I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five more than two years ago and now I finally managed to see the film. In fact, I had been planning to see that film for about ten years… ever since I heard that the music was played by Glenn Gould. That, apparently was quite an interesting story as Gould didn’t really like the book but wanted to do the film music anyway.
The director, George Roy Hill, asked Gould to do the music because the ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ where Billy is imprisoned in the film is in Dresden the bombing of which happens in the book. To capture the city’s baroque atmosphere, Hill wanted music by Bach to go along with it. And so came to ask Gould to play. But in fact, it seems that he had mostly made up his mind already about which pieces would go where in the film and mocked up a preliminary soundtrack with Gould’s records in his studio. So all Gould ended up doing was to OK certain plans, help a little and get a prominent position in the film’s credits. The soundtrack was apparently highly lauded at the time and isn’t bad. But, as soundtracks go, it’s not the main point of the film.
The film’s main point, just as the book’s, is to follow Billy Pilgrim around – through his life, from fighting in the second World War in his youth to being an optometrist and having a family of his own to his death and to the planet Trafalmadore. All this in the ‘unstuck in time’ non-linear order given in the book. Indeed, I found the film to be surprisingly literal at showing what’s written in the book. Much more than I had considered possible. And managing to remain on the serious side of the book without making things like the time discontinuities look silly.
I thought the film was very well done and really does justice to the book and its serious topic while keeping its positive spirit.
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