My Unhealthy Obsession With Film Music
It’s out of control now. I can’t help myself. I’ve always played film music while I write, but recent developments have forced me to take stronger measures than ever before, like an addict moving up to crack.
I’d always had it under control. Okay, my soundtrack collection, which began when I was, oh, 10 years old, grew to several thousand copies of popular scores, then rare scores. But soundtracks changed. Great composers were dumped for pop hits owned by the studios, and the few orchestral pieces of any leth that were composed became orchestrally so dense and dull that very few now stand out.
This is what drove John Barry to leave behind Bond – because MGM insisted on employing flash-in-the-pan bands for title tracks instead of allowing him to develop themes heard throughout the films. But the history of film music – if you want to know about that, buy the essential volume by Mervyn Cooke – is filled with classical composers working within the great artistic medium of the 20th century.
Those scores by everyone from Shostakovitch and Korngold to Glass, Mertens and Nyman are easily collectable, Having reached a virtually definitive end to the kind of albums I love, I’ve dived back into finding the ones that were never released by composers like Frank De Vol, Neil Hefti and Francis Lai.
With the aid of a nifty little app called Video2MP3 (it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, I know, but it does the job) you can burn the soundtracks to film clips found on YouTube and so track down those pesky missing tracks – which is how I found the score to ‘Krakatoa -East (sic) Of Java’.
As writers’ aids I can’t recommend film scores highly enough. If you’re working on a suspense sequence, some Bernard Herrmann will impose rigour on your work. Many modern soundtrack composers recycle the work of the greats, so in the early good Danny Elfman scores we hear Fellini’s Nino Rota, and in Alexander Desplat there are echoes of many other composers. But writers build on the works of others, so why not?
Notoriously, Stanley Kubrick fell in love with his temp tracks so much that he was reluctant to abandon them in the final edit, which is why there are two scores to ‘2001’, the temporary version and the commissioned one by Alex North.
Some soundtrack composers have a separate compositional life. Barry did before and during his career of writing scores, and Dario Marianelli does, with a new album every year that rounds up bits and pieces. It’s hard collecting soundtrack music because composers re-use material and rework it (when authors do this, there’s always an outcry).
I do now wonder if great scores have reached an end. With the exception of Desplat’s superb soundtrack for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ there’s been little of note from Hollywood in the past two or three years. Currently Spain is producing the most elegant scores, from Federico Jusid to Joan Valent and Roque Banos, all highly collectable.