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FSM Forum: Defending Silvestri

...continued from last week's forum: Talking Thomas

Jon Kaplan: I want to talk about how you dislike Van Helsing

Al Kaplan: Yeah!

Jon Kaplan: …while it remains warm in our hearts.

Doug Adams: I can't say I dislike it or like it because I don't know it well enough. I didn't see the movie and I don't own the album. I just heard the CD yesterday.

JK: Now do not bring up the bass drum in this discussion!

AK: No, I think that should be in there.

DA: Jon hates my criticism of the bass drum.

AK: No, I think that should be in there. I think Doug should be able to bring up the bass drum.

JK: Okay, you can bring up the bass drum, but you have to have other criticisms.

DA: Alright, well my main criticism was the first reaction I had to it -- which was that it feels like it's written in four- to-eight-bar phrases and just cuts between them.

JK: Okay, we were able to explain that…

DA: I'm not saying that there was no reason for doing that. He was basically asked to do that.

JK: Right.

AK: Talk about the reckless brass writing!

JK: Wait, before we move to reckless brass writing, a lot of it feels like these little eight-bar segments that you could plug wherever you need them. And at the session, that's what we saw him having to do -- having to replace the theme here, having to cut to something more urgent from later in a cue, slide it back in. And it functions.

DA: I don't fault him at all for doing that. That was the assignment.

AK: The soft cues are different.

DA: I did like the cello cue.

AK: Yes, the waltz.

DA: I just wish he'd done something more with the accompaniment.

JK: It's a bad album that could have been fixed with two or three cues. Just spacing it and making it flow better.

DA: Well, how do you feel about those short phrases being puzzled together?

JK: Sometimes it's annoying.

AK: At its most blatant, it's very annoying.

DA: If the score is supposed to bring some sort of its own preexisting shape to the film... well, didn't they just create the Avid of film scoring there?

JK: Yes, yes, that's what they're doing.

DA: What does it bring to it then?

JK: To the film or to the CD?

DA: To the film. I mean, he may as well just been given 80 ten-second shots, scored them all, and then they could cut them all together. And you probably would have gotten the same effect. Everything is at quarter note equals 120, and here we go.

JK: We're blowing it out of proportion a little bit.

DA: Yeah, I know. And I haven't seen it. Devil's advocate.

JK: There are segments of it that are exactly that. And they're annoying. But in some of the sections that are like that, when you've got the sounds effects blaring -- and there are plenty of them -- you don't literally feel 8 bars, 8 bars, 8 bars. Because we're not talking about wild shifts of an action theme and a love theme and then something quiet. The thing is pieced together like it's one cue. It's not shifting a meter every 8 bars or shifting tempo.

DA: One of the things that gets me about Silvestri, and I do have to say that, by and large, I think he does a good job, but to me it sounds like, if someone had to make a very general film composer stereotype, it would sound like Alan Silvestri. It has that rawness and raucousness and obnoxiousness to it. That's not necessarily bad, mind you. But if you had to do a parody of film music, it would probably sound a lot like Silvestri's music.

JK: But it would be a good parody.

DA: Yes! It's executed very, very well. But it doesn't have the stylish elegance to it that a Williams has. Williams is a different tier, yeah, I know.

JK: I don't think anyone would compare elegance levels of Williams to Silvestri.

AK:  [They'd compare] Goldsmith.

DA: Yes. And Shore, to me, does have that type of elegance.

AK: I think the elegance is there with Shore.

DA: …Williams is just such a craftsman that he can't destroy anything. He transcends.

JK: Shore is elegant in his stillness.

DA: Shore has a type of understated elegance. Williams has a…

JK: …flowery elegance.

DA: Williams has an opulent sense of elegance. It's gilded this and baroque trills that. It's like the frame someone would be selling at a garage sale because it was too fancy for his little four-room house.

JK: No one will believe that you're using metaphors, so I'll vouch for the fact that you said that and didn't just write it.

AK: Wow.

DA: It didn't make sense anyway.

JK: Do you know how reviled we would be if anybody ever read any of this? "Those creatures, so full of themselves thinking anybody cares what they think talking to each other!" Let's see how angry…

DA: This is how we talk when we aren't taping, so…

JK: I know, I know.

AK: [Jokingly] I want to get back to insulting Alan Silvestri, that's what I want.

DA: No, I don't mean to insult him. If Williams is this kind erudite gentleman -- or his music is -- Silvestri's is the beer-and-chips-watching-football-yelling-at-the-refs type.

AK: Yes.

JK: I think that serves its purpose. Tell me some of the things you like about Silvestri.

DA: I like his woodwind writing a lot. I think the Doc stuff in Back to the Future is really strong. Clever orchestrations.

AK: But do you think that generally his orchestrations have gotten better over the years?

DA: I do, yes. Do you disagree?

AK: Oh, I don't know. I think the older stuff is better.

JK: It's always been good.

DA: The brass and string orchestration in Back to the Future bothers me sometimes. And I love the Back to the Future scores so don't get me wrong. Now, let's make the Kaplans really mad at me.

AK: Oh my…

DA: You know what Silvestri score I don't care for at all and I've tried?

AK / JK: Roger Rabbit!?

DA: No, I like Roger Rabbit.

AK / JK: Predator!

DA: Predator.

AK: That's okay.

DA: I don't know why. I like the film. I find the score effective in the film.

JK: Does the mixed meter bother you?

DA: It's just so repetitive and dry.

AK: The problem is a lot of it is tracked in the movie.

DA: But I've got the CD.

AK: Okay. Then there's no excuse then. No excuse.

DA: And that [sings the synth part], that synth lick that comes back a thousand times and sounds like he can't get his car to start.

AK: Oh, I like that. I think that's very eerie.

DA: It sounds like old Roland out of the box samples.

AK: It is.

JK: What's your problem with Roland, pig?

AK: I think that's a very interesting thumbprint that he put on that movie.

DA: I just can't get into that. I've tried so many times to get into that. And even that opening cue where you're out in outer space…

AK: It's like a Saturday afternoon adventure score. I don't mind that explosion of brass.

JK: I like the repetition of a lot of the motive. I can't argue that it can drive you crazy. But it just doesn't drive me crazy.

DA: It's another case where I don't think he did anything wrong with it. Just for whatever reason it doesn't appeal to me. I can't say, "Well, you know, what you should have done is you should have put this in the strings instead of the trombones, and it would have been a good score." It's not the mechanics, it's the aesthetic. He did what he wanted to do with it.

JK: The true secret is nothing can be proven.

DA: All art is subjective.

JK: That's right. All you can do is say what you like about something and what you don't like about something.

DA: I once got a huge angry email from a reader. He was arguing with me that criticism is not subjective, that there are absolute truths in art, and that I was wrong about them somehow.

AK: Really? Do you remember what you were wrong about?

DA: Um, I believe it was about Amistad if I remember right. But I could be wrong.

JK: Well, do you think it's an absolute truth that The Lord of the Rings has themes in it?

DA: [Laughs] I think we could say that pretty definitively.

JK: You just can't prove that the themes are good.

DA: Right. I think the job of the critic is to be there enough that someone knows your taste. Find the critic that's closest to your taste and see what they have to say.

JK: Exactly! And Roger Ebert serves that purpose too, because you know that he is always wrong, so if he likes something you know to avoid it.

DA: [Laughs] Ah, yeah, I guess so. Anyway, I don't hate Van Helsing. It's just a little over testosterone-laden for my tastes.

JK: That's another thing where we can't entire blame Silvestri. And do you blame Silvestri?

DA: No. That's a great point. Here's something everybody should have to learn about any sort of criticism, whether they're talking about film music or whatever… I can't say that Van Helsing is a bad score because I can't dig what he was doing on it. That's saying, "Okay Alan, come to me. Come to my tastes and appeal to me." Well no. He was doing the style that he was doing. And within that style, he executed it very, very well. I hate it when people do that. "Van Helsing sucks because it sounds macho!" Well it's supposed to sound macho.

JK: That's right.

DA: I don't particularly like it, but that's what it's supposed to sound like.

JK: That's why I do like it!

DA: That's great. I can't say, "Alan, you failed." He did what he wanted to. And within the guidelines of the style he was operating in, he did a great job.

JK: I have to say, I think that you would have like it a lot more if you heard his originals.

AK: Oh, you mean before…

JK: Yes, before Stephen Sommers came in and said double this in four different octaves, which we saw him do…

DA: Does he specifically say double this or just make it louder?

JK: No, I'm just saying what they actually did. His complaints led to the doubling in octaves.

DA: What were his complaints that these were the solutions to?

JK: "That part needs to be a lot bigger there." Just random stuff. "The drums aren't loud enough here."

DA: [Laughs] I bet he said that a lot!

JK: "You know how I said you can go bigger there?" Literally bit-by-bit, with very simple comments, the whole thing got tremendous. You're talking about a bass drum hitting essentially every beat on some of those cues. Bigger is the word of the movie.

DA: There's too much of that going on in film music, and that's when it's tough. I want to criticize that, but it's the same thing where I can't say, "Well, appeal to my sensibilities." But I can get through a Van Helsing in a summer where you've got two Williams scores and a good Elfman score and things like that because then there's something opposing it. If this were Van Helsing that came out in a field of 12 Zimmer scores, it would drive me up the wall. I'd lose my mind. Because it does sound partially like Alan doing a Zimmer type-of thing.

JK: Mm-hmm.

DA: It's giant tom toms, and octaves, and filling every chord tone…

JK: I don't think it's really the writing that sounds like Zimmer. I think it's the scoring session additions of filling in the entire orchestra at Sommers' request.

AK: Having everyone playing.

DA: Yeah, but see these are things that we know about. The public at large is just going to hear the final product.

JK: True.

DA: I mean, that's the score to Van Helsing, whether it was originally or wasn't… the same as that's the score to Spider-man 2. We might get to hear what Danny wrote at some point, but the score to Spider-man 2 is what's in the film. The score to Troy -- you know who wrote the score to Troy? James Horner.

JK: Van Helsing has wonderful things: Lord of the Rings-type development of themes. Where the love theme doubles as the holy mythic theme for Faramir. And you never know what you're going to get.

AK: What's he talking about?

JK: None of that is on the album, Doug, so…

DA: Oh that explains it…

JK: …you can raise your eyebrows all you want.

DA: Sorry, my eyebrows get…

JK: It's okay. I'm going to stand up for the work that Alan Silvestri put into that score that has now been disguised by Stephen Sommers.

AK: The score that's been unfairly maligned.

JK: Plus, in the movie -- I bet you'd like it a lot more if you saw the movie. Because it's got such a sense of fun. The movie is such a nightmare. I sat through it twice, smiling almost the whole movie just because of how present the music was and how it was just blaring through everything.

DA: I think you guys have been dialing down what big fans you were of this just because you didn't want to upset me!

JK: I didn't want to upset you! No, the football [-style] music you were talking about, the "Transylvanian Horses" music, that's in it so many times. Whenever they're going anywhere, whenever you see a map like in Indiana Jones, it's that music blaring. And it's fun as traveling music. But it's even better in the very first scene of [the character of] Van Helsing in the movie. It's London in the middle of the night, Hugh Jackman is creeping around and he finds a body. It's obviously shot like it's going to have an atmospheric cue that's going to lead into this fight with Mr. Hyde. And instead of the mysterious atmospheric cue as a prelude to the fight, you get that music, that traveling music for him walking down the street and leaning over this body. The camera slowly tilts up to reveal [Jackman's] face for the first time and the chorus comes in. It's one the most exciting film music moments that I've experienced in the last 10 years. It's the way Morricone would have scored that thing in an old western. A ridiculous, raucous main theme.

AK: I'd like to play devil's advocate. Having that gigantic thing there for him in this creepy misterioso scene -- what about what John Debney did on Spider-man 2? Playing that opening bicycle ride…

JK: Because this is clearly supposed to be funny!

DA: I think the pizza delivery was supposed to be funny on some level too, wasn't it?

JK: I don't know, I don't know.

AK: Yeah, what if he was just playing against it? It was a simple pizza delivery and he's scoring it like the climax of the movie for a joke?

JK: It didn't come across as a joke. Did it to you?

AK: No, I hate that and I love Van Helsing.

DA: Well, in Spider-man it came out of that beautiful main title. Everybody that loved Van Helsing said the same thing as you. It's so insanely over the top that's it's good because of it. I didn't see it and I probably should before I really make any more comments.

JK: It knows exactly what it's doing. And the kind of things he got away with there, spotting-wise, it even seems like Sommers was in on the joke. I don't know. But certainly [Silvestri] was. I find the end very moving when Kate Beckinsale…

DA: Ah, don't tell me the end!

JK: You shouldn't even care!

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