THE LIFE OF LEONARD ROSENMAN
PART FOUR: TWO OSCARS, AND REVISITING HIS EARLY SCORES
(All sources for Rosenman quotes are listed at the bottom of this
column. Paragraphs in italics are contributed by the editor)
Rosenman worked regularly in television in the early seventies, on
the series BANYON and PRIMUS as well as on
such TV movies as VANISHED and IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.
In 1973, he was interviewed for TV Guide about the years he spent
scoring MARCUS WELBY, M.D.:
How could I take Welby lightly when I'm such a hypochondriac?
I have developed symptoms, or thought I have, for everything that the doctor's
patients ever had. It's a miracle I'm not a total wreck by now.
Working with film gives me an understanding of the relationship between
sound and image, and more and more my bag in concert work is mixed media.
Like the thing I'm into now. "A Short History of Civilization, or, The
Death of Vaudeville." Scored for actors, singers, dancers, tapes and movie
clips. All kinds of high jinks. Songs of the '20s. Tap-dancing through
the war in China. The Depression. Mobster killings. And in the end they
shoot the tap dancers.
The point is, it utilizes everything I've learned doing films, making
sound and image work together.
The role of music in films should be to say something not shown
on the screen. It's a waste of time and effort to say something twice,
two different ways.
Example. A movie opens with a New York City scene. Big-city hustle and
bustle, right? So the composer pencils in Big-City Music and sound effects.
Like the taxi-horn and traffic motif in George Gershwin's An American
in Paris, right?
Wrong. Not if the composer is thinking. What isn't on the screen that
needs saying? Well, for one thing, the lost feeling of an individual in
a big city. So the thinking composer might write a lament for a single
saxophone to play against the hustle-bustle background.
Or let's say Marcus Welby is at a party. Tinkle of drinks, lots of happy
talk and laughter. Welby appears to be enjoying himself. But we know that
he's not -- he's gravely concerned about the looks of his host. No dialogue,
so how do we know? The music says it. Thirty-five million people who wouldn't
recognize an English horn if they were bopped over the head with one are
told by an English horn that old Doc is worried, and they believe it.
I really love what I do for Marcus Welby. But then I wonder --
does anybody out there really hear what I do? Really dig it? It's, I guess,
like wondering do the stars look back at me through my telescope. [TG]
Rosenman returned to the Planet of the Apes series for its
fifth and final entry, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES:
The march in Battle for the Planet of the Apes was based on some
of the music that I wrote for the second Apes film, Beneath the
Planet of the Apes, which is the real science-fiction one. That was
also a very, very avant-garde score at the time. But again, it had nothing
to do with the theory of the 12-tone music; it had to do with something
that fit the film. [S55]
Rosenman scored several TV movies during the mid-seventies, including
the horror films THE CAT CREATURE and THE PHANTOM
OF HOLLYWOOD. He scored the offbeat Satanic car chase film RACE
WITH THE DEVIL, and earned his first Oscar nomination -- as well
as his first Oscar -- for his adaptation score for Stanley Kubrick's Best
Picture nominee BARRY LYNDON:
Stanley Kubrick called me and said, "I've completed a rather interesting
film and I'd like you to arrange the music for me. Have you ever done arrangements
for a film?" I said no. He said, "I've picked out all the music, but you'll
be able to conduct it with the London Symphony, and we'll have some fun,"
because we hadn't seen each other since New York, we practically grew up
together. So I said sure. [S55]
Stanley called me on a Monday and said to come to England on Wednesday
-- the picture was finished.
They told me Stanley worked this way, and frankly, I wanted a trip to
I had never done an adaptation before, and it gave me a chance to conduct
the London Orchestra with some classical pieces I was interested in. I
was under no illusions that I had any creative work to do on the film.
I came to London. I looked at the film, and I didn't like a lot of the
things that he had picked, although there we some that I did like. We argued
and we talked and we argued, and so on. [S55]
I asked him what he had picked out and he said, "The first thing I want
to do is to buy the theme from The Godfather." I said, "Well, if
you're going to do that, tell me now so I can get the first plane out of
England." "What's wrong with it? It's a very beautiful theme." I said,
"You're right, but the last time I saw The Godfather, it was about
gangsters, not 18th century aristocrats." I listened to all the records
he had, and he had picked a sarabande which had been recorded with a harpsichord;
he thought the bass would just be marvelous for the duel scenes.
He had another theme for the dying child, which was from one of Verdi's
worst operas. It was as though a psych class had gotten together and said
"Let's find something that will really repel people." I told him I couldn't
go along with that and suggested I do an arrangement of the tune for strings,
continuo, harpsichord and percussion, and see what it sounded like. We
tried it with the London Symphony and he fell madly in love with it.
I left after having picked out all the music and recorded it there.
He then practically made a loop out of the Verdi theme and used it over
and over again. If I had known he wanted so much of it, I would have orchestrated
some other variations; there were five charming variations in that piece.
When I saw the film I saw this incredibly boring film with all the music
I had picked out going over and over again. I thought, "My God, what a
mess!" I was going to refuse the Oscar. The classical music used in the
film is much closer to me, because I am a pianist. I was a Bach and Haydn
specialist. I picked out about half of it and he picked out about half.
We kind of liked each other, but we won't work with each other again.
Now that I've won an Oscar with the help of Bach, Mozart, Schubert and
Vivaldi, perhaps the door has been opened for all of us to experiment with
new musical forms. With a little bit of luck, the door will remain open.
What is the weakest point of these auteurs' films? The photography in
all these films is marvelous. The mise-en-scene is fantastic, the performances
are often breathtaking. The only thing they lack is any kind of story.
Don't tell me that Bob Altman's specialty is story, because if it is, he's
in serious trouble. The European directors are able to take an idea and
We in the United States don't see the difference between the following
things: motion and emotion, freedom and aimlessness, development and repetition.
To be able to perceive the difference between any of these, you have to
be reasonably mature. A function of maturity is memory and education. I
don't mean formal education necessarily, but a reason to learn. I've never
found the ability to learn present in any of these directors. All I found
was a colossal ego which covered a terrible sense of emptiness. The problem
with the American auteur is that he gets too much too fast. They're falling
upward, which is destroying their sense of self-criticism. In addition,
these filmmakers are so zealous about controlling every part of the film
and not trusting -- a lot of them are strange, paranoid kinds of guys --
that they use records or source music. They will trade off flexibility
for control. Their ego really gets in the way of creative impulses.
The good composers, the ones with a real sense of dramaturgy, would
probably be as good if not better filmmakers than most of the filmmakers
they work for, because they have a real understanding of many aspects of
life and art, which filmmakers don't. It's important for filmmakers to
know painting, literature, music, because filmmaking is a marriage of all
those arts in the 20th century. A filmmaker can't simply be a director
or a cinematographer anymore. If he wants to be an artist he has to know
Rosenman passed on the chance to return to the A Man Called Horse
series for its sequel, THE RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE, which
was ultimately scored by the composer's near-namesake, Laurence Rosenthal:
My best friend Irvin Kershner, who directed the sequel, asked me to
score it. But Kershner was never able to make up his mind about what kind
of score he wanted. One moment he wanted Oriental music, very heavenly,
slight and spiritual, two minus later he wanted violent music with drums
and so on. "What about violent spiritual music?" I asked. [S56]
Rosenman wrote the original score to the Charlton Heston Western
LAST HARD MEN, only to see it replaced with tracked in cues from
20th Century Fox Westerns scored by Jerry Goldsmith:
They threw out the score. The director Andrew V. McLaglen asked me to
score it. I thought the film was dreadful and he showed it with temporary
avant-garde music. It was crazy. I finally did it and it was the wildest
way-out music and they threw it out and put in a guitar thing. He asked
me to write avant-garde music and they threw it out! [S56]
Continuing to balance feature work with television, he scored episodes
of GIBBSVILLE and the pilot for the robot cop series HOLMES
Dreadful! It was a pilot. I thought it was a wonderful idea, but it
was not done well. [S56]
Rosenman teamed up with Oscar-winning lyricists Alan & Marilyn
Bergman for the music for SYBIL, with Sally Field as a woman
diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, and the trio won the Emmy
for their score:
For any composer to write "crazy music" is a cinch. I wasn't interested
in that. I was interested in something more dramatically basic. [TV]
Rosenman received his second Oscar nomination, and his second Oscar,
for providing original and adapted music for Hal Ashby's Best Picture nominee
FOR GLORY, based on the memoir of folk singer Woody Guthrie:
Bound for Glory was even more complex [than Barry Lyndon],
because it involved music that I had no experience in at all. Pop music
from the thirties, folk music, but at the same time the score was rather
interesting and different. The score had nothing to do with the songs whatsoever,
except one or two themes. They had to do with the drama of the picture,
with the relationships...
Now it's interesting because I couldn't get a nomination for the Oscar
on the grounds that this was an original score, because there were 40 songs
in the film. Despite the fact that there were 40 minutes of original music
in the film. So I got the adaptation nomination and I got the Oscar for
it, which is kind of funny because most of it was really original. [S55]
In 1977 Rosenman took on two supernatural projects -- the cult favorite
feature THE CAR and the TV movie THE POSSESSED (with
a supporting role for Harrison Ford mere weeks before Star Wars
opened). With James Bridges' semi-autobiographical SEPTEMBER 30,
1955, about a young man obsessed with the life and death of James
Dean,Rosenman had the unusual opportunity to revisit his own scores as
well as his own life:
Earlier this year , James Bridges, a writer and film director
whose work I have respected and admired (Baby Maker, Paper Chase)
asked me to look at his new film, September 30, 1955, with the idea
of a possible musical score.
To my surprise and shock, the film opened with a good deal of the last
scene from East of Eden, complete with my original score. From that
point on the film ran through a series of variations on that opening scene,
as well as variations on other scenes from Eden and Rebel.
The film -- on one level a deeply personal autobiographical statement of
the film maker, on another level an homage to the Dean films -- affected
When the lights in the projection room had gone on again, I told Bridges
that I felt no music was necessary in the film, and that perhaps records
of pop music of the time would suffice to give the mood he wanted. Bridges
replied that John Williams had seen the film and had offered the same comment,
but Bridges had another idea. I was to score the film based on the themes
from East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause.
The variety of feelings engendered by this assignment were then and
are now too complex to go into at this point, but I must mention some of
the conditions contributing to those feelings.
One: In 25 years of writing music to films, I had received little recognition
of a formal kind from the industry. And human frailty has, as one of its
more important components, a drive for some kind of recognition for hard
work done. Suddenly, by some arbitrary quirk of fate, I was assigned the
task of adapting other music than my own to both Barry Lyndon and
for Glory, for which I won two Academy Awards. After resolving not
to do any more adaptations lest I be stereotyped, I was given the opportunity
to do what was the ultimate adaptation -- my own music.
Two: I had the chance to go back in time, rethink earlier material,
and rewrite it, hopefully in a more mature way.
Three: With the upward direction my career had taken, it was now possible
to receive recognition for those early scores.
Four: The film was a part of Jim Bridges' life and certainly part of
mine. In creating the musical elements of the film, my life during the
'50s was again revealed to me in a more objective manner. There I was again,
in my late 20s.
And here it is 1977 and I have finished the score to September 30,
1955. I used to tell Jimmy Bridges that "misery loves company and therefore
you have dragged me back to your youth with you." But it wasn't that miserable.
By his short presence on this earth, my friend Jimmy Dean caused more to
transpire socially than many of the great rulers of history.
I don't think all of that is good and am convinced that a great deal
of the subsequent pop and attendant revolutionary culture (revolutions
of the self-defeating kind) had arisen out of a misinterpretation of what
Jimmy Dean was as a person. I loved Jimmy but would have preferred that
society had listened to Mozart instead. [LAT]
NEXT TIME: Rosenman beats Shore to the shire.
FF: Filmmakers on Filmmaking: The American Film
Institute Seminars on Motion Pictures and Television, edited by Joseph
McBride; published by Houghton Mifflin, 1983
HQ: Home Q&A: Lyn and Leonard Rosenman, by Marshall
Berges; circa 1976
LAT: Los Angeles Times,
December 18, 1977: "Jimmy Dean: Giant Legend, Cult Rebel," by Leonard Rosenman
S55: Soundtrack vol. 14, No. 55, September 1995, interview
by Wolfgang Breyer
S56: Soundtrack vol. 14 no 56, December 1995, interview
by Daniel Mangodt
TG: TV Guide, May
19, 1973: "Could Dr. Welby Practice Without Music?", by Rowland Barber
Biggest Hits by Jon Burlingame; published by Schirmer Books, 1996
of this series can be accessed on the website.
Edited by Scott Bettencourt