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July 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /July01/

Knowing The Score by David Morgan Harper Collins ISBN 0-380-80482-4

Book review: Knowing theScore

There have only ever been a handful of genuinely insightful books written on the subject of film music. Music For The Movies by Tony Thomas is a terrific examination of the Golden Age through the works of key composers. Sound And Vision by John Burlingame is a fascinating (and recent) expose of the commercialisation of the craft. Otherwise it’s been a pretty leanly filled bookshelf for the soundtrack aficionado.

Recently there’s been a sudden mild outpouring of works on the subject, but like the glut of availability on everything else spawned by the Nineties, there’s been very little content. Two books on John Barry appeared simultaneously – one great (A Life in Music), one not (A Sixties Theme). There was a comprehensive international guide from Musichound on available albums, a U.S. version from Film Score Monthly, a Film Composer’s Guide, the aforementioned Burlingame work, and even a fascinating work on The Music of Star Trek.

Another 2-for-1 choice for reader’s came with the identically structured books The Score by Michael Schelle and Screencraft: Film Music by Mark Russell and James Young. These are collections of interviews with composers, some of whom appear in both: John Barry, Elmer Bernstein, and Howard Shore. Now comes Knowing The Score, which is also a collection of composer interviews, but with a twist. It thinks.

Instead of presenting the interviews whole and in any kind of order, Morgan has cut and paste questions and answers into thematic segments. That immediately sounds like a great idea for comparing and contrasting opinions. Sadly, the idea either came after the event which explains the higgledy-piggledy nature of the work, or if it was the original intent it was rather lost in the making. One giveaway that this has been somewhat ‘cheated’ together is in noting that the Appendix on Sources states most interviews were conducted in ’98 – ’99, but Bernstein was in ’91 and Goldsmith in ’86 – ’87! Additionally there are a lot of individual quotes taken from places like the New York Times, Variety, Cinemascore, and other places.

With the structure in question, the very intent of the book is unclear. What’s it about? Sections like "Getting A Foot In The Door" or "Period Pieces" may sound interesting, but the first is Patrick Doyle reminiscing about Henry V and the second is less than a page of asking Basil Poledouris random questions.

After a few pages of introduction, the book kicks off with David Shire talking about Return To Oz in a section called "The Art Of Film Music". It’s an immediate example of the random throwtogether you’re going to experience for 297 (generously-spaced) pages. The lengths of composer contributions differ wildly throughout too. For example the length of Cmiral vs. Isham on how they got started.

There are nuggets of fascination, such as Carter Burwell making an excellent insight into preferring subtextual scoring as opposed to sincere mickey-mousing. He can score a man in love who’s being beaten up, but not a man in love walking down the street with the woman in question. There’s also a plentiful section on Alan Menken who’s frequently ignored by the soundtrack collecting community.

Small info intrigue aside, this is otherwise a baffling piece. And yes – Goldsmith was still reeling off the same quotes 15 years ago!** Paul Tonks

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