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The Great "Apes" Score Debate

Goldsmith vs. Rosenman

The Score That Might Have Been vs. The Score That Came to Be

by John O'Callaghan

A little more than a year ago I purchased the new Fox Widescreen laserdisc of Patton. I purchased it for two reasons: 1. It had Jerry Goldsmith's legendary score, complete and newly mastered, and 2. The laserdisc included a documentary about the making of the film, most particularly an interview with Jerry Goldsmith. When I first viewed this documentary, I had no idea of the disturbing impact that interview with Goldsmith would cause to a personal favorite score written by fellow composer Leonard Rosenman. At one point in the interview Jerry Goldsmith mentions that he was originally the composer signed to write the score to Beneath the Planet of the Apes; however, Frank Schaffner went to the Fox brass and insisted that Goldsmith do Patton instead. Also in his discussion, Goldsmith alludes to the fact that he had already started his Beneath score.

Now let me set a few things straight before we proceed any further. In my opinion Jerry Goldsmith is our greatest living film composer and (although Jerry might argue the point) Planet of the Apes simply is his landmark score. The high concept, compositional style, orchestration and ruthless performance expanded the language of film composition for all those that followed since 1968. I know a lot of fans will argue for Star Trek-The Motion Picture, The Omen, Chinatown, even Patton; but these scores, while great, do not break fertile new film music ground--Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes did, in the same way Herrmann's Psycho had 8 years before.

Unfortunately, the effect the Goldsmith interview on the Patton laserdisc has is to promote 30-year Monday Morning Quarterbacking among the Goldsmith fanatics: "Oh man, if only Jerry had done Beneath--with that mutant choir and all it would have been another Omen." Now that kind of thinking leads us down an absurd road: Goldsmith scores Beneath the Planet of the Apes, he does not score Patton. Sorry, I wouldn't trade the unknown potentialities of a Goldsmith Beneath score for the beauty of his fully realized score for Patton. But most importantly I would not trade a Goldsmith Beneath for the masterful and daring original score for Beneath composed by Leonard Rosenman. Like Goldsmith's Apes scores, Rosenman's Apes scores are a vital part of that series' special language. So, let's consider what is known and unknown (and unheard on a CD) about Leonard Rosenman's score to Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

In 1969, when producer Arthur Jacobs and his creative crew were faced with finding a new composer for their sequel to Planet of the Apes (keeping in mind Fox's ever tightening grip on the purse-strings since the whole film industry was in the throes of a recession), they chose: Leonard Rosenman. Rosenman had already established a formidable reputation with his scores to East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. But it is most likely his forays into 12-tone polyphony and serial techniques with The Cobweb, The Savage Eye and then Fox's own Fantastic Voyage, that brought him on board as composer of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

However, one of the most important factors that hovered over Beneath the Planet of the Apes until it reached theatres in May 1970, was that the screenplay was constantly changing--and we're not talking about the usual quibbling over a line or two of dialogue (although there was plenty of that!). There were drastic changes made to the ending of the film which seriously affected the tone of the film. Originally the End of the World conclusion didn't exist. The Gorillas and the Mutants all perished in a nuclear explosion in the underground New York lair, our heroes escaped and the remaining peaceful ape society and humans joined together in unity. The final scene portrayed the eventual birth of a half-ape/half-human child. The changes were forced on Arthur Jacobs and director Ted Post when actor Charlton Heston (much to his discredit) demanded that his Taylor character be killed, so that Heston could be out of the Apes films once and for all. He was the one who sold them on (or insisted on, which ever source you believe) the End of the World/Doomsday Bomb ending.

Now, enter Leonard Rosenman. Rosenman, like Goldsmith, Alex North and Bernard Herrmann is first and foremost a consummate musician. He thrives on finding his own voice, his own tonal textures to build a musical tapestry whether for Film, TV, Theatre or the Concert Hall. I'm sure there was plenty of pressure on him to do a Goldsmith Apes "mimic," but to Rosenman's great credit, nothing of the sort emerged. Listening to his score, the first and most important choice he made with his Apes score was to do it his own way.

Considering what the original Beneath script called for, Rosenman was brought on much earlier than your typical film composer would have been. This was because Rosenman had to compose the Mass of the Holy Bomb first since it was performed on the set for the cameras, (or perhaps played back for lip-synching) and not dubbed in later as one might expect. And I'm sure that when Rosenman started his work, the whole Beneath score had a "Grand Design," based on the original screenplay. Historically, Rosenman always takes an intellectual view of a film's themes before composing the score, not merely plugging cues in here or there in a haphazard manner at the whims of producers and directors. Therefore, if one views the finished score with the original concept of the screenplay, his "Grand Design" was that the score took a gradual (tonal) journey into darkness and despair beneath the planet of the talking apes into the lair of the telepathic mutants, making a transition at the end to Hope for the Future with the escape of the heroes.

I can only imagine his disappointment when Leonard Rosenman received the rough cut of the film, only to find out the ending was so drastically different. But put yourself in his shoes: a composer has no power to affect studio politics. So, for Rosenman it probably became a situation where the editors had cut his final cues, or perhaps they were never recorded (although careful examination of the piece titled "Underground City" on the poorly produced Beneath album, reveals that the score does continue to play beyond the point where it abruptly ends in the final cut of the film) or quite possibly, the original conclusion in Rosenman's "Grand Design" just went unwritten, a real shame.

Criticism of Rosenman's score surrounds three aspects that I've heard over the years and I'll try to address them:

1. Rosenman's Beneath score is not Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes score; I think enough has been said on this subject to establish that they are both composers of superior intellect, integrity and originality.

2. The complaint that Rosenman's score is too downbeat, dark and depressing; the script alterations that I have described previously most likely answer that argument wholly.

3. I hear dismissive comments about Rosenman's work in general as being "repetitive." Anyone who is serious about musical composition, in any form or convention, knows that a composer's works can share some similarities. What should be noted is the progression that takes place in their musical output over the span of their career. Bearing that in mind, anyone who tells me East of Eden (1955), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Robocop 2 (1990) are merely "mimics" of each other is simply someone who finds Leonard Rosenman's music not his or her's "cup of tea." So be it. However, Rosenman's music is my "cup of tea" and as such I enjoy his March of the Apes as much as Jerry Goldsmith's The Hunt.

Rosenman's score is a wonderful example of how a 12-tone, polyphonic score is executed. What really goes unnoticed in all of these intellectual parlor- games is simply the music itself; long passages of sad, internal reflection that break away into wild chases, "carnival of the absurd" military marches and The Mass of the Holy Bomb. Listen carefully behind the mono soundtrack effects and Rosenman will be the one to transport you into this alien landscape. His cues behind Burial/Nova Appears, The Trek to Ape City, Brent's confessional in the Subway Station of "Are you what we were before we learned to talk?" show you what a artist can compose out of whole cloth when you have talent, like Rosenman.

Indeed even today, Rosenman's legacy is heard everywhere. I remember watching an X-Files episode a few years ago that dealt with a character who found it necessary to feed off cancerous tumors to sustain his life. Composer Mark Snow wrote a striking motif for E-flat Clarinet that echoed of Rosenman's Beneath or Lord of the Rings. Then something amusing struck me: when I thought about the character's name--Leonard Betts, I speculated that this was Mark Snow paying homage to Rosenman, a musical tip of the hat for all the maestro has given the craft.

When I look back on it from a 30-year perspective, it is a miracle that Beneath the Planet of the Apes is as good a film as it is. It is often criticized for its downbeat and defeatist mood. Actually, it's Rosenman's music that makes the more incredible and coincidental elements of the story hang together. If you take Beneath for what it is, a fable told in film about intolerance, and how that 2000 year-old intolerance manifested itself in a cataclysmic end of the world. Remember in 1970, Doomsday was a very real threat that hung over every tense political moment. Beneath is merely a reflection in that mirror. And Leonard Rosenman's score is another reflection in that same frightening mirror. It's only too bad that we haven't been given the opportunity to hear his powerful 12-tone polyphonic score on its own, in a proper CD presentation. It would also be nice to hear the chronology and details of the composition told by Rosenman himself so any speculative inaccuracies I've made here could be dispelled. Hopefully, the future of this remarkable score won't be as bleak as the one it was meant to reinforce.

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