Film Music by Mark Russell & James
Book comes with a special 13- track CD inlaid into the cover comprising
representative samples of the film music of each of featured composer.
RotoVision ISBN 2-88046-441-2
Like waiting for a bus, it's amazing how after a protracted period without
something you'll get several seemingly at once. There have been a pleasing
number of film music related books published in the last few years. A common
factor in most is a large basis on interview material. It causes this reviewer
to yearn for something to come from the pen of a composer directly, but we
should be grateful for what we get!
This latest is a collection of a dozen interviews and 1 overview (the late
Bernard Herrmann). It distinguishes itself from everything preceding it in
presentation. A large colourful affair, it dazzles with a plentiful supply
of film stills. If anything, these are the work's only letdown. What weighs
in the hand like a solid work on the subject actually filters down to less
than a quarter of its size in pure text.
The interviews offer the occasional surprise revelation in anecdotal remembrance.
Each begins with a biographical introduction that will probably seem overly
familiar to soundtrack collectors, but ought to be seen as essential information
in swaying the opinion of those who perceive film music guardedly. The 13
composers featured do (for the most part) collectively present impressive
educational credentials and awards.
The composers in question are:
Bernard Herrmann (retrospective article)
Those choices ought to convince that some care has been taken in selecting
a cross-section of 'old-school', avant-garde, international, and fringe dwellers.
I'll let you decide who's who!
Quite a fine balance has been achieved between technical explanation and
general emotional inspiration. There's a glossary at the end for anyone who
gets too lost. With score pages, extra quotes accompanying photographs, and
an illustrative CD (culled entirely from the Silva Screen catalogue), this
is without the most deluxe packaging of the art to date.
Ian Lace adds:
As Paul says this book (in Rotovision's impressive Screencraft series) provides
a very interesting overview to the subject, with some remarkable comments.
Of the process, there appears to be a certain mystique. Jerry Goldsmith,
one of the most skilled and versatile of film composers admits, "When I'm
sitting and writing something, I can't explain why I do it or how, it just
happens. It's a feeling. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but
the more I think about it the more trouble I get into. So I just react to
what I see. One comes away with the impression that film music is often very
much an intuitive marriage of sound and vision based on rhythm and pace.
Often one reads of careful research and preparation before the creation of
material only to find the music used, by the director, in an altogether different
way or sequence to the one the composer envisioned. Michael Nyman in talking
about his work on The Draughtsman's Contract observes ruefully: 'Being
set at the end of the 17th century, it had to have a
17th century content
Since we were dealing with drawings,
frames and something that was fixed it seemed logical to use ground basses
a 17th century concept yet it is also timeless
because one of the
attractions of that form is a sense of being locked into the musical frame.
For the first drawing, I built music from the ground upwards: the bass part,
then a bit more detail, and more again, until the sixth version which was
to represent the finished drawing. But Peter [Greenaway] heard this sixth
version and thought "it's amazing we have to start the film with this". So,
as they're tramping across the fields with all the drawing paraphernalia
in the heavy mist, instead of rather hesitant opening music, you get this
great fanfare which I'd intended to represent the completed drawing in all
its glory. Another time, I used the bass as a melody and overlaid multiple
cascading harpsichord arpeggios. Greenaway used this music to accompany drawings
being burned. I think that's a fantastic representation of burning yet it
was totally unintentional
Interestingly, a number of the scores quoted through the book were written
before the editing process sometimes even before filming so that the actors
could be put in the mood and the editing process organised to the rhythm
and tempo of the music.
There are one or two misleading statements. For instance, Maurice Jarre,
whose earlier career was spent working for MGM, is rather cavalier in saying,
"In each studio [in the days when many major studios had their own music
departments] there was a guy who specialised in main titles, even if you
had different composers there was always a special orchestrator. If you listen
all the main titles of that period they all sound alike." That may well have
been true of MGM, but at Warner Bros, for instance, Max Steiner composed
his own Main Titles music (even though they might have been orchestrated
by Hugo Friedhofer) and the music of that studio had a distinctive sound
-- so too did the less ambitious music from Universal a studio that did not
rate music at all highly, used scissors and paste compositional methods,
and employed under-nourished orchestras. The Main Titles music sounded alike,
across the studios, only in as much as they were all, of necessity, grandiose
Film Music on the Web readers might recall that our Award for Best
New Score 1999 went to Danny Elfman for Sleepy Hollow. I was therefore
most interested to read his contribution. 'I love writing for choir - it's
just another instrument for me, ' he comments. 'Batman may have been the
first time I used a choir as strongly as I did
I will never forget the
excitement of hearing [it]
I have been using choirs ever since then
- I suppose it has become one of my signature devices.' Although Elfman came
to film music from a rock background he enjoys classical music. 'The choral
music of Mozart, his Requiem of Carl Orff and of Fauré were all very
big influences on me, as was the exciting propulsive music of Stravinsky,
Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. I seem to have a strong Russian and Eastern European
bent that I can never totally remove myself from. After Batman, a
lot of people asked me about my Wagnerian influences and my answer was that
I never really listened to Wagner. On the other hand, I was very influenced
by other composers such as Korngold, Tiomkin and Steiner and I think they
were very much influenced by Wagner, so I probably was indirectly. Many of
my musical influences are classical which have been filtered through other
I must be Film Music on the Web's oldest reviewer. I make no apologies
for the fact that my age reflects my tastes. My monthly Editor's Choice
invariably is given to a score from Hollywood's Golden Age (or Silver Age).
Personally, I find most new scores, these days, arid and devoid of themes
and depth of structure or development. I was therefore most interested to
read Elmer Bernstein's parting shot: "I've been blessed all my life. I was
lucky to be there in the halcyon days of film scoring. Even though the art
of film music is in abysmal state in the United States, with music designed
to be specifically commercial rather than germane to the dramatic work, it'll
probably turn itself around. These things usually do I'm an optimist". I
do hope that he is right.