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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 to.)

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


THE "FINALISTS":

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 nominations)

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 story).

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 that year).

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 Walter Hill.

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.


REJECTED:

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.

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com


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