Friday, April 29, 2011

Universal Studios Logo

Universal Studios has changed their logo over the years, along with many variations for specific films.  The newest and best known Universal music was written by Jerry Goldsmith in 1997.  As British comedian Bill Bailey said, "You'll know it because it's the music you can't fast forward through."  Here are a sampling of my favorite variations of the Universal logo. 

Universal Logo 1937-1946.  This logo has been been brought back for a few period films like Changeling and Leatherheads in 2008, and The Wolfman in 2010.  

Universal 75th Anniversary logo in 1990, incorporating many of the past studio logos with music by James Horner.

1997 brought Jerry Goldsmith's new music and updated logo - first seen in Lost World: Jurassic Park.

ET The Extra Terrestrial.  For the 2002 anniversary, the logo was arranged with John Williams' ET theme.  

Cat in the Hat - 2003.  Terrible movie, great animated version of the logo.

Van Helsing - 2004.  Black and white logo, which bursts into flames and transitions into the torch.  Great start to the movie.

Inglourious Basterds - 2008.  A recent film again uses an older logo - this time using the 1963 Universal logo.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World - 2010.  This is one of my favorites, the video game intro arrangement and arcade graphics are great for this movie.

For Universal's 100th Anniversary, they premiered a new logo in 2012 with The Lorax.  Goldsmith's tune is adapted and arranged by Brian Tyler.

Pitch Perfect - 2012.  A new fun one.  Paired with the new logo look, the theme is sung a capella by the cast before starting the film.

Oblivion - 2013.  The omnipresent Tet is show hovering over the Earth, which looks ravaged like in the film.

Pitch Perfect 2 - 2015.  Another a capella arrangement of the theme, sung by actors John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks.  This version also appears on the soundtrack.

Minions - 2015.  The Minions provide a vocal version of the theme, with a neverending finish.  This version also appears on the soundtrack.  

As always, there are many more that I can't even begin to mention, including The Flintstones, all 3 Mummy films, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Waterworld.  Why is it that some of the worst movies have the interesting logo changes? Discuss.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quick Reviews: The Conspirator / Water for Elephants

The Conspirator
Music composed by Mark Isham
Cello Solos by Zöe Keating
Orchestrated by Brad Dechter and Peter Boyer
Performed by The Czech National Orchestra
Available on MIM Records

Mark Isham again collaborates with director Robert Redford for The Conspirator.  The past films together were A River Runs Through It (1992), Quiz Show (1994), Lions for Lambs (2007).  Isham received his only Oscar nomination for A River Runs Through it.  While the scores are not entirely memorable outside of the films, they fit the mood for each nicely.  The same goes with The Conspirator.

Using mainly strings, Isham underscores what is basically a legal drama.  Of course the catch is that the case is about alleged assassins of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  The music never gets too much in the way of the film, but is pretty much present throughout.  The brooding score features mostly lower strings and includes cello solos by Zöe Keating.  There are a few cues that involve a solo violin, almost purposely not fitting into the score.  Not all cues are dark; there are several tension-filled cues using percussion and brass to move the pulse along.  With his themes, you feel just as bad for Mary Surratt as you feel for Lincoln. 
Isham’s own label MIM Records put out 3 different versions of the score, thankfully since the score probably wouldn’t be put out on a major label otherwise.  Between them all, the albums include all the music written for the film.  Since the music is so dramatic, it might not be the best listening experience, but the themes work well, and the music is great even being so somber.  The music for the end of the film was especially poignant and really fit with Robin Wright's performance as Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt.
Tracks to hear:
A Genuine War Hero
One Bullet, But Not One Man
End Credits 

Water for Elephants
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Orchestrated by: Pete Anthony, Conrad Pope, Jeff Atmajian, John Kull
Album time: 56 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

James Newton Howard is one of the best composers in film music today, and his style is always changing - giving each film a sound of its own.  Water for Elephants is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed I Am Legend, another solid Howard score.  This album is a nice collection of Howard's music and the 1920s era period songs, some original recordings and some arranged for the album.  These don't distract from most score albums like many recordings tend to do.  (The period songs are found in Track 5, 9, 12 and 16.)

This score has a great romantic sound to it, especially near the end of the score.  It has some tender and serious moments, and even a bit of circus music.  Many of Howard’s scores feature many solo moments, Water for Elephants features many clarinet and piano parts.  The solos hanging over soft strings, is one of my favorite effects and it works perfectly in this score.  The score overall, reminded me of The Water Horse (also by Howard) and Curious Case of Benjamin Button (by Alexandre Desplat).  Echoes of Desplat’s romantic and light sound go through the score.  Howard’s usual team of orchestrators may be the ones that made it feel this way. 
Like many Howard scores, the last track is the longest cue on the album and a great ending to the album.  I really enjoyed the last track, The Stampede/I’m Coming Home, as well as The Circus Sets Up.  While this might not be Howard’s best effort considering is prolific film career, this is a great score to listen to and a highlight so far this year.

Tracks to hear:
The Circus Sets Up
Circus Fantasy
The Stampede/I'm Coming Home

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bernard Herrmann: The Suspense

One name that must come up when discussing film music is Bernard Herrmann.  His techniques and scores have been an inspiration for many.  With his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, his music became another character in each movie.  From the shrieking strings in Psycho, to the lonely saxophone in Taxi Driver, Herrmann's scores are now inseparable from the classic films he scored.

Born in 1911, Herrmann began music lessons early, and eventually became interested in composition.  He studied the great classical works, and Hector Berlioz’s book Treatise on Orchestration.  He started taking composition classes and conducting classes at Juilliard.  During his Hollywood career, he would conduct and orchestrate nearly all his scores.  He became a champion of new compositions by composers like Aaron Copland, Percy Granger and Charles Ives by being a member of the Young Composers Group and in 1933 created the New Chamber Orchestra.  Around the same time, Herrmann became the assistant music director for CBS Radio.  He started composing scores for CBS and the Mercury Theater’s radio productions including the 1938 Orson Welles production of The War of the Worlds.

Herrmann began his Hollywood career with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane in 1941.  During this time, he still conducted the CBS Symphony and composed concert music.  Herrmann received two Academy Award nominations in the same year for Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster – which would give Herrmann his only Oscar.  He would get another nomination for Anna and the King of Siam in 1947.

1951 had The Day the Earth Stood Still, featuring one of the most creative and unusual film orchestras at the time.  It featured electric string instruments, electric organs, multiple pianos and more than one Theremin.  In 1954, Herrmann co-scored the film The Egyptian with Alfred Newman.  This is one of the few times composers of such caliber worked together.  Also that year, Herrmann began his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock.  These notably include:
Trouble with Harry (1955)
Vertigo (1958)
North by Northwest (1959)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963)
Their collaboration came to an end around 1966, with Hitchcock rejecting Herrmann’s Torn Curtain score. 

Herrmann began scoring for other directors, including
Francois Truffaut, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese.  Indeed the last score he would work on was Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver.  Herrmann died in his sleep after the recording sessions for Taxi Driver in 1975.  (He was Oscar nominated twice again for both Obsession and Taxi Driver.)  

Citizen Kane
Vertigo – Scene d’Amour (Click here to hear it)
Psycho (Click here to hear the Prelude)
Taxi Driver – End Credits (Click here to hear it)

Monday, April 18, 2011

20th Century Fox Logo

Going through the history of the Fox logo, I immersed myself in all the different variations over the years.  Now, most of the recent ones involve a background or color change, but a bunch adapt the Newman music. 
So here are a few of my favorites and some others over the years.

Fox Fanfare 1935-1953 (Original)

Fox Fanfare with CinemaScope - Empire Strikes Back 1980

1975 Rocky Horror Picture Show
This is one of the first logos I know of that changed the orchestration for the individual movie.

1990 Edward Scissorhands
Danny Elfman's music replaces the normal Fanfare as the snow falls

1992 Alien3
Man, this still creeps me out.

2007 The Simpsons Movie

There are obviously way more than I listed: Cannonball Run, X-Men, Moulin Rouge, Minority Report, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and many more. Whoever comes up with this stuff is great.

Edit: Here is the E News video on the 1994 re-recording of the fanfare. This is awesome.

E! Channel on the new 20th Century Fox Fanfare -... by videohollic

2011 Summer Movie Preview

Follow your favorite (or least favorite) composers with this handy guide to the 2011 summer season.  Plan accordingly...All info subject to change.
Tyler Bates
Conan the Barbarian
Christophe Beck
The Hangover: Part II
Marco Beltrami
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (with Buck Sanders)
Ramin Djawadi
Fright Night
Patrick Doyle
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Alexandre Desplat
The Tree of Life
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
Michael Giacchino
Super 8
Monte Carlo
Rupert Gregson-Williams
Harry Gregson-Williams
Cowboys & Aliens
 James Newton Howard
Green Lantern
Steve Jablonsky
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Henry Jackman
X-Men: First Class
Winnie the Pooh (with songs by Robert and Kristin Lopez)
Rolfe Kent
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Thomas Newman
The Help
The Debt
Heitor Pereira
The Smurfs
John Powell
Kung Fu Panda 2 (with Hans Zimmer)
Alan Silvestri
Captain America: The First Avenger
Brian Tyler
Final Destination 5
Christopher Young
Hans Zimmer
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (with Rodrigo y Gabriela)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (with John Powell)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Alfred Newman: The Original

Alfred Newman was born in 1901 in Connecticut.  Born into a large family, he was interested in the piano at an extremely young age.  He took piano lessons and then quickly began performing in recitals and in theaters.  Attracting attention as a child prodigy, he attended Von Ende School of Music and studied piano with Sigismund Stojowski.  He also took compositions classes and learned about counterpoint and harmony.

Moving to New York with his family seemed a wise choice, with Newman performing at various venues like the Harlem Opera House and Strand Theater as a pianist starting at age thirteen.  It was through these performances that Newman jumped on the vaudeville circuit.  He became the pianist for star Grace La Rue and her show, Hitchy-Koo in 1917.  Many times he would conduct certain performances.  His conducting led to becoming a music director on Broadway at the young age of seventeen.  He conducted several Gershwin revues and musicals like George White’s Scandals (1920 and 1921), Funny Face (1927), and Treasure Girl (1928). 

Upon connecting with stage composer Irving Berlin, Newman set up base in Los Angeles becoming a musical director for Reaching for the Moon (1930).  He also was musical director for the Chaplin film City Lights (1931).  He began working for Samuel Goldwyn at United Artists and composed scores to Street Scene (1931), and tons of films between 1931- 1935.  Newman’s biggest break-through was meeting Darryl F. Zanuck, who began working with Newman in 1935.  Also that year, Newman composed his most famous composition, the Fox Fanfare.  Newman continued to score films for other companies through this time, like RKO and Seznick International Pictures.  His classic scores around this time included The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), and The Hurricane (1937).  It was these two pictures that Newman was nominated for his first Academy Awards (and the start of the string of nominations and wins throughout his career). 

Some of his great scores came right in the late 30s and early 40s including:
Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) – his first Oscar win
Gunga Din (1939)
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Beau Geste (1939)
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)

In 1939, Newman was made the Music Director at 20th Century Fox.  He was responsible for the scoring activity within the studio and hiring of composers.  Firmly planted at 20th Century Fox, it was here Newman composed the scores to films like: Tin Pan Alley (1940) and The Mark of Zorro (1940).  There he continued to score many films with director John Ford, including several World War II docudramas and documentaries.  His lush romantic scores often worked best, films like How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Song of Bernadette (1943).        

The 1940s continued to be successful for Newman, who as musical director began hiring and hiring fellow composers David Raksin, Hugo Friedhofer and Bernard Herrmann.  Newman continued conducting, arranging and composing for such films as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), the musical State Fair (1945), The Razor’s Edge (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Captain from Castile (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948) and Twelve O’Clock High (1949).  He was also the music director (and sometimes uncredited composer) for scores composed by Cyril Mockridge like My Darling Clementine (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). 

The 1950s saw Newman arranging and musical directing more, especially as musical adaptations continued – notably the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.  He scored such films as All About Eve (1950), David and Bathsheba (1951), and With a Song in My Heart (1952).  One can say something about his career in Hollywood when he scored the remake of The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), some 15 years earlier.  

In 1953, Newman added a few seconds onto the Fox Fanfare for the CinemaScope extension.  The first films used with this new fanfare were How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and the biblical epic The Robe (1953).  For 'Millionaire', Newman even stepped in front of the camera as a conductor, something he also did in a few films in the 30's.  He teamed up with composer Irving Berlin as music director and music supervisor for Call Me Madam (1953).  He also collaborated with composer Bernard Herrmann for the blood-and-sandal film The Egyptian.  He returned to several familiar faces being the conductor/music supervisor for another Berlin production There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) and scoring another Marilyn Monroe film, The Seven Year Itch (1955).  He scored the romantic drama Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), which is most known for the hit title song (by Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster).  He also scored the drama Anastasia (1956).  

Newman continued to wear many hats at Fox, being musical supervisor, conductor, and orchestrator for many Rodgers and Hammerstein productions including Carousel (1956), The King and I (1956), South Pacific (1958) and Flower Drum Song (1961).

With director George Stevens, Newman composed the memorable score to The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).  In 1960, he resigned from 20th Century Fox, but continued to find work in other studios.  He reunited with director John Ford for one last old-fashioned Western How the West Was Won (1962) and George Stevens for the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).  As conductor/music supervisor, Newman worked on the film adaptation of Camelot (1967), which would be his last Oscar win.  His last big hit was for the disaster drama Airport (1970) which he completed a few weeks before his death in February, 1970.

Alfred Newman's touch on film scoring is still around, with his fanfare still being used by 20th Century Fox.  His Newman System, a special print of the film to easily synchronize the music and film-still used in every recording studio.  He felt comfortable with any genre, from musical adaptations, to heavy melodramas, comedies and epics.  His musical style fit the picture with his old-world composing style, and his conducting experience led to some of the best orchestral performances for films.  His record at the Academy Awards is still legendary, with an astounding 45 nominations (many of which appearing in the same year).  His record of nominations was eventually broken by John Williams, who played piano on several scoring sessions with Newman.  Of those nominations, he won 9 Academy Awards.

In addition to his music, his family has continued the family legacy with brothers Lionel and Emil (Oscar winner and nominee, respectively), uncle to songwriter/composer Randy Newman, composer/musician children Thomas Newman, David Newman and Maria Newman.  The scoring stage at 20th Century Fox naturally was named the Newman Scoring Stage after its renovation in 1997.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Beginning

Welcome.  The first post.  This is a place to recognize the names in film scoring: the big composers, the little composers, arrangers and orchestrators.  You'll see some composer bios, pictures and Top Five scores.  And perhaps some score soundtrack reviews.  So keep posted, lots of information coming this way!