The Online Magazine
of Motion Picture
and Television
Music Appreciation
Film Score Monthly Subscribe Now!
film score daily 

THE LIFE OF LEONARD ROSENMAN

PART FIVE: ROSENMAN BEATS SHORE TO THE SHIRE

(All sources for Rosenman quotes are listed at the bottom of this column. Paragraphs in italics are contributed by the editor)

Following his back-to-back Oscars, Rosenman continued to balance film and TV work, such as the TV movie MARY WHITE and the little seen feature film version of Ibsen's classic play AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, filmed as a vehicle for, of all people, Steve McQueen. In 1978, Rosenman scored the first feature film of J.R.R. Tolkein's THE LORD OF THE RINGS, based on the first book-and-a-half of the trilogy, with director Ralph Bakshi's animation relying heavily on rotoscoping of actors filmed for the project:

Composing the score was probably the most challenging assignment I have ever dealt with. How was it possible to write approximately 80 minutes of music, consisting mostly of violence, eerie marches, strange chases, and wild battle scenes without it becoming one dimensional and therefore boring?

The answer was complex. 1) I had to create an overall style establishing a context of an other-worldly nature. This was done by an almost surrealistic superimposition of traditional triadic harmonies over dissonant and even serial techniques. Moreover, a great variety of orchestral color was necessary, including odd instruments like an amplified Rams Horn, a "Lions Roar" percussion instrument, plus others as well as human voices singing a language which I invented for the occasion.

2) Thematic material, particularly in the marches and battle scenes, had to be both varied, and accessible, as they were connected to the various characters in the film.

3) The score builds to the climax of the film where the full "Lord of the Rings" theme (the last march) is revealed. This is done by the gradual establishment of fragments of the theme throughout the film, so that the final march is a fulfilling "pay-off" to what has been hinted at throughout the entire composition. This technique is also used with respect to other motifs in the film, the climax of most of them coming during the last battle scene, "Helm's Deep."

4) The opportunity to write lyrical and/or tranquil passages in the work were welcomed enthusiastically as a needed contrast to the rest of the score. I speak of "Mithrandir" in particular.

All in all, this score, viewed objectively after all these years, constitutes almost a lexicon of alien and strange sounds, wild marches and even wilder battle scenes. [LOTR]

I used just one or two electronic effects in the entire score. To me, electronic music is wonderful only because it can give you sounds you can't get with an orchestra. I don't like electronic music in most Hollywood films, because they try to imitate an orchestra. But I did some very odd kind of sounds that you couldn't possibly get with an orchestra. [S55]

In doing an animated film, you have a responsibility to give the characters more depth, since you aren't dealing with human beings. This is an abstract. Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle opera is very nearly the same kind of legendary idea. There isn't one human being in it. They're either gods, immortals, elves or whatever. You're dealing with fantasy from the beginning.

I scored a lot of the picture to either line drawings or the live-action footage. It was extraordinary! I was on the set one day to see Ralph, and I was surrounded by 150 midgets. I felt like Gulliver. They were all dressed in costume and I thought, "My God! Why didn't he shoot it live with those people?" They looked wonderful. I really don't think the animation worked. Frodo was just awful, like some strange character drawn and pasted on the walls. He had no shadow!

[The script] was marvelous. It was simple, but the film came out very confusing, not because of the subplots, but because Ralph Bakshi didn't have any story sense. All he was interested in was the violence. That's the problem with all his films. Fire and Ice was all violence.

It's extremely problematic [scoring for animation]. You never know what you're going to get as the animation is changing all the time. Sometimes it doesn't work, so they have to go back and reanimate it. That's like re-shooting an entire scene with actors.

It wasn't really the animation that was a challenge to me, but that most of the film was so unbelievably violent. There was very little chance of musical contrast, and I had to write approximately 80 or 90 minutes of music, a very violent kind of music. It was a great challenge for me to make contrasts within those parameters. I also wrote the chorus' lyrics. They're all kinds of strange words, including my name backwards!

Ralph Bakshi just didn't have his finger on the thing. There were too many styles and they just didn't meld together. The animation was at fault. It didn't work, so the thing was a flop. The emphasis on the violence was too great; you can have tension and suspense without it.

[Dubbing the score] was horrendous, ghastly. Ralph Bakshi and I had such arguments that I just walked out and said, "Do what you want, baby; it's your ass.ţ Everyone complained how loud and horribly mixed the sound was. I said the whole thing was horrible and I had no interest in it. Whatever good the score could have done, he ruined it. Do you know he told Saul Zaentz he was going do dub the film in four days? You need four days just to do one reel of film!

Oddly enough, in an interview with the Los Angles Times, Bakshi blames the score for the film's demise! I've never seen the filmmaker of a successful film say the score was bad.

The Lord of the Rings album has an entirely new sound now that we've remixed it for CD. It's the sound I had a vision of in the first place, which never came out on the LP version. Now, 14 years later, looking at it as a piece of music unto itself, and remixed, it's sensational.

The problem we had with the original recording was that we had a giant orchestra, a wonderful orchestra and chorus. But, since the film kept getting delayed, we couldn't get a hall in which to record it. So we wound up at the old RCA studios in Hollywood. It was a horrendous kind of room without any ambience whatsoever. Even though we had about 100 musicians, one critic wrote that I wrote a charming march for chamber orchestra! The sound of the recording was terrible, and the vinyl LP couldn't contain the full dynamics of the score.

An extra 12 minutes of score has been added, and now we have equipment that can create an electronic ambience similar to the sound of an orchestra recorded in a great hall. It's really quite spectacular. Back then, all you could put on the recording was an echo that sounded artificial.

I supervised the remixing and wrote the liner notes. We treated the CD certainly like an adjunct of Lord of the Rings, but more a symphonic concert inspired by the legend than the film.

I was so distressed by the relationship with Ralph Bakshi and everything being changed all the time that I just really had no time to listen to it. Now, 14 year later, I think I can be somewhat objective. I just discovered in hearing it again, despite its limitations, Lord of the Rings has some of the most interesting music I've ever done. [SL]

Rosenman won his second Emmy, for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series or a Special, for the docudrama FRIENDLY FIRE, with Carol Burnett as a woman who discovers the truth about her son's death in the Vietnam War. In features, he scored the environmentally-themed monster movie PROPHECY:

That had a marvelous script, but was a terrible film. I had scored John Frankenheimer's first film [The Young Stranger]. I asked him why he bought the Prophecy script if he was going to change everything and ruin it. He told me that he thought it was a little too wild. The creature was entirely different looking in the original story; it was an evolutionary throwback with wings. We ended up with a bear with strawberry jam on his face!

I think I was responsible for some kind of change in the film, because I was the first one to see it complete. I told John about a letter I once read in the Los Angeles Times years before about a 12-year-old boy who wasn't afraid of these kind of horror movies, since the monsters are already so slow and any kid on a bike can outdistance them. Here was this slow-moving bear that the characters could just walk away from. The beautiful thing about Jaws as that the people were in the shark's territory. They were slow, the shark was fast and they couldn't see it! If you're locked in a tiny room with a slow-moving, relentless creature, that's a different story, but in a wide open forest with this thing moving a mile-an-hour, escape's no problem. Frankenheimer agreed with me and what he did was to have the background blurring real fast and the bear lurching. It didn't work! It was really dumb. [SL]

Several more TV projects followed, including the true crime miniseries MURDER IN TEXAS and the WWII drama THE WALL. His feature work in the late '70s and early '80s included such diverse projects as James Caan's directorial debut, HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT, the Neil Diamond remake of THE JAZZ SINGER, and the gay-themed drama MAKING LOVE. Rosenman earned his third Oscar nomination, and his first for Original Score, for Martin Ritt's film of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's memoir CROSS CREEK:

One of the most lovely experiences I've had in film

Marty has ideals of the highest aesthetic order. We were persons in different fields, trying to collaborate on what we had in common, our allegiance to the film. [V]


NEXT TIME: Rosenman scores the crossover Trek.


LOTR: Liner notes by Leonard Rosenman for the Intrada CD of The Lord of the Rings
S55: Soundtrack vol. 14, No. 55, September 1995, interview by Wolfgang Breyer
SL: Starlog, November 1991: "Composer of the Fantastic," by David Hirsch
V: Variety, May 5, 1983: ýComposer Rosenman Finds New Respect for Film Work,ţ by Cynthia Kirk


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

Edited by Scott Bettencourt

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com


Past Film Score Daily Articles

Film Score Monthly Home Page
© 1997-2014 Lukas Kendall. All rights reserved.