NOT EVEN NOMINATED, PART ONE
THE YEAR IN FILM MUSIC: 1980
By Scott Bettencourt
FROM: "Marc Levy"
SUBJECT: Suggestions for FSM & (perhaps) John Takis
FSM is by far my favorite journal and John Takis my favorite contributor
to it. Inevitably he writes to me, covering subject matter of great interest
with great perception and comprehensiveness.
Here's a suggestion for an enticing project: "Overlooked by Oscar:
Filmscores Ignored by the Academy." Several instances come to mind (for
this year, TWIN TOWERS and the excellent RED DRAGON, despite the not too
subtle marketing push it received at Academy voting time).
Numerous curious examples may be found in the past, to be sure.
Just a thought on an intriguing subject -- thanks for listening.
I've done more than just listen, Marc. I've used your suggestion as
a launching pad for a whole series of articles, beginning today. (Just
so you know, you can't write to the mailbag and suggest an article involving
the Oscars and expect me to let anyone else write it. However, if John
Takis reads this column and would like to write his own piece(s) on "Filmscores
Ignored the Academy," he is more than welcome to -- he is, in fact, encouraged
As I discussed in a series of columns last year, from 1950 to 1979 the
Music Branch of the Academy used a "Finalists" system whereby they would
narrow the field of potential score nominees to ten, from which the five
final nominees would be chosen. But what if they had kept up the finalists
system after 1979?
For the imaginary "finalists," I have attempted to select scores which
are not necessarily favorites of mine (though many of them in fact are),
but which would be the most likely candidates based on the popularity of
the films and their composers with Academy voters.
And now, on with the show! ("Show" in this case meaning "gratuitous
excuse for another series of Oscar related articles")
THE REAL NOMINEES:
ALTERED STATES John Corigliano
THE ELEPHANT MAN John Morris
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK John Williams
FAME Michael Gore (the winner)
TESS Philippe Sarde
CARNY Alex North
This offbeat drama about carnival life was singer Robbie Robertson's
post-Last Waltz attempt at movie stardom. The film received little
play and even less public attention, and Robertson returned to the music
world, (helping with the scores for several films for his close friend
Martin Scorsese), but the movie featured terrific performances from Jodie
Foster and Gary Busey (fresh from The Buddy Holly Story) as well
as a typically unusual (if that isn't a contradiction) and memorable Alex
North score. The soundtrack LP (on Warner Bros.) featured North's music
on one side, including the rueful love theme "Remember to Forget" (co-written
by North's acclaimed orchestrator Henry Brant), and Robertson's songs on
the other side. Unusual for its time, the cover credits all the score musicians,
and North even played piano on one of Robertson's cues. The back cover
features a priceless photo of North lighting Robertson's cigarette as they
stand outside a carnival facade. (This score has yet to see a CD release)
THE COMPETITION Lalo Schifrin
Joel Oliansky, writer of the excellent TV movie The Law (and
later screenwriter of Bird) made his feature directorial debut with
this romantic comedy-drama about a piano competition. Richard Dreyfuss
and Amy Irving played the bland competitors/lovers (the talented Dreyfuss
straining to seem boyish at age 33), with Sam Wanamaker (as a Leonard Bernstein-ish
maestro) and Lee Remick stealing the film in supporting roles. Lalo Schifrin's
warm score (not surprisingly featuring prominent use of the piano) spotlighted
a love theme, "People Alone," (lyrics by Titanic's Will Jennings)
which earned him his only Best Song nomination. The score even featured
one mildly thriller-ish cue, "The Defection," while the soundtrack album
on MCA was dominated by score cues, with only a couple pivotal classical
pieces. The album was released on CD in Japan in the mid-nineties but has
yet to see an American CD release. (The Competition received 2 Oscar
THE GREAT SANTINI Elmer Bernstein
This family drama had already played on cable before a re-release garnered
it much acclaim, especially for the unstinting performance of Robert Duvall
as an Air Force pilot who treats his son (Michael O'Keefe) like a boot
camp trainee. One review complained that the film was not only set in 1962
but felt like it was made then too, and Bernstein's old-fashioned, broadly
emotional score fit snugly in the idiom of the era. Shockingly, none of
the music has ever seen an LP or CD release. (2 Oscar nominations)
SOMEWHERE IN TIME John Barry
Director Jeannot Szwarc used the clout he'd earned from the success
of Jaws 2 to film Richard Matheson's old fashioned time travel romance
Bid Time Return, and though the film was largely ignored upon release
it developed a cult following when it reached cable, and to this day its
fans converge at the hotel where it was filmed. The movie's greatest strength
remains John Barry's lush, gorgeous score (the kind of unashamedly romantic
music Oscar voters love), and the soundtrack LP likewise became a smash
after the film's cable release. MCA released the original score on LP and
CD, and Varese Sarabande released an expanded re-recording in 1998, conducted
by John Debney (1 Oscar nomination)
THE STUNT MAN Dominic Frontiere
Like The Great Santini, this dark comedy about moviemaking spent
a long time on the shelf before getting released to great acclaim (and,
like Santini, little boxoffice). Frontiere, reuniting with Freebie
and the Bean director, Richard Rush provided a jaunty march for the
film crew and a peppy chase theme, the latter providing the basis for a
terrific Dusty Springfield theme song, "Bits and Pieces," lyrics by Norman
Gimbel. 20th Century Fox Records belatedly released a relatively brief
score LP, which has yet to be released on CD. (3 Oscar nominations)
FIVE MORE OUTSTANDING SCORES OF 1980:
THE BLUE LAGOON Basil Poledouris
For his first smash hit film, Poledouris broke no musical ground, but
his delicate, melodic score (at times pleasantly reminiscent of Bernard
Herrmann), combined with Nestor Almendros' lush, Oscar-nominated location
photography, managed to make the film's teen audience swoon over the romance
of its vapid, scantily clad young leads as if they were seeing something
genuinely romantic. One mild danger cue for a shark sequence gave slights
hints of the first-rate adventure composer Poledouris would shortly become.
The score CD was released on Southern Cross.
DRESSED TO KILL Pino Donaggio
While not as melodically strong as his Don't Look Now score nor
as immediately gratifying as his work on Carrie, Donaggio's lush,
hypnotic score for DePalma's engrossing, nonsensical thriller (his second
reworking of Psycho) matched the visual sheen of Ralf Bode's photography,
with his traditional wordless female vocals wryly depicting Angie Dickinson's
sex life in fantasy and reality. Score released on LP and CD by Varese
Sarabande, though frustratingly missing the terrific recurring "surveillance"
theme that depicts Keith Gordon's attempts to track down his mother's killer.
RAISE THE TITANIC John Barry
Clive Cussler's lively, trashy nautical thrillers seemed like ideal
material for a James Bond-style movie franchise, and the book in question
had the right high-concept hook to inaugurate the movie series. The filmmakers
spared no expense (reportedly $36 million, a staggering amount in 1980)
but forgot to include virtually any Bondian action, mistakenly turning
the film into a lavish salvage drama and adding an inappropriately cynical
ending. However, John Barry's marvelous score managed to find miraculous
variety in this repetitive story, with memorable main themes and terrifically
varied cues to illustrate the film's endless underwater sequences. Because
of the film's failure, Barry didn't even submit his score for Oscar consideration
and the film's original score tracks have never been released (and are
allegedly lost), but over the last twenty three years it's deservedly become
a favorite of film music fans, and Silva released a faithful rerecording
conducted by Nic Raine.
RESURRECTION Maurice Jarre
This fantasy drama about a Midwestern woman who develops healing powers
after a near-death experience benefited from a score written during an
especially creative and satisfying period in Jarre's long career -- when
he was assisted by ace orchestrator Christopher Palmer and before he developed
an unhealthy addiction to synth ensembles. The score has never been released
in any form but the main theme is especially lovely -- I can still remember
it 23 years after seeing the film.
TOM HORN Ernest Gold
Steve McQueen's penultimate film, this downbeat Western was one of two
simultaneous projects about the famous tracker -- the other was a miniseries,
Mr. Horn (with David Carradine in the lead) which boasted a William
Goldman script and a Jerry Fielding score. With his score for Used Cars
rejected, this was Ernest Gold's final big studio project, and he gave
it a properly dramatic and elegiac score, still unavailable on LP or CD.
THE REST OF THE YEAR IN FILM MUSIC:
Besides his beloved scores for Somewhere and Titanic,
John Barry gave the offensive Roger Vadim psychosexual drama NIGHT
GAMES (in which an woman overcomes the trauma of a childhood rape by
having sex with a mysterious man dressed in bird costumes) a much more
melodic and varied score than it deserved. He also provided a subdued,
touching score for the Richard Donner drama INSIDE MOVES, though
only two Barry cues made it to the soundtrack LP, and scored the little
seen TOUCHED BY LOVE, about a cerebral palsy victim helped by letters
from Elvis Presley (I did not make that up -- it's even based on a true
The same year he scored the acclaimed Great Santini, Elmer
Bernstein cemented his reputation as Hollywood's top comedy composer
with his deft score for AIRPLANE, though much of his score (including
repeated use of Williams' Jaws theme) went unheard in the final
picture. He also provided the "God Music" for THE BLUES BROTHERS,
reuniting him with Animal House director John Landis. He composed
a rousing adventure score for the little seen prequel ZULU DAWN,
and wrote an extremely offbeat score for Stanley Donen's failed sci-fi
thriller SATURN 3. The director found it a bit too offbeat and dialed
much of it out, though a year later Bernstein recycled the unused love
theme as Taarna's theme for his superlative Heavy Metal score. (Zulu
Dawn was the only Bernstein score to receive a score album release
Queen wrote the oddly popular songs for the lavish, campy FLASH GORDON
remake, but Howard Blake provided the effective incidental music.
Known primarily for light-hearted jazz scores like California Suite,
Claude Bolling produced an impressive change-of-pace with his brooding
orchestral score for the Charlton Heston thriller THE AWAKENING,
a remake of the 1972 Hammer film Blood From the Mummy's Tomb. He
also provided a more traditionally Bolling-ish work for Paul Mazursky's
flop Jules and Jim homage WILLIE AND PHIL.
The producers of the Hercule Poirot films attempted to continue the
magic with an Angela Lansbury/Miss Marple vehicle, THE MIRROR CRACK'D,
and though the film flopped John Cameron's score was lively and
charming (if not up to the high standard Richard Rodney Bennett and Nino
Rota had set for Agatha Christie adaptations).
Apparently, Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind wrote a full
score for Stanley Kubrick's unforgettable, visually staggering film of
THE SHINING, but the musically meddling director replaced most of
it with heavy-handedly spotted classical pieces, only retaining two cues
of the original score including an effective main title based on that old
warhorse Dies Irae.
John Carpenter's ghost story THE FOG was scored, of course, by
John Carpenter, and he gave it a Tubular Bells-ish main theme.
Bill Conti provided satisfyingly dramatic orchestral scores for
THE FORMULA (with a love theme reminiscent of Altered States,
released simultaneously) and John Cassavetes' GLORIA. He had a rare
comedy smash with PRIVATE BENJAMIN, for which he wrote a comic march
and some faux-Parisian music for the French scenes.
Ry Cooder broke into the scoring scene with an unusually authentic
score for the Western THE LONG RIDERS, for, of course, director
For one of his final collaborations with director Francois Truffaut,
Georges Delerue gave the overrated THE LAST METRO a lovely
score dominated by a charming main theme.
Before scoring Dressed to Kill, Pino Donaggio provided
the music for DePalma's extremely low-budget comedy HOME MOVIES,
giving it a jaunty score with some welcome self-parody.
Jerry Fielding wrote his final score for the little seen female
wrestler drama BELOW THE BELT, released after his death.
Apparently no longer entrusted with dark thrillers like The Laughing
Policeman and Two-Minute Warning, Charles Fox concentrated
on comedy -- OH GOD! BOOK TWO, LITTLE DARLINGS, THE LAST
MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA, and the smash hit NINE TO FIVE, for
which he wrote clever pastiche cues for the fantasy revenge scenes.
Dave Grusin wrote a charming score for the sleeper hit MY
BODYGUARD, the directorial debut of actor-producer Tony Bill.
Along with providing a disappointing comedy score for the Chevy Chase/Goldie
Hawn reteaming SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES (whose soundtrack LP was cancelled
at the last minute), Marvin Hamlisch adapted Pachelbel's Canon
for the Best Picture winner ORDINARY PEOPLE. Currently on display
in the lobby outside the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater is a letter from
Hamlisch explaining how he adapted the piece, in hopes of being considered
eligible for a Best Adaptation Score nomination (it didn't work).
James Horner burst upon the soundtrack scene with his first two
wide releases: the tawdry monsters-raping-women thriller HUMANOIDS FROM
THE DEEP, for which he provided a haunting main theme and recycled
an action cue (virtually note-for-note) from Goldsmith's 1978 The Boys
From Brazil; and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, an engaging pastiche
of Williams' and Goldsmith's sci-fi fantasy scores (despite Horner's claims
that he never listens to film scores, only classical music).
Along with Resurrection, Maurice Jarre wrote an appropriately
quirky and romantic score for the Joseph Wambaugh comedy (three words you
never thought you'd see together) THE BLACK MARBLE. He also scored
the Disney kids adventure THE LAST FLIGHT OF NOAH'S ARK, but all
I can recall from that movie is the girls in the audience giggling at the
sight of a nine-year old Ricky Schroder in his tighty-whities.
Michel Legrand provided a rousing adventure score for the Charlton
Heston vehicle THE MOUNTAIN MEN, though one theme sounded distractingly
like "Here comes Mr. Bill's dog." He also scored Steve McQueen's final
film, THE HUNTER, but Charles Bernstein was brought in to score
the big chase scene; as well as Michelle Pfeiffer's first film, the little
seen FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN.
Michael J. Lewis wrote a typically hyperactive score for the
enjoyable Roger Moore action thriller FFOLKES (known outside the
U.S. as North Seas Hijack).
Henry Mancini reunited with 10 star Bo Derek for the flat
infidelity comedy-drama A CHANGE OF SEASONS, which featured the
memorable image of Derek making cable movie love in a hot tub with Anthony
Hopkins. Mancini also provided a charming period score for the remake of
LITTLE MISS MARKER.
Harry Manfredini scored the very first FRIDAY THE 13TH
(who would have thought that 23 years later they'd still be making films
about Jason Voorhees -- he wasn't even the killer in the first film) with
a distinctive, echoing motif (reminiscent of Goldsmith's Coma) that's
become the indelible musical trademark for the series.
Brian May wrote a driving action score for the Australian import
MAD MAX, but without the haunting theme he later gave its sequel
The Road Warrior.
Giorgio Moroder followed his Oscar for Midnight Express
with AMERICAN GIGOLO, which introduced the great Blondie song "Call
Me," and FOXES, which was Adrian Lyne's feature debut and included
the hit "On the Radio."
Ennio Morricone wrote the score to the disastrous Peter Benchley
thriller THE ISLAND, providing a lovely main theme, but the most
conspicuous cue was a Wagner piece used inappropriately during the massacre
of the Coast Guard crew. Morricone also scored the directorial debut of
the superlative cinematographer Gordon Willis, WINDOWS -- the plot
involved psychotic lesbian Elizabeth Ashley hiring a man to rape her intended,
heterosexual Talia Shire, which is perhaps why the film received only a
paltry release and hasn't been seen since.
John Morris continued his career as the composer for everyone
in the Mel Brooks universe. Along with The Elephant Man (produced
by Brooks), he scored IN GOD WE TRUST, directed by Marty Feldman
and featuring an original Randy Newman song. (Shockingly, he didn't score
the directorial debut of Mrs. Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, FATSO:
that job went to Joe Renzetti)
Jack Nitzsche gave a creepy, non-melodic musical background to
the controversial thriller CRUISING, and provided authentic sounds
of the beatnik era for the Jack Kerouac biopic HEART BEAT.
Leonard Rosenman scored James Caan's directorial debut, the 70s
style fact-based drama HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT, and provided the incidental
music for the Neil Diamond remake of THE JAZZ SINGER.
Lalo Schifrin had a prolific and unusually eclectic year. Besides
The Competition, he scored: BRUBAKER, an impressive, fact-based
prison drama (his final score for Cool Hand Luke director Stuart
Rosenberg), though its restrained and effective score is only now getting
a soundtrack release (from Intrada), twenty-three years later; THE NUDE
BOMB, the failed bigscreen version of Get Smart; SERIAL,
the remarkably unhip satire of Marin County life (irrelevant note: I lived
the first 21 years of my life in Marin -- can't you tell?), which featured
a cheesy theme song, "It's a Changing World;" THE BIG BRAWL (released
on LP in Japan), the first attempt to make an American movie star out of
Jackie Chan, 18 years before Rush Hour reunited Schifrin and Chan;
and WHEN TIME RAN OUT, Irwin Allen's final bigscreen disaster epic,
which reunited Schifrin with Rollercoaster director James Goldstone.
John Scott took a rare venture into big-budget American cinema
with the weak time travel adventure THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, giving
it tremendous energy as well as a catchy main theme.
The spookiest ghost story of the 1980s, THE CHANGELING featured
a lush orchestral score from Ken Wannberg and Rich Wilkins.
Patrick Williams scored a broad range of comedies, including
HERO AT LARGE; a forgettable replacement score for Robert Zemeckis'
terrific USED CARS; and a jazzy score (orchestrated by the great
Herbert Spencer) for IT'S MY TURN.
USED CARS (by Ernest Gold)
This was the first year that Varese Sarabande released
LPs from major new films and, in contrast to the huge number of new score
CDs we're deluged with today, these are all the score LPs from 1980 movies
produced around the time of their films' release:
Altered States, American Gigolo, The Awakening, Battle Beyond the
Stars, The Blue Lagoon, Carny, The Competition, Dressed to Kill, The Elephant
Man, The Empire Strikes Back (a 2-disc set), The Final Countdown,
The Formula, Heart Beat, Home Movies, Humanoids From the Deep, The Island,
It's My Turn, The Last Metro, The Long Riders, Mad Max, Nine to Five, Somewhere
in Time, The Stunt Man, Tess, Zulu Dawn.
If any of our readers feel I left out any important and worthy scores
from 1980, please let me know -- these columns are much easier to produce
when the letter writers do half the work.