I’m IAB and I’m a film score-a-holic. Here is the second part of my ongoing list of favorite film composers with some selections of their work which I feel are worthy of attention to all the readers whom are interested.
As some observant people might recognize what the cue in the header image is, the first pick of two composers this time around is of course:
BERNARD HERRMANN (1911-1975)
I’m a huge Hitchcock fan, and as such, Herrmann’s work was a very integral part of the experience of seeing those great Hitchcock-films for the first time. They had a great run together for the duration of seven(well, eight – kind of) pictures: “The Trouble With Harry”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “The Wrong Man”, “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest”, “Psycho”,”The Birds”(where Herrmann was credited as “sound consultant”, as there is really not any actual music in the film) and “Marnie”. Their partnership sadly went sour during the making of “Torn Curtain”, but that is one helluva run of great pictures there. But Herrmann did so much more than that, everything from science fiction (“The day the Earth stood Still”) to fantasy (“Jason and the Argonauts”) to his last works with directors like Brian De Palma(“Sisters”, “Obsession”) and Martin Scorsese(“Taxi Driver”). And let’s not forget that the man’s first written film score was “Citizen Kane”! Not too shabby, eh? Let’s have a look at some of his works.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
I guess you could call the use of the Theremin a quintessential part of the 50’s science fiction-cinema. But hell, I’d say that Herrmann knocked it right out of the park the first time around. Cue a million copycats after this score from Robert Wise’s classic film.
I love the hypnotic, ominous, strangely spherical nature of the “Vertigo” main theme. It sort of paints a picture right from the beginning that what you’re about to see, might not end well – and might dive into some pretty dark psychologic depths during the process.
North By Northwest (1959)
The main theme of “North by Northwest” is one of those great buildups. It begins small, and then rises into a mad crescendo – hell, it actually reflects the whole movie there; the movie also begins with very small movements and the goes more and more bonkers. Funny note: this track was clearly the inspiration(or is it “homage”?) of Joe Harnell’s title theme for the 1983 “V” miniseries – have a listen:
Cape Fear (1962)
Thriller-themes don’t get much more kick-ass iconic as the main theme of J. Lee Thompson’s “Cape Fear”. It basically SCREAMS “you’re about to see some hard-boiled shit go down!” Even Martin Scorsese knew best, when doing his remake of the film 20 years later: don’t mess with the original. So he had Elmer Bernstein just re-use Herrmann’s score in that one as well.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Nothing plays as well as underscore to washing all the scum off the streets than Herrmann’s haunting, jazzy score to Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”. Sadly, this was to be his last work as he passed away right after finishing this score.
If I’d make a wild guess, I’d say that the first exposure to Morricone’s music for many readers was the “Dollars Trilogy” by Sergio Leone. Such was the case with me as well. Morricone’s partnership with Leone certainly was the most important one – probably in both men’s careers. But let’s not forget his scoring of Dario Argento’s first few films(before Argento met Claudio Simonetti & his band “Goblin”) and a ton of other Italian films which I have probably never even heard of – as well as his occasional ventures into Hollywood film-making, with directors like John Carpenter(“The Thing”), Brian De Palma(“The Untouchables”, “Casualties of War”, “Mission to Mars”) and Barry Levinson(“Bugsy”, “Disclosure”). Here’s a few selections….
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Yes, the Main Title theme is, of course, a classic, but if I dare say so myself, it doesn’t get much better than “The Ecstasy of Gold”. It really doesn’t. That whole sequence is one of THE best marriages of picture and sound in the history of Cinema.
Once Upon a Time in The West (1968)
“Once Upon a Time in The West” might very well be one of my all-time favourite MOVIES. Notice, I said “movies” – not “westerns”. I’ve always thought that it’s too epic be shoehorned into just one genre. Of course everyone knows the Harmonica theme or the Frank’s theme with it’s twangy guitar, but my favorite is this one, that’s called “Jill’s theme”. It’s slow buildup basically calls for the Changings of Times.
The Thing (1982)
It’s funny, how often I’ve heard or read of people accidentally claiming that John Carpenter actually scored “The Thing”. In some ways it’s somewhat understandable – because of the cues that were actually used in the film, a great deal DO have the sort of “Carpenter-esque” sound(there’s a TON of music in the soundtrack album that’s not used in the final film). But the film’s score was most definitely composed by Maestro Morricone. And it’s most definitely some Grade A stuff.
The Untouchables (1987)
This film was a chance for Morricone to play with a lot of different genres; there’s gangster themes, there’s suspense themes, heroic themes, some western-like themes and even some almost Giallo-esque material spread throughout the film. The standout moment might be the over 7 minutes long “Union Station”-sequence where the music switches from suspense music into a baby’s lullaby before switching into some prolonged action. But the Main Title-theme is one damn kick-ass track in it’s own right.
The Stendahl Syndrome (1996)
So, in the early 70’s, Morricone scored three of Dario Argento’s first Giallo films; “The Bird with the Crystal Plummage”(1970), “The Cat o’ Nine Tails”(1971) and “Four Flies on Grey Velvet”(also 1971) and then Argento went to venture with Goblin for 25 years. Then in mid-nineties the two men returned to collaborate again(some would say this was the last time Argento did anything good again) with this haunting score as a result.
Vol.3 will come eventually – hopefully with at least three composers featured in it. In the meanwhile, here’s a link to Vol.1 – in case you missed it: