Ooo! More music!
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_July 2003 _


Several high-profile releases have recently included interview segments with a diverse collection of film composers. Ranging in length from a few interview sound-bites, to featurettes running under 10 minutes, the eclectic titles feature onscreen appearances by David Arnold, James Horner, John Barry, Bill Conti, and Quincy Jones.

Replacing the first issue of Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, Universal's 2-disc set adds 4 documentaries, with producer/composer Quincy Jones prominently featured between the numerous cast and crew interviews. Novelist Alice Walker describes the inspired collaboration between Spielberg and Jones, and the director himself acknowledges Jones was a sympathetic producer who helped smoothen the controversy of "a white Jewish boy" directing an historical piece on the African American experience at the turn of the century. Music was a major component for both the director and composer, and though Jones provides a great anecdote concerning the writing of "Sister, Sister", there's no mention of the film score proper; the emphasis is on the film's blues heritage, and Spielberg adds "I've been making musicals all my life, but I disguise them in drama, and science-fiction pictures."

Another older release given the reissue treatment is Warner Bros.' The Right Stuff. Previously available as a bare bones "flipper," the new version adds several excellent documentaries. Running 3 hours with a superlative cast and crew, a feature-length, tightly edited commentary track could've worked better, but in its place we have scene selections over which are highlights from the film's director, producer, actors, cinematographer, and Oscar-winning composer, Bill Conti. Bookending the track, Conti's describes the film's sound effects (some using porcine noises!), and being hired to re-score the picture after the original composer left. (Not mentioned by Conti, John Barry's name did appear in the credits of the movie edition of Tom Wolfe's paperback - just like Mychael Danna's name is still contained in the current Hulk novelization.)

Conti also reappears in the making-of documentary, and describes arriving to score a completed film, instead of a production still in the editing stages. With a 'fully locked' picture, the composer relished the chance to show peers and audiences he was more than a pop composer, adding a solid symphonic work beside his immensely popular score for Rocky.

Revisiting another Oscar-winning release is MGM's multi-disc set is Dances with Wolves, with lengthy, new documentaries on every production aspect. Titled "The Art of Composition," 7 minutes are devoted to John Barry's highly regarded score, with recent interviews with the composer, director, and editor Neil Travis; the latter provides a particularly moving anecdote of a harp player's subtle reaction after recording a major cue. There's also plenty of archival snapshots from a vintage documentary (also included in the set, fully intact), with Barry's impressions working with then neophyte director Kevin Costner.

A music video is also present, using film stills and scenes, set to a "popular" (read: easy listening) rendition of Barry's theme.

Though a major (and expensive) disappointment when released, MGM also gave Windtalkers a 3-disc release, although most of the featurettes and extras could have been packed into Disc 2. Perhaps a case of ego on the part of director John Woo, the deluxe set contains a 5 minute segment on James Horner, with the composer conducting "a landmine" cue with the orchestra. It's an amiable portrait, and much like his interview for A Beautiful Mind, Horner describes his daily role as a film composer, his relationship with the director and editor, and shaping the score to reflect the film's characters over combat scenes.

Another 2-disc release from MGM, Die Another Day, gives David Arnold some room to discuss his third 007 score, and he largely describes his efforts to bring a fresh sound to the aging franchise, adding "in a way you could write the same source music for the next film, as the situations aren't too dissimilar, as 007 lives in his own self-contained world."

The best bit has Arnold talking about every audience member's hope that each Bond film might be the best yet; and the pressure on the composer, after the signature gun barrel prologue, to rekindle and maintain the comic book excitement that fans expect in a 007 film. Arnold's given 6 minutes to explain his goals, while higher-profile Madonna gets a making-of documentary for her video (which is also included on the DVD).


Mark R. Hasan (2003)

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