In 1995, Oscar-winning composer Fred Karlin formed a production company called Karlin/Tilford Productions with executive producer Ron H. Tilford, and released their premiere documentary on renowned composer Jerry Goldsmith. A deeply private man and a composer who, at least publicly, rarely enjoyed discussing his older work, Jerry Goldsmith gave the production team the A-okay to create a program on the composer's lengthy and hugely prolific career.
Awarded an Oscar in 1976 for his terrifying music for The Omen, Goldsmith managed to receive countless Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy nominations for a body of work that included more than 150 credits in film and television, and the 70 minute documentary - co-edited, directed, and produced by Fred Karlin - was sold as a limited VHS release. Housed in an elegant box, the doc was accompanied by two photographs (Goldsmith, crew-cut in the1960s, and ponytailed in the 1990s), a recording session sheet reproduction from The River Wild, and a companion book that included additional interview material and photos not featured in the doc.
In the intervening years, Goldsmith passed away in 2004 from cancer, as did Fred Karlin, and the doc remained a rare collectible and sought-after resource until filmmusic magazine Music from the Movies (for which, I must disclose, I'm a regular contributor) remastered the doc, and added previously unreleased segments from the lengthy interviews.
Filmed while Goldsmith was recording music for Curtis Hanson's 1994 film, The River Wild, the doc includes lengthy moments from the recording session, but it's primarily noteworthy for covering the composer's early years - enhanced with comments from mentors, colleagues, and peers - and interviews with directors Hanson, Richard Donner, Paul Verhoeven, Joe Dante, and Franklin J. Schaffner (from archival sources) - and many film clips which collectively present what may be the most detailed documentary on any film composer.
Most composers are given extremely short shrift on major DVD releases, as special effects and actor relationships are given more featurette time, and while it's a common aggravation with filmmusic fans, one can similarly see the writer getting less attention among DVD extras; the writer might get to speak on the commentary track, but like the composer, both are involved in very solitary jobs until the blueprints of their labor are respectively interpreted by the director and orchestra. What both craftsmen do just isn't sexy until the cameras roll, and the music's recorded and set to the film.
The Goldsmith doc is unfortunately a limited release, but DVD's run is a far broader 1500 copies than the original VHS edition. Crisply remastered with clean sound, Karlin/Tilford's composer series never went further than Goldsmith, but in aiming for the top man in their profession, they've preserved more than just flattering comments - a nagging problem that plagues those rare composer nods in DVD featurettes.
While the book and aforementioned extras remain unique to the VHS boxed set, the DVD is packed with almost 2 hours of bonus material. Chief among them is more footage from the recording session - montages that basically follow orchestra prepping and the rehearsal of several takes - and 6 extended interviews. The latter are pretty much raw footage (which, like the scoring session material, have burnt-in time code), and offers a more candid glimpse at the Q&As between subjects, and off-screen director Fred Karlin. The extra material also cover Goldsmith's TV work (such as the original Twilight Zone series), additional feature films, and the technical areas of the film composing craft, as described by Goldsmith's key orchestrators, music editor, music copyist, orchestra contractor, and recording mixer.
The specific focus of the doc may not be for the average film buff, but the production's debut on DVD at least demonstrates that a doc on the craft and personality of a composer can be as engaging, entertaining, and educational as recent docs that have singularly showcased the crafts of stunt performers, cinematographers, technological innovations in movies, and, of course, filmmakers.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan