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BASIL POLEDOURIS: IN HIS OWN WORDS

PART NINE: THE FINAL SCORES

In 1999, Poledouris scored his only film for director Sam Raimi, the Kevin Costner vehicle FOR LOVE OF THE GAME:

I read the script and thought it was one of the best I've read in years. I responded to it because there were parallels in my own life. It's about a guy who's been pitching for 20 years and he's going to be traded to another team. He's an old-school type person even though he's relatively young -- he's 40. The same day that he's been given this bombshell by the owner of the team, the woman he's been seeing for the last five years tells him she's leaving and going to London, and he thinks he doesn't need her because the game has been his life and he can't make the commitment to her that he's made to baseball. So the whole picture is about him assessing his life throughout this last game, whether he should retire or what he should do. So he's reflecting on his relationship with the woman and his teammates, and he realizes at about the sixth inning that he's been pitching a no-hitter. So he's making a decision through the whole game.

I made a tape based on the script -- essentially The War at Home's more sentimental, reflective, bittersweet cues, and Wind, which has that striving for perfection, competition, pushing yourself feel. The music supervisor, G. Mark Roswell, loved it and became a big proponent. I also sent one to Sam Raimi and Kevin Costner.

[Raimi and I] met and he asked me if I liked baseball, and I said not particularly. And he asked what sports I liked and I said I really liked fencing and yacht racing. But the film isn't about baseball; it's about the relationships he has with his teammates and the woman, and himself. Those were the main points -- it could have been a bridge builder or an architect. There's also a very strong element because he's making a decision, and the way Sam shot it, every scene is loaded with the icons of baseball. I didn't realize it until very near the end of the scoring...it just has an incredible cumulative effect that exploded in my head that this is about a hundred years of baseball. All these images are adding up to something that isn't nostalgia because it's very much alive, but it certainly feeds into this character's love of the game. You get these snatches of this and that...at one point he smells his glove. It's very subtle but he sniffs it, and there's an incredible sense of nostalgia there.

I mentioned to Sam that one of the more important aspects of the score would be to represent the Americana aspects of baseball itself. Not making it retro or making it The Natural set in the '30s, but giving it a sense that goes back 100 years. We had talked about Lonesome Dove and about how it had such an American sound and a strong relationship between the male characters. He wanted that as well as a sense of bittersweet melancholy, because [the character]'s making all these major life decisions.

The other thing I talked about was that it wasn't necessarily important to score the game itself, the actual outs and hits, until it becomes a story point at the end of the film. We talked about whether there should be his theme, her theme, the love theme, baseball theme, and I wasn't sure about that, and to tell you the truth to this day I'm not sure. I know I've written probably four main themes for the film, and like Lonesome Dove, they're a little interchangeable. I know I wrote a main theme for the film, which kind of works for me as Billy Chapel's relationships, either with the ball, with her, etc. But since the whole thing takes place in flashback, it kind of keeps us in the same arena. I also told him that I thought it should be fairly sparse, that we didn't need it to be overloaded orchestrally, and is it turns out we wound up with a 100-piece orchestra. But there's always a kind of tension and concern that it never gets overblown.

I had Sam's trust, and if I ran into a sequence where I wanted to change the start time or end of a cue, I could. He was very involved with postproduction so we didn't spend a tremendous amount of time together. Sam may have seen the mockups on the first four reels, if that. After that I was on my own and we'd communicate by phone, but he had enough demonstration of where I wanted the score to go that he was comfortable. I might come across a scene that we spotted to be one minute long and realize that it would be really great to run it for another five minutes. (F4-8)

There are 90 minutes of score in the film, and parts of it are comprised of a 100-piece orchestra and choir, and then some other moments just have a few guitars. The approach was, as it always is for me, "musically represent to the best of my ability what this movie is about."

The guy is modern (if a bit old), and he is living in the 1990s even though his taste is a little retro. So I decided I didn't want to keep the whole score orchestral -- and threw in a little guitar work. Not necessarily "rock and roll", but more of a cross between folk and pop with a serious hard edge to it. There is a sequence in the film where I used guitars and Daiko Japanese ceremonial drums to represent an edge: to show that he can be a mean son-of-a-bitch. That seemed appropriate, and Sam Raimi agreed.

The other thing that is strong in the film is the romance - it's a love story! It's a great blend of hard sports and a very sensitive love story. It a very Aristotelian in its dramatic structure because it all takes place in twenty-four hours. It was great because I got to work in at least three musical styles. The most important thing is that the music represents the ideas behind the film. In this one, there were several ideas, so there were several representations of music. What unifies them all, of course, is the thematic material. You can play the theme on guitar, or solo piano, or with a whole orchestra. (SN99)

Sam was very respectful and aware of my desire to contribute to this film and allowed me to do it. He was always very positive and encouraging and with his supportive energy quieted my concern about there being two different versions of the film being edited that both needed to be prepared for scoring, I think that once we set the ground rules that although this was about Baseball which is usually about American Marches and Apple Pie, what we really had here was a bit more introspective psychologically but working itself out on a very large canvass of the playing field.

In the course of one game, we learn about Billy Chapel's past, and about the fact that he making a decision to retire from the game and whether or not to be with the woman whom he loves. Needless to say, there were many emotions and situations to write music for. Once Sam realized that I understood these parameters, I was pretty much on my own. Although he had a very tight editing schedule, he managed to hear every cue in mock-up form except two. One he didn't like so we tracked it and on the other he suggested that I put a choir in the next to last cue to push it over the top. I love choirs, so I appreciated the opportunity to utilize a big one. (BS)

If These Walls Could Talk, an HBO drama telling three stories about women dealing with abortion (scored by Cliff Eidelman), was followed by the Poledouris-scored IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK 2, which featured three lesbian-themed stories and an all-star cast. Another TV movie, LOVE AND TREASON, re-teamed Poledouris with Hunt for Red October producer Mace Neufeld (and his partner Robert Rehme):

I saw the film, a suspenseful, darkly romantic, contemporary drama and wanted to find a way to be involved. Over the last two years Tim Boyle, my engineer, and I have been seeking ways to incorporate current digital synthesis and recording technology into our already state of the art recording and mixing studio, Blowtorch Flats. Love and Treason afforded the opportunity to put my theories about fusing orchestral film scoring techniques of traditional orchestration with many devices used in record production (rhythmically insistent drumming, synthesizers, percussion and above all -- space). (LT)

[Executive Producer] Nick [Grillo] called me and told me he had this project, and was I interested? I said yeah, of course, anything with Bob and Mace and those guys, absolutely. I've done some of my best work for them. As producers, they really understand what a composer can bring to a picture, and they really try and create an environment that is conducive to you doing your best work. But then, in the second breath, he told me how much money they had in the budget, and it worked out to about 4 1/2 percent of the budget of Red October! So, to say those two things within the same breath, like "well, we really like Red October and here's how much money we have," I mean, I thought that was impossible. And quite frankly, it was. Then we explored it a little bit, and I have a studio in Venice that is completely self-contained with synthesizers, and we do some acoustic recording here.

And I was thinking, well, the only way this can possibly be done is practically all synthesizer. I always use acoustic percussion, and a couple of key instruments, whether it's the woodwinds or brass or something, to give it life, a human quality. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to put into practice a lot of the things that I've been thinking were quite possible. But the story was more of an internal story about a Navy woman whose husband has been jailed for treason. That's why I was surprised when Nick had said Red October -- with the exception of the opening scene, there's no ocean, and there's certainly no submarine and there's no threat of nuclear annihilation! So after exploration of this with him and Alan Barnette, the other producer, we really decided that what it really needed was something a little more contemporary than Red October and certainly less slanted toward a Russian-sounding film score. Also, the economic limitations forced me to go to a much simpler and, quite frankly, for this picture, a much more effective approach. It's not really an action film, and that's the thing that threw me.

I think it's a unique kind of listening experience. It's a strange score for me, in that I don't think I've ever relied so heavily on electronic loops, I don't think I've ever relied so heavily upon this kind of percussive propulsion. What I've tried to do was blend that with the normal kinds of film scoring techniques, basically the techniques of orchestration and the techniques of motif. It's an interesting score for me. (S77)

Poledouris re-teamed with Serial Mom director John Waters for the offbeat comedy CECIL B. DEMENTED, sharing the scoring credit with his daughter Zoe (who had previously composed a song for Starship Troopers, which she performed onscreen). He scored his fifth and final project for Lonesome Dove director Simon Wincer, the comedy sequel CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LOS ANGELES:

I think what they were looking for was very much like what Simon was looking for when I did Quigley Down Under, kind of an American hit on the Australian experience. I think what they wanted was a lot of rhythmically driven, L.A. kind of techno-electronica.

The signature that Paul [Hogan] wanted to use was the didgeridoo itself, which represents the spiritual side of whatever powers he has over animals and people, and that became a motif whenever the Dundee character appears, it announces his presence. Then I blended that with the modern rhythms; that's more alternative rock and roll than it is hop-hop or rap.

The film didn't really need a traditional kind of score. What it needed was more of a rhythmic urgency. I also needed to balance the dramatic situations. The film is essentially comedic, but nonetheless there is a life-threatening element to the story, and my trick was to balance those two things out. (S77)

Poledouris' final feature score was for an adventure film called THE TOUCH (which has yet to receive a theatrical release in the U.S.), starring Michelle Yeoh and Ben Chaplin, and directed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau. This was followed by Poledouris's last completed project, an unsold TV pilot called THE LEGEND OF BUTCH & SUNDANCE.

Poledouris died on November 8, 2006 in Los Angeles at the age of 61, of natural causes. The November 14, 2006 issue of The Hollywood Reporter featured a page in remembrance of the composer, sponsored by dozens of his friends, family, colleagues and collaborators, featuring a photograph of Poledouris and the following quote:

"It is that has always been. The thread is not broken. Should I be gone from thoughts? (why should I be gone from your thoughts?) Simply because I am gone from your sight? I am not far, just on the other side of the pathway...you see, everything is fine...You will find my heart and in that you will draw tenderness.

Dry your tears and do not cry if you love me."

--St. Augustine 354-430 AD


BS: Interview for BSOSpirit by Jose Luis Diez Chellini
F4-8: "At the Top of His Game," interview by Jeff Bond in the September/October 1999 issue of Film Score Monthly (Vol. 4, No. 8)
LT: Liner notes for the Love and Treason CD on Intrada, by Basil Poledouris
S77: Interview by Ford A. Thaxton in the Spring 2001 issue of Soundtrack (Vol. 20, No. 77)
SN99: Interview by Dan Goldwasser on Soundtrack.net, 10/8/99


Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight of this series can be accessed on the website.


Edited by Scott Bettencourt

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