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November 09, 2016

Denver Film Festival: Score - A Film Music Documentary


Matt Schrader - 2016
Cinetic Media

While I like the idea of a documentary about the composers of film music, Score is not the film I would have hoped for. There are nice bits of information, such as learning that Alfred Newman's "Fox Fanfare", the music that usually plays with the animated spotlights at the beginning of films from 20th Century-Fox, was originally composed for Sam Goldwyn. Darryl Zanuck, founder of Fox, might not have known much about music, but he knew what he liked, and what Goldwyn rejected has become famous integral to the studio.

There is also discussion regarding how composers Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith would create groups of musicians playing a limited number of instruments for specifically composed scores, rather than use a full orchestra. Goldsmith is cited for incorporating some avant-garde sounds, notably for Planet of the Apes, as well as stepping in to replace < href=http://j-j-gittes.blogspot.com/2014/03/chinatown-lambro-score.html>the rejected score for Chinatown with his own score written in only ten days.

What may be the biggest problem with Score is that there's a lot of talk about music, but not enough music. Also, there is a greater emphasis on contemporary composers working in mainstream English language films. Max Steiner is given some mention for composing the first orchestral film score, for King Kong. Electrifying are the brief excerpts from A Streetcar named Desire, and Alex North's debut work on film, incorporating jazz in a way not done previously. Elmer Bernstein gets a shout out for his Aaron Copland influenced music. No mention is made of Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, David Raksin or several others from classic Hollywood. Ennio Morricone is known here only for his work with Sergio Leone. Mervyn Warren, Quincy Jones, Rachel Portman and Deborah Lurie very briefly remind the audience that it's not just white men writing the music.

While the filmmakers may not be deliberately racist or sexist, discussing the inclusion of different forms of music into film scores without being inclusive in the choice of musicians that appear in this film strikes me as tone-deaf. That kind of worldview makes even more sense with the more than ample time given to John Williams and his work with Steven Spielberg. Williams is praised for bringing back the sound of the classic Hollywood movie score. I think of Williams as the contemporary equivalent to Max Steiner for some of his memorable work. And in looking back at my own history of films and film music, the first score that made an impression on me, due to it's popularity on the radio over fifty years ago, was a Max Steiner composition, "Theme from A Summer Place".

Posted by peter at November 9, 2016 07:31 AM