Through the late summer and fall, on the set of Robert Altman’s new movie, "Buffalo Bill and the Indians"—the story of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the 1880’s with a cast that includes Paul Newman, Joel Grey, Burt Lancaster and Geraldine Chaplin—all the music is being recorded live, on location in Calgary, Canada. The composer, Richard Baskin, has been up there for three months with cast and crew, working in the back room of the Buffalo Bar at a funky, old upright piano, hammering out the score. He writes the music, just as he did for much of "Nashville," as the picture is being shot. The music, this time, mainly background and not songs, and relies on a 15‐piece brass band. Yet each character in the movie—from Wild Bill Cody to Annie Oakley—has a musical theme, and one—the impresario, played by Joel Grey—sings a song based on a poem the composer found in an old newspaper of the period. "Everything is done spontaneously and very quickly," says Baskin, somewhat frazzled from the pressure of producing music so fast. "I’m the only one who works this way."
In Hollywood, Marvin Hamlisch, the best‐known movie composer since Henry Mancini, demonstrates how he works while appearing on yet another talk show. Hamlisch first shows the TV audience a film clip without music, then proceeds to score the scene in three different ways on the piano, each with different nuances and emotional impact. To the casual viewer, it all seems so effortless' on the part of the man who won three Oscars in one night for "The Sting" and "The Way We Were" and then hit again on Broadway with "A Chorus Line." "I’m a terrific thematic composer," Hamlisch admits, without modesty. His "terrific" themes, just like those of Mancini before him, are doubtless an important ingredient in the boxoffice success of movies he’s scored.
At Universal Studios, there is talk among composers and studio executives alike about the contribution (largely unnoticed by the critics) that John Williams’s score made to the success of "Jaws." When the Academy Awards are given out tomorrow night, there is a strong likelihood that Williams will walk off with the Oscar for best original score. Like such other films of recent seasons as "The Four Musketeers," "Rollerball," "The Wind and the Lion," "The Hindenburg" and "Barry Lyndon," "Jaws" uses a large symphony orchestra —80 pieces in all—for its tense, driving. D‐major score. The use of a symphony orchestra, isn’t exactly new in movies; the tradition goes back to Hollywood’s "golden age" in the 30’s, when music was used primarily to enhance the emotional moments in a film. But "Jaws" is different—it works on your nerve endings to generate all levels of fear. Composer Williams says: "The idea isO.K., we have a two‐hour film, how quickly can we condition the audience to get to the point that when they hear this music, their reaction will be programmed?" The answer is, very quickly. You hear the shark motif—eight basses and five trombones—and you make the immediate identification. In one scene, where Richard Dreyfuss, as Hooper, is under water inspecting a sunken boat just before a head rolls out of it, you expect the shark to and attack Dreyfuss. The music tricks you into that because the shark motif is played very softly, but then suddenly—this head pops out and you jump out of your seat. "The trick is," says Williams, "one thing is advertised, another thing delivered." It’s pure Hitchcock.
What Williams also did in "Jaws" was to alter the key that the shark music was presented and the speed at which it was played. When the shark is far away, the music is played softly, and when it gets closer, the music vibrates louder, higher and sometimes faster. By the end of the movie, Williams’s music has worked the audience into an absolute frenzy. You’re sucked into it—after 10 reels of preparation—until there is this deafening, pounding sound that’s engulfed you, and what you’re experiencing, ultimately, is your own deepest fear. "It’s simple theatrics," says Williams, flicking his hand.
Audiences have changed and so has movie music: Audiences in the 60’s, demanding greater realism, tended to reject the artificial use of music pictures. Music had to come from an authentic "source"—one that the audience could see or identify, such as a band or a jukebox—it couldn’t just be superimposed on the action. Some film makers even went so far as to discard the main title music altogether, though there was still pressure on a composer to write a hit song or theme that could in turn be made into a hit recording. Music was at best something that a film maker used sparingly in a picture, and with great caution, so as not to spoil the realism, or appear too blatantly commercial.
Yet what audiences rejected just a few years back as unrealistic is precisely what they want all over again. They want music to work on them, to wipe them out, and that is what the new movie music is all about. Movie composers are there to satisfy the demands of the audience, and the best of them can do that with a minimum of effort. They work fast, often turning out complete scores in three or four weeks, and they are musically versatile. Some are better schooled than others, with a wider range of musical sources to draw upon. Each movie genre has its own problems: Comedies are difficult because, obviously, you can’t allow the music to get in the way of the jokes. Westerns have been so overdone that it’s hard to score them interestingly. But, whatever the genre, composers know that they are working on the audience’s subconscious, and for the music to be effec‐ (Continued on Page 45) tive in a picture, it has to get to that subliminal level. While the pressures may be great, the rewards are not unattractive for those who can turn the music out. Top composers in Hollywood receive between $25,000 and $30,000 for a score and sometimes "points," or a percentage of the box office. TV scores, for shows running two hours, bring in $5,000. Good composers write as many as four or five movie scores a year, in addition to numerous TV shows, and all of this activity may add up to a six‐figure income. Getting to score a good movie, composers say, is half the battle, because not only does it enhance one’s reputation but, also, good movies are simply easier to write music for than bad
Men like Lilo Schifrin, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, David Shire and Billy Goldenberg exemplify a talented breed of Hollywood composer, resourceful and often inventive in their solutions to musical problems that come up in movies. Yet they are limited by an industry that rarely affords them the kind of freedom their predecessors enjoyed in the 30’s and 40’s and makes them vulnerable to the whims of fussy producers and studio executives. Paradoxically, there is more music being written now, thanks mainly to the insatiable appetite of television, where the fear of silence is almost pathological, and yet, for all the quantity, the quality of music has declined in recent years. Fewer features are being made and fewer producers are willing to gamble on music of the post‐Schoenberg idiom because, they maintain, the public isn’t ready for that. So movie music has remained pretty much firmly rooted in the late 19th‐century Germanic idiom of Wagner, Strauss and Mahler. "This is a regressive, and in many ways, decadent period in movie scoring," says John Williams. "Yet it’s exciting to a lot of composers because it affords them the opportunity of working with a large orchestra, painting with a big brush. Nevertheless, we have to be humble when measured against the great period of romantic film scoring in the
Looking back to that great period, one can immediately see why Williams feels that way. In the mid‐30’s, the major studios were turning out, collectively, more than 500 features each year. Composers from all over the world were drawn to Hollywood; many came because of the money and the enormous opportunities of working in a new medium. Some European composers came for political reasons. In most cases, they planned to stay only briefly, but ended up staying forever. Two of the most prominent figures — Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, both Viennese by birth—created, in effect, the art of film scoring.
Born in 1888, Steiner came to Hollywood in 1929, just when sound came in, to work for RKO Radio Pictures. Through the early 30’s, background music in dramatic films consisted only of the main title, a few bars during the film, and the end title. Steiner changed all that. He pioneered the use of music as background in American films—music that was composed and orchestrated in a symphonic style—and perfected many of the techniques of modern scoring. By 1935, music to heighten the emotional impact of a scene was fairly common, and Warner Bros. was the studio that most wanted that symphonic sound. As Jack L. Warner said, "Films are fantasy—and fantasy needs music."
In a career spanning three decades, Max Steiner scored over 150 features—a staggering number of fantasies. They include RKO’s "King Kong" (1933), in which the music sweeps the picture along from the primitive jungles of Skull Island to Kong’s final assault on the Empire State Building; "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936), the first of 14 Warner films he did with Errol Flynn; "Gone With the Wind" (1939); "Now, Voyager" (1942), with its lush, romantic score; "The Big Sleep" (1946); "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), and "Johnny Belinda" (1948).
Erich Korngold, born in 1897, arrived in Hollywood in 1934, five years after Steiner, and with an international reputation as a second Mozart. Korngold’s first original score. "Captain Blood." was instantly acclaimed, and he went on to score six more Errol Flynn pictures, including two that have become classics—"The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) and "The Sea Hawk" (1940). His bestknown score is probably the theme for "King’s Row" (1941). Korngold tended to score each film as though it were an opera libretto without singing, and the technique was highly effective in synthesizing the emotional and visual elements in a film. Warner Bros. bad Korngold and Steiner, among others, under contract and gave them total freedom—and money—to achieve their musical effects. Korngold’s scores evidently were never heard by the producer or director until a movie was previewed.
Hollywood also attracted talented composers like Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomkin' and Franz Waxman (to name only a few) who carried on the romantic tradition of Steiner‐Korngold. Of the scores written in the 40’s, Miklos 'Rozsa’s for Hitchcock’s "Spellbound" (1945) is considered a landmark. Rozsa, who was born in Hungary in 1907, used an electronic instrument in "Spellbound" as well as "The Lost Weekend." with Ray Milland, to create eerie, disturbing effects. The instrument was the theremin, which could be hand‐held and produced sound oscillations that some critics described as "the wail of a thousand women."
Like Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, became a master at creating musical atmospheres that were often chilling and suspenseful. His score for "Citizen Kane" (1941), like the movie itself, is a classic. During the making of that picture, Orson Welles permitted him on the set—a practice almost never allowed Hollywood composers — and Herrmann made musical sketches that he used later on in the score for the movie. The score earned him an Oscar, but he worked very sparingly in the film medium—Just one score a year. Success also came later for Herrmann in his association with Hitchcock on "Vertigo" (1958) and "Psycho" (1980). perhaps the most frightening musical score ever written. Herrmann died of a heart attack last Dec. 24, the day after he finished conducting his score for Martin Scorsese’s "Taxi Driver." The very last title of the film reads:
"Our gratitude and respect Bernard Herrmann
June 29, 1911‐Dec. 24, 1975." it is surely the first time such a tribute has been given to a film composer.
In terms of the art, one major change took place in 1951, when Elia Kazan asked Alex North to score "A Streetcar Named Desire." North employed New Orleans jazz to underscore Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski, and the impact was sensational. It was the first major jazz score of its kind in movies. (Tomorrow night, 25 years later, North will be in the running for the Oscar for best original score for "Bite the Bullet.") By the late 50’s, Henry Mancini broke through with a number of innovations—also in jazz—that influenced much (perhaps too much) of the film music to come in the 60’s. Mancini’s score for TV’s "Peter Gunn." with its pulsating, jazzy rhythms, was a fresh departure in the medium. Notably, he used real jazzmen, musicians from the big band$, and he recorded for the first time with multiple mikes—not just one mike hung over a large orchestra. "The Graduate" (1967) is the most recent landmark in movie scoring. In the movie, Mike Nichols used pre‐existing Simon and Garfunkel rock songs and actually cut the sequences of the film to fit them. "Mrs. Robinson," which was written especially for the movie and later became a hit song, was used very effectively as a commentary on the action of the movie. After "The Graduate," of course, there was a period when almost every movie one saw
For most composers, the technical process of scoring is pretty much the same. You work with a moviola—a machine that reduces the movie you are watching to a flinch‐wide viewing screen—a stopwatch, a clicktrack which is an electronic metronome that enables you to hear a predetermined beat over headphones in synchronization with the movie—and, of course, music paper and a grease pencil to mark the film. Some of the great composers, like Korngold, refused to be bothered by mechanical devices at all—devices like the clicktrack—and composed music in their own idiosyncratic ways. (Korngold had a private screening room with a piano and relied on his uncanny sense of timing to make the music fit a picture.) Yet, with few exceptions they all work in the
To score picture, Mar yin Hamlisch will see a rough cut several times and then "spot" it with a producer or director, that is, determine where the music should stop and start. Spotting is usually done with great care because one’s choices can often alter the mood of a scene and its emotional impact. The most difficult part comes after that. Hamlisch sits down at the piano, usually in his bathrobe, and attempts to find the musical cues that correspond to the subtlest emotions he is seeing on screen. "If you score exactly what is up there on screen, you’re putting white paint on white paint," says Hamlisch. "I look for what the scene is about and what the subtext is."
Hamlisch also keeps a tape recorder running continuously as he is composing. "Wherr I hit a melodic thing, when I hit the right note," he says, "I usually get a shiver up my back—I have the feeling and I know I’ve done it right." On "The Way We Were," Hamlisch found just the right shiver. He had to write a song for Barbra Streisand that was nostalgic, about a situation between two lovers that, in the end, was not going to work out. The movie was sad, so the song was supposed to be in a minor mode. "I wrote a sad piece in the major mode," says Hamlisch. Why? "Because if it were in the minor mode, it might tell you too much in advance, that Streisand and Redford were never going to get together. I wrote a melody that was sad, but it also had great hope in it."
Once the composer has put the notes to the paper, the music is orchestrated and recorded, which is the real moment of truth because he instantly hears whether it’s any good. After that, it is added to the "mix," along with the sound and dialogue tracks, and adjustments are made in the values (tone, pitch, balance) of each. Needless to say, the whole process can be both time‐consuming and exasperating. In the mix, composers often lose control of what happens to their score, and a lot of music may end up being lost to the sound, say, of 'horses riding across a plain.
F or "Nashville." of course, all the music was performed live by the actors before the camera —something that’s never been done before in a major fea Lure — and Richard Baskin spent 15 weeks in the countrymusic capital, arranging most of the songs and writing almost half of them for the actors. He himself appears in the opening scene of the movie when Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is recording the song "200 Years" in a local studio. Baskin, with his outrageous natural hairdo and spaced‐out look (he once had the lead in "Hair" in Los Angeles), is Frog, the musician at the piano who keeps missing his cues. Haven Hamilton finally stops the recording session and says, "Frog, get a haircut! You don’t belong in Nashville."
Does the music belong in Nashville? That’s the question some critics of the movie have been asking. "I just laugh at the controversy." says Baskin, when the question of whether or not the music is truly country comes up. "We used all the guys on backup in the movie who played on Hank Snow’s records." It was director Altman’s idea, Baskin says, to have the actors write their own songs, and the results were certainly stunning. "I’m Easy," the Keith Carradine composition became a hit single and is up for an Oscar as best original song. And since the music was recorded live, on location, there were considerable savings in terms of "Nashville’s" budget. The cost of the music was $50,000 in a $2.2 million picture—low by industry standards.
In 1955. at the Academy Awards presentations, when Dimitri Tiomkin got up to accept his Oscar for the score of "The High and the Mighty." he said. "I would like to thank Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, Rimslcy‐Korsakov …" and before he could finish, the audience broke up with laughter. The Hollywood audience was at once charmed and tickled that one of their very own great, flamboyant composers was—at last—willing to acknowledge his debts. Plagiarism is something movie composers are often accused of. "Part of it is true," admits Billy Goldenberg. "A lot of movies you do call for a score that sounds like a certain composer, but that doesn’t mean you have to go in and steal, note for note." Goldenberg, who admits to going through a heavy Mahler period in his scoring, points to the great volume of music being scored by today’s composers as detrimental to serious work. "You tend to repeat yourself." Producing such a great volume of work also tends to turn new musical devices very quickly into clichés. Television, with its constant demand for wall‐towall sound, has also towered
"You put two clichés together," says David Shire, "and you get something new." In "Farewell, My Lovely," which Shire says he scored tongue‐in‐cheek, he got something new: An electric tuba wails and bellows wildly during a scene in which Robert Mitchum as Marlowe is shot up with dope and hallucinates. Shire also used 12‐tone serial techniques as a solution to the dissonant urban sound of New York’s subways in "The Taking of Pelham One. Two, Three."
Yet despite the great volume of music being produced in Hollywood and the willingness on the part of some producers to embrace the techniques of modernism, there are very few new, young composers breaking through. While Korngold, Steiner, Newman and others all attracted disciples to the film colony in the 30’s and 40’s, nothing of the sort appears to be happening today. "It took me a year to get a friend started out here," complains Shire. "There’s nobody out here who has the assessment know‐how, and the courage to take somebody off the streets and give him a break." Shire and Goldenberg help new composers whenever they have a television series and can farm out some of the work. "Many composers, even established ones, are not working in this town," says Goldenberg. "It’s not too easy a business."
"Opportunities for the truly gifted are virtually nonexistent," wrote Phillip Lambro, one of Hollywood’s talented composers, in a letter to music critic Page Cook. And few of the "truly gifted" American composers have worked in movies. A notable exception is Aaron Copland, who, during the 40’s, composed original scores for such films as "Our Town," "Of Mice and Men," "The Red Pony" and "The Heiress." The serious composer, by and large, tends to view movie music as bread and butter, something one does for the money. Most Hollywood composers regard their work basically as a craft —with a potential for art. The dichotomy angered Bernard Herrmann, who told author Tony Thomas ("Music for the Movies"), "America is the only country in the world with so‐called 'film composers.' Every other country has composers who sometimes do films."
However, Dave Grusin, who has scored numerous pictures like "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here," "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" and "Three Days of the Condor," maintains: "Hollywood is the last place a composer can make a living and do—not totally what he wants — but at least some of it creatively, and because of that you can forgive the business."
Composers, of course, are just as vulnerable to the fads of the industry as anyone else. The symphonic sound. for example, will continue as long as the movies in which it’s used make money. Once they don’t, producers will demand something different musically. "We can survive all the fads," says Lalo Schifrin. "It’s part of our business to be versatile." Billy Goldenberg adds, "People who go to the movies want to go on a trip, into a fantasy world, and we can bring them there." ■
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