In cinema, and in particular Hollywood cinema, the film score or the composer has been one of the essential elements of technical cinema. The music is usually the last key creative layer added to the collaborative process of making a film and it's often the most influential. Over the years, the great composers have often stood as big as, or often bigger or more famous than the producer, director or even the film itself.
In the late 50’s, film scores started to become an art form unto itself, with the ability to break away from the film, and generate its own source of revenue in the form of the music soundtrack. Who could ever forget the commanding presence of Leonard Bernstein's horn section in "West Side Story", or Bernard Herrman's ominous and brooding opening to "Citizen Kane", or Maurice Jarre's sweeping balalaika in "Doctor Zhivago", or Herrman's piercing strings in "Psycho"?
Going through the decade here’s a little sampling of some of the great composers whose music often transcended their films:
- Max Steiner
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold
- Dimitri Tiomkin
- David Raksin
1950’s – 1960’s
- Miklos Rozsa
- Bernard Herrmann
- Alex North
- Elmer Bernstein
- Leonard Bernstein
- Alfred Newman
- Henry Mancini
- John Barry
- Ennio Morricone
- Jerry Fielding
- Maurice Jarre
- John Williams
- Bill Conti
- Jerry Goldsmith
- Tangerine Dream
- Michael Kamen
- Alan Silvestri
- James Horner
- Hans Zimmer
- Philip Glass
- Danny Elfman
- Howard Shore
- James Newton Howard
Is anybody talking about influential and commanding film scores of today? When was the last time you wanted to go out and buy a movie's soundtrack?
Arguably in the 2000’s there's been a distinct shift from those ‘hummable’ scores we remember. Perhaps it’s that post 9/11 cynicism/realism which has creeped into popular cinema.
Take the fine work of James Newton Howard on "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" - both are fantastic scores, pulsating rhythms which help control the pace of the film. But does it lift itself off the screen, like, say, James Horner's pulsating work on James Cameron's "Aliens"? or even Brad Fiedel work on the "Terminator" films?
No, but the fact is James Newton Howard is perhaps the most sought-after composer today, and arguably one of the few of the old guard of the 80's and 90's doing better work than they were back then. Remember he was Peter Jackson's next choice when Howard Shore couldn't do the work on "King Kong"? He's still M. Night Shyamalan's goto composer churning out consistently good music despite the mediocre films. His most recent work for "The Happening" was one of his best scores he's ever done.
Maybe these prominent scores and composers are untrendy. Is there a trend toward minimalism, or are we just getting unmemorable music from the former big name composers like Danny Elfman or Howard Shore?
And what ever happened to Alan Silvestri, or James Horner? These guys would regularly create score after memorable score in the 80's and 90's. Hans Zimmer continues to get blockbuster work, but other than his work on "Pirates of he Caribbean" mostly everything he's done lately is underwhelming. Danny Elfman composes a blockbuster or two a year, but does anyone consider his "Spider-man" scores or his music for, say, "Wanted" memorable?
When was the last time a music score got you excited, or even made you go out and buy (or download) the soundtrack?
Readers, please chime in on some of the great music scores or composers we need to recognize in the last 5 years or so. And who's replaced the John Williamses, Alan Silvestris and Jerry Goldsmith's?
Here's a few non-household names to consider:
A French composer who has been working for years in France and only recently became a hot property in the English-speaking cinema. His scores for "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" drew some attention. Since then he's contributed eclectic scores for "Birth", "Syriana", "The Queen", "The Golden Compass" and the upcoming "Curious Case of Benjamin Button".
This guy actually won back-to-back Oscars for "Brokeback Mountain" and "Babel". Only two other people have done that (Franz Waxman and Alan Menken) It's far from the big hummable John Williams-type scores, but always quietly affecting and deeply emotional.
Giacchino has a rare distinction of moving back and forth successfully between television music to feature film music. He's frequently worked with Brad Bird and the Pixar guys - "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille", but he's most famous for his work with J.J. Abrams. Perhaps it's his phenomenal music for "Lost" which is getting him phonecalls from The Wachowski Brothers.
Watch for this Italian composer to explode. He's already had two Oscar nominations for his two films for Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement"), and his next venture with him, the fall's "The Soloist", is a likely shoo-in.
Mansell's strong score for "Requiem for a Dream" seems to be the "Aliens" score of today - appearing in everything from other film's movie trailers to NFL promo ads. He still hasn't broken out into blockbuster films, but really do we want to see him sell out?
Brion started working on PT Anderson's films in the 90's but in this new decade he's created idiosyncratic scores for "Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind", "I Heart Huckabees" and the upcoming "Synecdoche N.Y." His work on "Magnolia" is still one of my alltime favourite scores.
Martinez is known for scoring Steven Soderbergh's 'serious' films. His specialty is the quiet ambient echoing sounds which don't overwhelm but certainly get under your skin and punctuate the emotion of a scene. He hasn't worked with too many big films other than his Soderbergh work. His breakout is unlikely.
The most memorable score for me, personally, over this decade is Alexandre Desplat's inspired work on"Birth". Jonny Greenwood's "There Will Be Blood" would be number 2. Neither of those I purchased though. Anyone else have any suggestions?