Friday, February 28, 2014

Screen Credit Quiz (Decade Edition 2)

Just like the last Decade Edition Quiz, each Screen Credit is from each decade (1930s 1940s1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s2000s2010s).  Just like before, I'll even tell you which is which, this should be a nice hint and narrow the choices down a bit.
Here's what to do: name the film by the title card and put your guesses into the comment section!

1. 1930's

2. 1940's

3. 1950's

4. 1960's

5. 1970's

6. 1980's

7. 1990's

8. 2000's

9. 2010's

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cue Bill Conti...

Oscar orchestra - 80th Academy Awards (2008)
As the Academy Awards ceremony became more than a quick banquet and more of a show, there has been a musical director.  Often an accomplished composer, the conductor of the show has often been the arranger of the musical numbers, interludes, montages and score segments heard throughout the show.

Since the first televised ceremony (25th Academy Awards in 1953), it has been the role of the music director/conductor to match the winner with the corresponding music.  In a category of 5 nominees, the musicians and conductor have all nominees out, quickly playing the winner's theme right at the announcement.

The other notable thing the conductor does is to cut the winner's speech off with that lovely sweeping music nowadays.  Just to be clear, it isn't the conductor that decides when to end a speech, but rather they are listening on headphones to the director and producer who make that call.  Naturally, the conductor gets the blame, the prime example being Julia Roberts at the 73rd Academy Awards (2001) calling out conductor Bill Conti "you're doing a great job, but you're so quick with that stick. So why don't you sit, 'cause I may never be here again" and later calling him "stick-man".

Recently, the orchestra hasn't even been in the auditorium.  Once in the orchestra pit, sometimes onstage or backstage, the Oscar orchestra for the 85th Academy Awards (2013) was actually a mile away in the Capitol Records studio.  Freeing up space in the theater, the orchestra performed live with their music syncing with audio and video feeds.  This will be same for the 86th Academy Awards (2014).  

To shine a light of the history of the musical director at the Academy Awards, here is the complete list.  And before you count: Johnny Green (10 times), and Bill Conti (19 times).  

17th Academy Awards (1945) - Franz Waxman
18th Academy Awards (1946) - Johnny Green
19th Academy Awards (1947) - Leo Forbstein
20th Academy Awards (1948) - Ray Heindorf
21st Academy Awards (1949) - Johnny Green
22nd Academy Awards (1950) - Robert Emmett Dolan
23rd Academy Awards (1951) - Alfred Newman
24th Academy Awards (1952) - Johnny Green
25th Academy Awards (1953) - Adolph Deutsch
26th Academy Awards (1954) - André Previn
27th Academy Awards (1955) - David Rose
28th Academy Awards (1956) - André Previn
29th Academy Awards (1957) - Johnny Green
30th Academy Awards (1958) - Alfred Newman
31st Academy Awards (1959) - Alfred Newman
32nd Academy Awards (1960) - André Previn
33rd Academy Awards (1961) - André Previn
34th Academy Awards (1962) - Johnny Green
35th Academy Awards (1963) - Alfred Newman
36th Academy Awards (1964) - Johnny Green
37th Academy Awards (1965) - Johnny Green
38th Academy Awards (1966) - Johnny Green
39th Academy Awards (1967) - Johnny Green
40th Academy Awards (1968) - Elmer Bernstein
41st Academy Awards (1969) - Henry Mancini
42nd Academy Awards (1970) - Elmer Bernstein
43rd Academy Awards (1971) - Quincy Jones
44th Academy Awards (1972) - Henry Mancini
45th Academy Awards (1973) - John Williams
46th Academy Awards (1974) - Henry Mancini
47th Academy Awards (1975) - Johnny Green
48th Academy Awards (1976) - John Williams
49th Academy Awards (1977) - Bill Conti
50th Academy Awards (1978) - Nelson Riddle
51st Academy Awards (1979) - Jack Elliot, Allyn Ferguson
52nd Academy Awards (1980) - Henry Mancini
53rd Academy Awards (1981) - Henry Mancini
54th Academy Awards (1982) - Bill Conti
55th Academy Awards (1983) - Bill Conti
56th Academy Awards (1984) - Ian Frasier
57th Academy Awards (1985) - Bill Conti
58th Academy Awards (1986) - Lionel Newman
59th Academy Awards (1987) - Lionel Newman
60th Academy Awards (1988) - Bill Conti
61st Academy Awards (1989) - Marvin Hamlisch
62nd Academy Awards (1990) - Bill Conti
63rd Academy Awards (1991) - Bill Conti
64th Academy Awards (1992) - Bill Conti
65th Academy Awards (1993) - Bill Conti
66th Academy Awards (1994) - Bill Conti
67th Academy Awards (1995) - Bill Conti
68th Academy Awards (1996) - Tom Scott
69th Academy Awards (1997) - Bill Conti
70th Academy Awards (1998) - Bill Conti
71st Academy Awards (1999) - Bill Conti
72nd Academy Awards (2000) - Burt Bacharach
73rd Academy Awards (2001) - Bill Conti
74th Academy Awards (2002) - John Williams
75th Academy Awards (2003) - Bill Conti
76th Academy Awards (2004) - Marc Shaiman
77th Academy Awards (2005) - Bill Conti
78th Academy Awards (2006) - Bill Conti
79th Academy Awards (2007) - William Ross
80th Academy Awards (2008) - Bill Conti
81st Academy Awards (2009) - Michael Giacchino
82nd Academy Awards (2010) - Marc Shaiman
83rd Academy Awards (2011) - William Ross
84th Academy Awards (2012) - Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams
85th Academy Awards (2013) - William Ross
86th Academy Awards (2014) - William Ross
87th Academy Awards (2015) - Stephen Oremus
88th Academy Awards (2016) - Harold Wheeler
89th Academy Awards (2017) - Harold Wheeler
90th Academy Awards (2018) - Harold Wheeler

Oscar orchestra - 25th Academy Awards (1953)

Oscar Orchestra - 85th Academy Awards (2013)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Quick Review: The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men
Music composed by Alexandre Desplat
Conducted by: Alexandre Desplat
Orchestrated by: Jean-Pascal Beintus, Nicolas Charron, Sylvain Morizet, William Ross, Alexandre Desplat
Score Recorded at: Abbey Road Studios
Score Performed by: the London Symphony Orchestra
Album time: 60 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

Based on the non-fiction book (which was a great read), director George Clooney returns with composer Alexandre Desplat after 2011's Ides of March. In a throwback to old 1950s and 1960s WWII films, Desplat composed a lively British-style march. Heard throughout the score as the full march and in variations, it is purposely reminiscent of films like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963).

Here is my rundown/review of The Monuments Men album - spoilers in track titles - so consider that a warning.

Beginning with The Roosevelt Mission, we get the trappings of a war score - the snare drum, noble sounding horn fanfare (which reappears many times throughout the score) and a solo trumpet theme. (I'll refer to this as the Mission Theme). The theme expands, with the orchestra fluttering in, adding to the heroic nature of the score.  Opening Titles features the jaunty theme for the Monuments Men as they are selected for the team. It's a catchy melody, somewhere fitting between Desplat's Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Powell/Gregson-Williams' Chicken Run (2000). The track ends with a bit more menace, a bit of a motif that appears alongside the menace of the film. Ghent Altarpiece has an almost religious chorale sound, before adding in the menace motif in the low strings and low woodwinds.

Champagne starts with a light music box-style waltz, it quickly turns faster with the brass coming in and the strings charging. Basic Training begins with a quick variation of Mission Theme heard earlier, this time with a more comic touch, before the Monuments Men Theme comes in. Normandy begins with a slower and string led version of the Mission Theme, slightly rising to the finish. Deauville features a minor waltz with ominous low string undertones. It ends with a brief string pizzicato Mission Theme.

Stokes features the Monuments Men Theme on solo piano, with a jazz-like background and a section letting the cello section take over. A villain-like motif starts right at the opening of I See You, Stahl. It builds upon itself, rising with the brass and swirling strings. Later, we get one of the bigger renditions of the Mission Theme, a big more bombastic than previous incarnations. John Wayne features the melody heard in the previous track, then switching to a lighter pizzicato and woodwind section before turning a bit more sinister and mysterious. There is a comic version of the Monuments Men Theme (complete with bouncing tuba, triangle and piccolo).

Sniper is another action cue, pushing the music along with a tapping gesture. The orchestration is a bit off-kilter, and snippets of the Monuments Men Theme on piano over tense-sounding strings. Into Bruges starts with the bass clarinet chugging away as the suspense takes over, with a slight minor variation of the Mission Theme. A moment for percussion gives way to the strings before tapering off. The Letter begins with a solemn tune for brass and woodwinds. Over a repetitive drum pattern and low strings, a piano solo takes the lead before growing into a stirring lyrical section with the whole orchestra. Not lasting long, it goes back to minor with the piano solo.

The Nero Degree gives more momentum to the score, with the music box waltz jarringly fit in. Stahl's Chalet is a short waltz, fitting the score like source music. Jean-Claude Dies begins with a flute solo, turning to a suspenseful cue with the brass and percussion kicking in. A sentimental variation of the Monuments Men Theme appears, with subtle chord changes and led by piano and strings. Siegen Mine starts with similar bass pizzicato and percussion tapping - his sneaking motif I suppose. Later in the track, we get a brass choir rendition of the Monuments Men Theme.

Claire & Granger is a tender track, with harp and strings at the forefront. A lovely track, it reminds me a bit of the sweet music from Benjamin Button (2008). The track shifts to another action variation of the Mission Theme - a joyful urgency this time. Gold! opens with a glistening pattern and a bold variation of the Monuments Men Theme, before becoming more relaxed ending with a solo oboe. Heilbronn Mine continues the sneaking motif, keeping the suspense before the sparse piano solo takes over. It shifts into the Monuments Men Theme on piano and some building fanfares in the brass.

Castle Art Hoard is a great track, letting the orchestra have a magical moment, fitting nicely with the matching scene. The fast-paced patriotic style returns with a bit of quirkiness in Altaussee. Finale is the longest track of the album, returning to the sneaking motif and villain motif. Bits of past themes make appearances as well, along with a train-like rhythm with blaring brass. The waltz reappears, as well as the Mission Theme on solo piano. The music grows with the horn fanfare to the finish. End Credits is the whistling variation of the Monuments Men Theme (with some cast members doing the whistling) and one last run of the theme. Tacked on the end of the album is the source song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", used earlier in the film, sung by Nora Sagal. (For those historical nitpickers, they use the revised lyrics from the 1950s).

It wouldn't be right to not mention the cameo/acting debut of Alexandre Desplat as Emile - not often does a composer score a scene in which he appears.

While the film suffers from the shifting of tones, Desplat's score fits right in the balance. The score straddles both the comic sides and the menacing drama, often times using the same themes for both with only changes in tempo and instrumentation. It fits well following in the footsteps of similar film scores and makes you appreciate those Elmer Bernstein, Ron Goodwin, John Williams and Malcolm Arnold scores. Overall, The Monuments Men is a nice addition to the eclectic list of Desplat's work.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Spotlight On: Superman

The newest Spotlight On takes a look back at the Superman films.

One could arguably say, the modern superhero film started in 1978 with Superman: The Movie.  The heroic nature of the films and John Williams' main theme have made the music in the films stand out.  With the lineup of John Williams, Ken Thorne, Alexander Courage, John Ottman and Hans Zimmer, there has been a strong continuity of themes through the franchise (until Man of Steel).  *Side note: if you love the music and want to hear more of Superman I-IV, check of Film Score Monthly's Superman box set* 

Here's a look back on the Superman films score by score. 

Superman (1978)
Music by John Williams
The quinticential superhero theme.  Another top theme by Williams is used throughout the film (sometimes just the opening fanfare, or even rhythmic pattern).  In addition to the main Superman March, we get the sweeping Love Theme (Can You Read My Mind), a theme for Krypton, a family Smallville theme and a comic march for the villains.  (Just listen to: Prelude and Main Title, The Planet Krypton, The Fortress of Solitude

Superman II (1980)
Music by Ken Thorne
Ken Thorne adapted Williams' main themes, notably the March, Love Theme, and Krypton Theme.  Added in was a darker new theme for Zod and arrangements of source music.  Overall, Thorne's own music fits nicely with the assigned themes.  (Just listen to: Lift Into Space-Release Of The Villains, Clark Exposed As Superman, Mother's Advice)

Superman III (1983)
Music by Ken Thorne
With this sequel, Thorne was able to compose more new music, while still utilizing the past Williams themes.  The music tends to be comedic in tone, matching Gus Gorman, while taking away the grandiose scale from the first film.  We also get a Supercomputer motif and a new love theme with the melody by Giorgio Moroder.  Easily the weakest score of the bunch.  (Just listen to: Main Title (The Streets of Metropolis), Montage, Metal Vera/Computer Blows Up)

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Music by Alexander Courage
Unable to return, Williams turned to collaborator Alexander Courage for this bomb.  Williams did write some themes, with Courage composing new material and arranging Williams themes like: Nuclear Man Theme, the sultry tune Someone Like You and Jeremy's theme.  With parts of the score cut, no soundtrack was ever released until the FSM box set.  (Just listen to: Jeremy's Theme, Nuclear Man Theme, Statue of Liberty Fight)

Superman Returns (2006)
Music by John Ottman
One of the best adaptations of past themes, Ottman utilized many of Williams' themes for Superman, Smallville, Krypton and the Love Theme.  In addition to the past themes, Ottman added a second theme for Superman and a serious-villain Luthor motif.  (Just listen to: Memories, Rough Flight, Saving the World, Reprise/Fly Away)

Man of Steel (2013)
Music by Hans Zimmer
Zimmer started fresh with the score, not using any past themes as the other films did.  We get a new surging theme for Superman, complete with electric guitars and a bevy of drums, and some electronic sounds for Zod.  (Just listen to: Look to the Stars, Sent Here for a Reason, Flight, What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?)

Check out the others!