Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spotlight On: Batman

Previously on Spotlight On, I took a look back at the music of the Harry Potter films, now Batman gets his turn.  The music in the movies is often as talked about as the films themselves.  Within those movies, we get signature scores by Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.  Let's glimpse back at a legacy of the Caped Crusader on the big screen and the music that goes with each film.
Batman (1989)
Music by Danny Elfman

Joining director Tim Burton was relative new composer Danny Elfman. Elfman created a gothic score to match the dark setting of the film, with a strong main theme for Batman. While the film issued a second album of Prince songs, Elfman's contributions are the most memorable. The last half of the film is wall-to-wall excellent music, featuring the great Batwing sequence, and the Joker's Waltz. The Batman Theme won the Instrumental Composition Grammy in 1990. Highly recommended. (Just listen to: Batman Theme, Flowers, Attack of the Batwing, Up to the Cathedral, Waltz to the Death)

Batman Returns (1992)
Music by Danny Elfman

For Batman Returns, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman returned to their dark world of Gotham. With Catwoman and the Penguin as the villains, the music turned even darker than the previous score. Catwoman's motif features a lot of high string harmonics and sliding strings. Penguin's music has a lot of circus and Christmas elements added into the score. The score is more complex, with variations on the original theme. (Just listen to: Birth of a Penguin, Selina Transforms, Rooftops)

Batman Forever (1995)
Music by Elliot Goldenthal

With director Joel Schumacher directing the latest installment, Elliot Goldenthal was brought on board for the score. The film's tone changed, as well as the score. The score features a lot more strange upbeat music, with a heroic sounding Batman fanfare. Besides that, there aren't many themes in the scores, but many motifs mixed in various scenes. The Riddler does have a motif that goes throughout which is full of theremin. It was nominated for a Grammy for Instrumental Composition. Side note: The original score album has some ridiculous track titles. (Just listen to: Main Titles & Fanfare, The Perils of Gotham, Batterdammerung)

Batman and Robin (1997)
Music by Elliot Goldenthal

Goldenthal returned to Batman with this score. His Batman fanfare returned as well as the big brassy and jazzy sound from the previous score. With the score to Batman Forever not hitting quite the mark, no official score album was made for Batman and Robin. The only track released was called A Batman Overture on the song album. Regardless, there were a few new themes. His theme for Poison Ivy had a jazzy sound, and Mr. Freeze's wife contains the more emotional cues in the film. His heroic fanfare returned, but not enough to save this score.

Batman Begins (2005)
Music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Fast forward to Christopher Nolan taking over the rebooted Batman series after the Schumacher debacle. Hans Zimmer tapped James Newton Howard to collaborate on the score. Such big names working together certainly is rare in a Hollywood score. While it is tough to pinpoint which composer did what, the score features many moments of Zimmer's signature sound and Howard's thematic work. The ostinatos do work with this grittier film world, and the soundtrack is full of electronic/sound effects. The score is probably the most underplayed in the franchise, with it sometimes coming in and going when you didn't even notice. Side note: The track titles are all Latin names of bats, which is irritating if you want to know what scenes they belong in. (Just listen to: Eptesicus, Marcrotus, Molossus, Lasiurus)

The Dark Knight (2008)
Music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Following up their collaboration on Batman Begins, Zimmer and Howard returned. The film was instantly embraced by fans, while the score became a hotly debated topic. Returning to form, The Dark Knight features more thumping and bumping and ostinato strings. The score is far more in-your-face, but the material hadn't changed much. Zimmer proudly used a two-note theme for The Joker, and Howard scored more of the softer Harvey Dent scenes. This arrangement worked nicely for the duality of the characters, but made the score not work as well as a separate listen. The album won a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album. (Just listen to: Why So Serious?, Harvey Two-Face, Aggressive Expansion, A Dark Knight)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Music by Hans Zimmer

For the final film in Nolan's trilogy, Zimmer was the sole composer. The score is another hotbed of discussion, with many traditional film score fans turned off, and a new generation of score fans introduced. Bumps and thumps aplenty, the score also features new villain motifs. For Bane, there is the chanting throughout and for Catwoman, a solo cello and even solo piano. This score does revive a few small themes from Batman Begins, which really begin to tie the films together. The boy soloist in the score is one of the highlights - a light voice in the soundscape of loud noise. Throughout these Nolan films, the music does it's job and functions pretty well. Side note: If you want to hear more of the score, it's scattered in various bonus downloads, soundtracks etc. (Just listen to: Gotham's Reckoning, Mind If I Cut In?, The Fire Rises, Rise)
Batman by Jeff Victor

Check out the others!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Screen Credit Quiz! (Round Se7en)

That's right guys!  Time for another round of the Screen Credit Quiz!  Guess the movie by composer screen credit.  Put your guesses in the comments, and good luck!  









For previous Rounds check hereRound 1Round 2Round 3 (JW)Round 4Round 5 (B&W), Round 6

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Michael Kamen: The Spirit

Michael Kamen was born in 1948 in New York.  He began piano at a young age, eventually learning oboe, clarinet and guitar.  He studied the oboe at The Juilliard School in New York, and eventually formed his own band: New York Rock & Roll Ensemble.  One of Kamen’s classmates and band members was Mark Snow (born Martin Fulterman), who went on to compose for TV.  The band was a fusion of classical music and rock, featuring instruments mingling on both sides.  They made several albums together starting in 1968.  The group brought the composer/arranger/orchestrator side out of Kamen.  While the band didn’t last for more than a few years, Kamen spread out to other rock work.  In 1974 Kamen became the music director for David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs Tour, in which Kamen also performed.  For Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall, Kamen provided orchestral arrangements for several songs.  He eventually would work with Pink Floyd again on The Final Cut (1983) as keyboardist, arranger, conductor and producer, and provide orchestral arrangements for The Division Bell (1994).

His film work began with The Next Man (1976), and did several films until the end of the 1970s.  But it was in the 1980s that his film career took off.  He hit his stride in this decade, mainly with action films.  In one of the few David Cronenberg films not scored by Howard Shore was The Dead Zone (1983).  Kamen, like so many other composers, found his first director/collaborator with Terry Gilliam for Brazil (1985).  Songwriter Eric Clapton brought Kamen onto the British mini-series Edge of Darkness in 1985, which won them a BAFTA for Original Television Music.  For the fantasy film Highlander (1986), Kamen composed the score with some songs by Queen.  A snippet of the score was later used as music for the New Line Cinema’s logo. 

Continuing his streak of action hits, Kamen collaborated with director Richard Donner for Lethal Weapon (1987).  The semi-jazz score featured Eric Clapton on guitar and David Sanborn on saxophone.  Just like his old band that mixed classical and rock, Die Hard (1988) incorporated Beethoven Symphony No. 9  into the film score.  That same year he worked with Terry Gilliam again for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.  While the film was a box office flop, Kamen elevated the movie with a lively and inventive score.  In 1989 he composed for 3 scores that followed his action hits.  First was the crime drama Renegades (1989), his generally unmemorable turn for the Bond film Licence to Kill (1989) and a return to Richard Donner for Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) – which again featured Sanborn and Clapton.

The 1980s provided Kamen with many hits, the 1990s continued in the same fashion.  He wrote some memorable pop songs with nominations and awards joining in.  While director John McTiernan of the original film didn’t direct, Kamen scored Die Hard 2 (1990).  1991 kept Kamen busy with the box office flop Hudson Hawk, The Last Boy Scout and Robin Hood: Prince of ThievesRobin Hood featured the song (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, written by Kamen and performed by Bryan Adams.  The song hit top charts around the world, winning a Grammy and nominated for an Oscar.  The score and song were also nominated.    

1992 saw the next installment of Lethal Weapon 3, and in 1993 Kamen composed the scores to The Last Action Hero (again with McTiernan) and The Three Musketeers (directed by Stephen Herek).  The swashbuckling score to ‘Musketeers’ is very similar in tone to Robin Hood, some of the best recent scores in that genre.  For Don Juan DeMarco (1994), Kamen used a bit of Spanish flavor and featured another hit song with Bryan Adams – Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.  The song was Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar nominated.

Kamen’s track record continued with Circle of Friends (1995) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), again with McTiernan.  Die Hard with a Vengeance was originally rejected and McTiernan tracked in cues from the past two films, with Kamen writing additional cues to fill the gaps.  One of Kamen’s most known works was for Stephen Herek, perfectly fitting the goal of the New York Rock Ensemble – Mr. Holland’s Opus.  His American Symphony from the film won him a Grammy for instrumental arrangement.

Following that, Kamen composed several scores like Jack (1996), 101 Dalmatians (1996) with Stephen Herek again.  He also co-wrote the score to Event Horizon (1997) and wrote the theme and a few episodes of the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (1998).  After another composer’s score was rejected, Kamen stepped in to score the film at an incredibly fast pace.  Old friend Mark Snow composed some additional themes for the film.  Another one of Kamen’s top scores was for the animated film, The Iron Giant (1999).  The score has more heart than some of his past films, as he seemed to escape the action film clich├ęs. 

2000 saw the return of Kamen to the rock stage, arranging and conducting the San Francisco Symphony on Metallica’s album S&M.  Kamen also had a stand-out score in X-Men (2000), setting the mold for the superhero movies that followed.  (Side note: for the score he credited himself as Michael K-Men).  Kamen returned to HBO for the groundbreaking miniseries Band of Brothers (2001), for which he provided the main theme as well as the score.
In the late 1990s, Kamen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and his scoring slowed down.  While sick, he composed the scores to Open Range (2003), Back to Gaya (2004), and First Daughter (2004).  Sadly, Kamen died at the age of 55 in November 2003.  His last score was Back to Gaya, with First Daughter dedicated in his memory.

Obviously he worked a lot in the rock world, but Kamen also wrote several concert works.  They include:
Concerto For Saxophone (1990) for David Sanborn
Quintet for Brass (2001)
Concerto For Guitar (1998)
The New Moon In The Old Moon's Arms (2000)

Kamen also composed several pieces for the Olympic Games, including the 1996 Atlanta Games and 2002 Salt Lake City Games. 

One of Kamen’s lasting legacies beyond his scores is the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which he founded in 1996 after the film “as his commitment to the future of music education”.  His knowledge of arranging and conducting got him his start, and featured prominently in his scores.  Many of his scores have lived past their films, including the beloved Robin Hood overture.  Michael Kamen’s spirit shines through his scores, from the tender moments of The Iron Giant to the action cues of the Die Hard series.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger: Music at the Olympics

Recent Olympic Games seem to have a nice connection with film composers.  The opening and closing ceremonies seem to feature a lot of music by film composers, most notably the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.    

The most popular and most used themes for Olympic broadcasts seem to be Olympic Fanfare and Theme by John Williams and the theme from Chariots of Fire by Vangelis.  Since Chariots of Fire is a film about the 1924 Olympics, the music naturally fits in. 

Most frequently used is Bugler’s Dream by Leo Arnaud, which has been in most broadcasts since the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. 

Even recent American broadcasts have included music by Randy Edelman, Steve Jablonsky and Trevor Rabin.  Howard Shore and Burkhard Dullwitz are a few of the composers used in international broadcasts. 
So many of the ceremonies have used music by various film composers, I wanted to list their work by year. 

1968 Winter Olympics GRENOBLE
Bugler’s Dream (Leo Arnaud) originally written 1958

1981 International Olympic Congress
Olympic Hymn (Leonard Bernstein)

1984 Summer Olympics LOS ANGELES
Olympic Fanfare and Theme (John Williams)
Reach Out (Track Theme) (Giorgio Moroder)
Grace (Gymnastics Theme) (Quincy Jones)
Power (Power Sports Theme) (Bill Conti)
The Olympian-Lighting of the Torch (Philip Glass)

1988 Summer Olympics SEOUL
The Olympic Spirit (John Williams)

1992 Summer Olympics BARCELONA
Ode to Zeus (Mikis Theodorakis)
Tha Semanoun oi Kampanes (Mikis Theodorakis)
Hellenism (Greek Hymn for the opening ceremony) (Mikis Theodorakis)
El Mar Mediterrani (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
XXV Olympiad - XXV Anniversary Theme (Angelo Badalamenti)
The Flaming Arrow (Angelo Badalamenti)
Olympic Torch Theme (Angelo Badalamenti)

1996 Summer Olympics ATLANTA
Summon The Heroes (John Williams)
The Tradition of the Games (Basil Poledouris)
On Wings of Victory (Michael Kamen)
Sacred Truce (Michael Kamen)
Faster, Higher, Stronger (Mark Watters)
Athens to Atlanta: The Run Through Time (Mark Watters)
Dignitaries Walk-On (Mark Watters)

2000 Summer Olympics SYDNEY
Man from Snowy River – Olympic Version (Bruce Rowland)
Eternity (David Hirschfelder)
Athens 2004 Segment (Vangelis)
Olympics Theme Seven Network (Burkhard Dallwitz)

2002 Winter Olympics SALT LAKE CITY
Call of the Champions (John Williams)
 The Fire Within (Michael Kamen)
American West Suite (Mark Watters)
Salt Lake City Olympic Theme Seven Network (Burkhard Dallwitz)

2004 Summer Olympics ATHENS
Opening Ceremony (Vangelis)
Zorba the Greek (Mikis Theodorakis)
Athens Olympic Theme Seven Network (Burkhard Dallwitz)

2006 Winter Olympics TURIN
Torino Winter Olympics Theme Seven Network (Burkhard Dallwitz)
Amarcord (Nino Rota)

2008 Summer Olympics BEIJING
Award Ceremony Music (Tan Dun)
Closing Ceremony (Klaus Badelt)
Songs of the Sea: The Regatta Suite (Jeff Rona)

2010 Winter Olympics VANCOUVER
Peaks of Endeavour, The Olympic Flame (Gavin Greenaway)
Believe – CTV Promo (Howard Shore)

2012 Summer Olympics LONDON
Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield)
Chariots of Fire (Vangelis)

Nimma Nimma (AR Rahman) 
Parade of the Athletes (David Arnold)

Medal Ceremony (David Arnold)
Extinguishing the Flame (David Arnold)
Spirit of the Flame (David Arnold)

After the jump, some videos of the various pieces from the Olympics.