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 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 1:11 PM   
 By:   Preston Neal Jones   (Member)

Last night at the Academy's "Great to be Nominated" screening of CHINATOWN, the panel discussion featured screenwriter Robert Towne along with many supporting players, the casting director, and the assistant art director. When the topic of Goldsmith's score was raised, Towne's version of events started with the original score by Hambro, which the screenwriter referred to as "tortured Schoenberg." Apparently director Polanski was stubbornly sticking by this score until he heard from Bronislau Kaper, a fellow refugee whom he greatly respected and admired. Said Kaper: "That music is a cancer on the film." So that, according to Towne, is when they hired Goldsmith for the fast re-write.

(Supposedly some of the first score can be heard in the CHINATOWN trailer. Can we be certain of this? When they ran the trailer last week at the Academy, the little music we heard sounded to me like standard Hollywood detective-movie library music, but then, I only heard it once.)

According to Towne, it was producer Evans who said he wanted a trumpet sound. (The notes in Varese's soundtrack CD say that Evans had fallen in love with Bunny Berrigan's version of "I Can't Get Started," which of course is still in the picture as source music, and wanted to score the entire picture in 30's pop music, until J.G. persuaded him of the timelessness of the story and the fact that the film already looked like the 30's and therefore didn't need to sound like the 30's.

In any event, it was great to experience the film again on the big screen and then listen to the memories of some of the people who created it.

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 1:37 PM   
 By:   Scott Bettencourt   (Member)

From Polanski's autobigraphy: "The one person Bob Evans and I missed sorely was Christopher Komeda. For experimental purposes, I mixed one scene with some music by Philip Lambro, a young composer who had sent us a sample record. Evans was so impressed that we hired him. Unfortunately, Lambro's score turned out to be a disappointment. Bronislau Kaper, whom I took to see the preview in Santa Barbara, loved the picture as a whole but felt the music badly impaired it."

Chinatown editor Sam O'Steen was a lot harsher about Lambro in his book "Cut to the Chase":

"So I got in there [on the mixing stage] and nothing worked and I bitched to the composer, 'Come on, you're not hitting cues, you're not hitting anything.' He said 'I write music so you can slide it.' Well, we started with the main title and we had to slide it down fourteen feet...you know, come on! Well, he never scored a movie before, or since...in previews, everybody spotted it: 'Jesus Christ, that music's terrible!'

I've heard Lambro's score, and I believe all the music in the trailer is from Lambro (his version of the main theme/love theme is given particular prominence); and yes, his end title was Chinese sounding.

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 2:07 PM   
 By:   Preston Neal Jones   (Member)

Thanks, Scott! I'm sure Mr. Lambro is happy you posted; that is, if he subscribes to the time-tested philosophy, "I don't care what you say about me, so long as you spell my name right."

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 2:25 PM   
 By:   Ed   (Member)

Goldsmith in Soundtrack!: "I couldn't believe it: it was Chinese-sounding!"

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 5:05 PM   
 By:   Heath   (Member)

Incredible. The poor guy writes a score that wasn't even used and he's still getting shit for it thirty years later. It's not as if he stabbed anyone in the eye with a baton or something. Geez.

There's a section in William Goldman's book "Which Lie Did I Tell" where Robert Towne says pretty much the same thing as the others above, although he also praises Goldsmith's music, something which Polanski seemingly fails to do. I don't know if that's significant.

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 5:58 PM   
 By:   Lukas Kendall   (Member)


I have heard the Lambro score to Chinatown and to me, after hearing nothing but negative things about it over the years, the strangest thing about it was how much it sounded like the final score. It's quite good and yes, you can hear it throughout the trailer on the DVD. Fortunately Perseverance Records plans to re-record it for CD so we'll all get to discuss it at that time.

A few details: the main title features a "smoky" noir trumpet theme very much in the style of what Goldsmith did, but juxtaposes it against dissonant strings, to give it a more abstract and intellectual feel. There is a very good action cue written for the chase in the orange groves, which Goldsmith did not score. And the only cues where Lambro wrote "Chinese" music have to do with the journey into Chinatown at the finale...not what Goldsmith did, but a justifiable choice.

I have never heard the score in the context of the film, but I suspect that one of the reasons it was not used was because it tends to reinforce the coldness of Polanski's vision, whereas Goldsmith warms it with a little more humanity, between the trumpet theme and the colors (harp/strings) for the water conspiracy. (Lambro recounts that Bob Evans's girlfriend was listening to the Patch of Blue soundtrack at the time on LP which is how they thought to call Jerry.)

But really, the scores are much more similiar than not, and any notion that Lambro's score is wildly incompetent is absurd.

Lukas

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 7:40 PM   
 By:   Melchior   (Member)



Chinatown editor Sam O'Steen was a lot harsher about Lambro in his book "Cut to the Chase":

Well, he never scored a movie before, or since...
.


That´s not true. Lambro wrote his first score in 1965 and his last 1976.

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 7:43 PM   
 By:   Preston Neal Jones   (Member)

"...how much it sounded like the final score."

That's what I was trying to get at when I described it as sounding like library detective-movie music. Thanks, Lukas. When I saw the trailer for the first time last week, and heard those quick snippets of music, I wasn't even sure at first if the music wasn't alternate/un-used pieces of the Goldsmith score. Maybe not as emotional, perhaps -- although, in fairness, how could it be, when just a fragment or two was heard? -- but it didn't sound to me like "tortured Schoenberg."

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 8:16 PM   
 By:   Heath   (Member)

It's indeed curious that Lambro's reportedly dissonant approach was not appreciated. Robert Towne says something about "weird, scratchy" music. Well, you can't get much more weird and scratchy than Jerry's version where he had a guy crawling around inside a prepared piano giving it hell! Plus all the string harmonics whining and screeching (to brilliant effect). So dissonance was evidently desired by Evans and Polanski all the time.

The Lambro album should prove very interesting indeed.

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 8:42 PM   
 By:   Paul MacLean   (Member)

I have also heard this score. Lukas is right...it is not a bad score at all. I was not told right away who it was when I first it, and my guess was John Barry, partly owing to the saxophone main title, and the overall style made me think of Petulia and Hammett (tho with more dissonant touches and avant garde effects, not typical of Barry).

Lambro's music for the orange grove chase is stacatto and percussive -- ironically almost like something from a Planet of the Apes movie.

Its not a bad score, tho overall I foud it a more self-conciously "retro" score -- and almost contrived in that regard. I much prefer Goldsmith's score, and think the film is much better for Goldsmith's contribution. And its arguably the best film Goldsmith ever scored.


Janice

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 8:45 PM   
 By:   The Mutant   (Member)

Kind of off-topic but, has anyone noticed how damn loud that varese disc was mastered? It's just really, really.... loud.

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 9:56 PM   
 By:   Scott Bettencourt   (Member)

It's pretty much impossible to truly judge the quality of Lambro's score as a score without hearing it with the movie (and Sam O'Steen was pretty specific about how sloppy Lambro was about fitting his music to the film).

I enjoy the music a lot on its own, and in many ways its quite similar to Goldsmith's score (one of the pieces featured in the trailer features a repeated high piano note that evokes the Goldsmith score).

Just as one might think Lambro's score is perfectly fine listening to it on its own, one could easily hear Goldsmith's music without seeing the movie and find it too weird and modern for a period detective pastiche (even though the movie is ultimately so much more).

The tone of Chinatown is so distinct that one could easily imagine a subtly wrong cue throwing things off; even though he had less than two weeks to write the score, Goldsmith had over a decade and a half of scoring experience to draw upon (in features, TV and radio), while Lambro had written only a handful of scores at that point.

And I certainly agree that it was the best film Goldsmith ever scored (it's certainly the most critically acclaimed), much as I love The Edge, The Other, and many other films in his oeuvre.

In "Cut to the Chase," O'Steen said he was the one who recommended Goldsmith; Evans claims credit for it, but when the film came out Evans gave an interview where he pretty much claimed credit for everything about the film and made it sound like his main job was fixing all of Polanski's mistakes, so understandably Polanski was none too pleased and refuted Evans' version.

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 10:01 PM   
 By:   haineshisway   (Member)

Yes, it's a sax not a trumpet in Lambro's main title. I have the score - it's not as instantly classic-sounding as the Goldsmith, but it's not terrible UNTIL Mr. Lambro gets to the finale in Chinatown. That's what Goldsmith is referring to when he says it sounded Chinese. The entire Chinatown sequence is scored with Chinese-sounding music and it's really jarring and not good. Otherwise, it's decent and not terrible - Goldsmith took a great film and made it even greater with his iconic score.

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 10:04 PM   
 By:   Lukas Kendall   (Member)

Yes, it's a sax not a trumpet in Lambro's main title. I have the score - it's not as instantly classic-sounding as the Goldsmith, but it's not terrible UNTIL Mr. Lambro gets to the finale in Chinatown. That's what Goldsmith is referring to when he says it sounded Chinese. The entire Chinatown sequence is scored with Chinese-sounding music and it's really jarring and not good. Otherwise, it's decent and not terrible - Goldsmith took a great film and made it even greater with his iconic score.

Excuse my bad memory re: the instrument in the m.t.

lk

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 10:37 PM   
 By:   The_Mark_of_Score-O   (Member)

Lukas, you put your finger on it when you wrote of the "coldness of Polanski's vision."

I was at last night's screening, too; I've always found the film an interesting one, with a lot of really good stuff in it, but also with scarcely a shred of real human feeling in all its 130 minutes.

A masterpiece? Hardly.

And to say that CHINATOWN is the best, and/or most honored film Goldsmith ever scored, there's the little matter of PATTON, a timeless classic (and Best Picture winner) by anyone's standard, one that manages to achieve 100% of its makers' ambitions (a rare accomplishment in itself), and maybe a bit more...

As for the Bronislau Kaper's connection, it begs the question: after Kaper counseled Polanski that Hambro's music was "a cancer on the picture," did Kaper immediately suggest Goldsmith, or, did the director first ask Kaper if he would like to write a replacement score for it?

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 10:43 PM   
 By:   haineshisway   (Member)

"A masterpiece - hardly."

Says you.

A masterpiece - absolutely.

Says me.

Every frame of Chinatown is a masterpiece, every line of dialogue, every note of music, every edit, and every performance. It's one of the greatest films of all time, IMO. To be a masterpiece doesn't require heart or warmth or gooshiness - it just requires artists who are at the top of their game and who realize their goals with absolute perfection.

I'm fond of Patton, but it's not a patch on the ass of Chinatown as a film or as a score.

Says me.

 
 Posted:   Aug 15, 2006 - 11:17 PM   
 By:   Lukas Kendall   (Member)


Chinatown is absolutely a masterpiece and I certainly did not suggest otherwise. But it is true that every film is a collaboration of many talents, and many more people besides the director are responsible for the film's tone -- especially, in many cases, the composer. It's certainly true that many films have a latent "tone" that could be cold or warm, because any great director (or artist for that matter) will carry in him or her both "light" and "dark" (excuse me for sounding kind of new agey, it is not my intention) because any great director will be true to reality and humanity...which carry both of those things. Music is very often the last thing that goes in the picture that can compensate for a film that is too sentimental on the one hand or too cold on the other. And of course this is a very subjective thing. I think Howard Shore and Thomas Newman are today two composers who can lower the emotional temperature of a movie (and this is a good thing, depending) and James Newton Howard and James Horner two composers who can raise it. But as I said, very subjective.

Lukas

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 16, 2006 - 12:26 AM   
 By:   haineshisway   (Member)


Chinatown is absolutely a masterpiece and I certainly did not suggest otherwise. But it is true that every film is a collaboration of many talents, and many more people besides the director are responsible for the film's tone -- especially, in many cases, the composer. It's certainly true that many films have a latent "tone" that could be cold or warm, because any great director (or artist for that matter) will carry in him or her both "light" and "dark" (excuse me for sounding kind of new agey, it is not my intention) because any great director will be true to reality and humanity...which carry both of those things. Music is very often the last thing that goes in the picture that can compensate for a film that is too sentimental on the one hand or too cold on the other. And of course this is a very subjective thing. I think Howard Shore and Thomas Newman are today two composers who can lower the emotional temperature of a movie (and this is a good thing, depending) and James Newton Howard and James Horner two composers who can raise it. But as I said, very subjective.

Lukas


No, you did not suggest otherwise. Someone used your words to support his argument. He didn't interpret them correctly, of course - he just used them as if you somehow were complicit in his not thinking the film a masterpiece. Standard issue.

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 16, 2006 - 1:26 AM   
 By:   crazyunclerolo   (Member)

Lukas, you put your finger on it when you wrote of the "coldness of Polanski's vision."

I was at last night's screening, too; I've always found the film an interesting one, with a lot of really good stuff in it, but also with scarcely a shred of real human feeling in all its 130 minutes.


This is a great example, I think, of two people seeing the same movie and having completely opposite experiences. To me, the greatness of CHINATOWN is all about the depth of true human feeling which it depicts. Jake has loved someone before, and is so traumatized by her loss that he leaves the police force and shuts himself off from his feelings completely. However, when he falls in love with Evelyn he finds himself drawn back into the world, fighting for her in the way he had fought to protect the previous woman in his life. It all ends in the same tragic way as before, and in the very same location, and Jake is so stunned by his second failure that he practically has to be carried away. This time his loss takes on the larger shadow of destiny, and he may be wondering whether he's on some cosmic loop, doomed to endlessly relive his worst nightmare.

Or maybe he's just pooped, and they all go out for a hot dog afterwords, right, Score-O?

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 16, 2006 - 1:53 AM   
 By:   Paul MacLean   (Member)

"A masterpiece - hardly."

Says you.

A masterpiece - absolutely.

Says me.

Every frame of Chinatown is a masterpiece, every line of dialogue, every note of music, every edit, and every performance. It's one of the greatest films of all time, IMO. To be a masterpiece doesn't require heart or warmth or gooshiness - it just requires artists who are at the top of their game and who realize their goals with absolute perfection.


Agreed! Chinatown is one of those rare films in which some of the most gifted people in the business come together and exceed their already-considerable talents.

I've lost count of how many times I've seen Chinatown, but it never loses its potency. Indeed I find it has grown more resonant as I've gotten older. And it hasn't dated at all.

Its also amazing to think Jerry Goldsmith wrote the score in then days!


Janice

 
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