jewelry stores were encouraged to carry window displays featuring the illustrated LP sleeve. Wallpaper inspired by the film was designed and sold, and endorsements of the Minox camera by featured player James Mason provided a tie-in for camera dealers. In addition to posters, stills, contests, and opening-night galas, the studio put forth educational material on the Roman Empire, a thirty-minute radio feature, and half a dozen ads and featurettes for television, some of which have been included on the DVD. A Sophia Loren fashion feature was targeted at the female audience, along with leaflets, menu cards, and serviettes for the trendy hostess. Johnny Mathis’s recording of the film’s love theme, “The Fall of Love,” was followed by versions from the Pete King Chorale, Mantovani, and other artists. When the film was finally rolled out, reserved seats were offered at two dozen theaters from Boston to San Diego. DVD promo code: DontPayFull.com.

On disc one of the DVD’s bonus features, Tiomkin appears in a 1964 promotional film by Globe Video Film Productions. Titled “Rome in Madrid,” it includes an eight-second clip of the composer seated at a grand piano (go to 18:15 to see the clip). The Still Gallery, also on disc one, has a number of portraits of Tiomkin in action, and some of his best-known works are listed in Filmographies.

The highlight of the special features is “Dimitri Tiomkin: Scoring the Roman Empire,” found on disc two. The twenty-minute featurette, produced by Genius Products for this DVD set, is a music lover’s guide to appreciating Tiomkin’s grand score for the film. Using interviews and archival photographs and clippings, the documentary is structured around film and television music historian Jon Burlingame’s onscreen commentary. Key scenes from the film are illuminated by Burlingame’s insights into how the score enhances the drama, helping to bring a deeper level of understanding of the relationship between image and music upon subsequent viewing of the film. Also offering commentary are Mel Martin, author of a book on Samuel Bronston; former Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conductor John Mauceri; and Olivia Tiomkin Douglas. Douglas offers a personal look into Tiomkin’s world, and Mauceri adds professional observations, pointing out Tiomkin’s unusual use of flutter-tongue in the brass and his choice not to use the Wagnerian leitmotif approach that might be expected for such a large-scale film. The third disc in the Limited Collector’s Edition contains vintage Encyclopedia Brittanica educational shorts on the Roman Empire.

The Miriam Collection, a division of the Weinstein Company, restores and releases classic films on DVD. Miriam will next release two more Bronston epics, 55 Days at Peking and Circus World, both scored by Tiomkin.

The DVD of Fall of the Roman Empire can be ordered from www.amazon.com.

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