Firstly. why film music, And when did first become aware of music in movies?
I think film music attracted me very early on because it was the only sort of music I heard in my house until the late ’60s when my mother Ailean bought a stereo system. As you know, there were a lot of catchy TV and movie themes put out in the ’60s. On TV, the first movie music I remember really getting stuck in my head was music from Universal flicks of the ’50s, like Tarantula! and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The first movie I ever saw in theatres in Regina, Canada, where I grew up, was King Kong vs Godzilla in December of 1966. Akira Ifukube’s music for Toho’s movies is so good that I couldn’t help but notice it. His trumpet theme for Rodan was the first I can remember playing in my head quite often as a kid. I noticed Jerry Goldsmith’s music for Planet of the Apes which I saw on a double bill with Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, which had an infernally catchy score by Ron Goodwin. I can still remember being literally glued to my seat by Ron Grainer’s music for The Omega Man, which I saw when it first came out in 1971. For 30 years, that music was only available to fans by taping the score off the movie when it came around on the late show. The CD sleeve for its release by the folks at Film Score Monthly (God bless ’em) mentions that many fans of that score find it to have that all-involving, cultic quality, besides being a monumentally enjoyable listen. I certainly did, and do agree with that. Funny, but the composer I love the most, whose own work has influenced my own artistic endeavours the most, Ennio Morricone, I didn’t become really aware of until the summer of 1975, when the great Sergio Leone westerns began playing on the late show. That ignited my desire to start buying film music, that and the music for Jaws by John Williams, also out that year.
What was your first record purchase. if it was not a soundtrack what was the first film music you went out and paid for?
Morricone’s score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the first music album I ever purchased, in September of 1975. That was around the time my interest in film music and collecting scores really took off – boom! Like magic, I found in the space of a few months, not only a Morricone 3 LP set, but the scores to Jaws, Phantom of the Paradise, Bernard Herrmann’s music on Phase Four, the music of Godspell and a few others. My mom was just as much into this music as I was. Oddly, the first Morricone non-western music I really listened to was a bit of a shock to us both, so different from his western stuff. I’m talking about his great scores to Burn! and the Battle of Algiers. Repeated listening, though, really began to engrave his music deep in my brain. In fact, it’s hard for me to remember the first NON-soundtrack I owned. I think it was Gustav Holst’s The Planets and my mom bought it because she liked it and knew I would, too. My mom Ailean was always a little ahead of me in noticing what was new and interesting in the arts. If she recommended and album or a TV show, I knew enough to watch it because her instincts were always bang on. She was a successful commercial artist and trained studio artist so our house was already quite artsy. I grew up drawing and sculpting in clay and plasticine and now I’m writing novels, one I’ve published myself, The Sins of the Lion, and at least four others coming near to completion in my computer.
3. Before the arrival of cds how many soundtracks did you have in your collection on vinyl?
I was up around 400 vinyl LPs in the ’80s before I began buying Cds. That’s a big collection, film music-wise, but not too impressive if you collect other genres. I remember when CDs first started coming out in the late ’80s and I was worried then about getting a CD player, thinking it was bad enough having to lug almost a hundred pounds of vinyl from place to place when I moved. But the quality, simplicity and convenience of CDs soon won me over and it wasn’t long before I’d replaced almost all of my LPs with CDs.
4. What was your most expensive soundtrack purchase?
When I moved to Toronto in 1987 I discovered a soundtrack shop on Bloor Street that had hundreds and hundreds of scores. Naturally, the most expensive were imports, tons of Morricone that I couldn’t wait to own and play. One of those was an unplayed 1969 release of Stagione de Sensei and Vergogna Schifosi. I seem to remember that was my most expensive purchase, at over a hundred bucks Canadian. What did I do with it when I got home? What else? I played it! I’ve never believed too much in collecting anything that just sits on a shelf. Back then, I thought this would be the absolute last chance I’d ever have to get my hands on this music, that it might never be released again in any format. In the ensuing years, collecting half-a-dozen 1987 Japanese releases of Akira Ifukube’s music for Toho in 2003 was another costly item, over a hundred dollars for each two-disc set. But now, a little more than ten years later, all that stuff, indeed, almost anything you want, is available on the internet if you just type it in. Incidentally, the owner of that soundtrack shop confirmed in me the opinion that the all-time finest soundtrack score ever written is Morricone’s score for the 1982 TV mini-series Marco Polo. He had it playing one day when I walked in and told me it was the only score he’s ever heard that was, in his opinion, better than Miklos Rozsa’s score for Ben Hur. One day I went there and he told me someone from the US had made him an offer to buy his entire collection, one he couldn’t refuse, and so he was shutting down. I sure miss that store.
5. Do you still buy lps.and which do you prefer.lp.cd or download?
I’ll never go back to LPs, not when everything is so easily downloadable from the internet. I always thought CDs were superior, better sound and all, with more music on each release. I remember being irritated by a single scratch on some of my old LPs that, of course, you could do absolutely nothing about back then. My preferred format now is simply downloading because, not only the availability, but the sheer size of my collection is much, much greater than before. Listening to film music led me to modern classical. It was the soundtrack to Rollerball that first got me interested in the work of Dmitri Shostakovich, another milestone for me in 1975. Also, the soundtrack to the Exorcist, which I remember buying for a dollar or so at a used record store. That got me into the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, which is really out-there modern stuff, or was back in the ’70s. I now have hundreds of downloaded classical albums, mostly modern classical, which I find really to my taste, even if much of it pushes the boundaries of what we recognize as music. I thank soundtrack music for opening that door for me. In fact, it was around 1990 that I really began having an urge to explore classical music. So I did and still do. Its structure has been a major influence on my fiction writing. Often I have solved a plot problem by going back and listening to, oh, Beethoven or Haydn or Mahler to see just where my writing should be going, plot-wise. That may sound a little pretentious but I remember talking to a classical musician in a Regina coffee shop more than 20 years ago. She was a clarinet player and took it as a matter of basic knowledge that novels and symphonies are based on the same structural principles.
6. Is there anything that you are looking for that maybe you have not been able to find ?
I follow closely what’s coming out so I can pretty much get what I want as it is released. There’s a lot I want and I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll find it as soon as it’s out there! I know someone who has the tapes for Morricone’s scoring of Roma Comme Chicago…hmmm!
7. What composer would you say dominates your collection?
Morricone. He’s written so much. I have almost everything he’s written that’s been recorded, film and concert hall music. There was a time, even up to the 2000s, that he was putting out stuff almost faster than I could track down the scores and buy them! His work is one more chain of continuity in my life and has been a background to a lot of my writing. Why not? Harlan Ellison is a big Morricone fan and has written that most of the time he prefers Morricone as a background to his own work at the typewriter. I have most all of Bernard Herrmann’s music, even his cantatas and other non-film music. Those two are still my favorite film composers and I believe their reputations will survive the test of time better than anyone else’s. One very strong reason for this is that they both do their own instrumentation. It gives them final, absolute control over every detail of the score. I will also say that there are composers I just cannot bring myself to get more deeply serious about. One of them, perhaps the most recognized of film composers among fans (I don’t mean John Williams) noted film critic John Simon called a “pretentious hack.” Simon is notoriously demanding on what he likes and doesn’t like. I agree completely with that assessment, though I do like a few of the ‘hack’s’ scores. Simon cites Morricone favorably.
8. What is your opinion of song scores ?
I’ve never been nearly as interested in sung scores as I have been interested in straight instrumental. What I really hate is when a soundtrack is released with dialogue from the movie. What collector wants that? The only exception I’ve ever heard is Mikis Theodorakis’s score for Zorba the Greek, which has an amusing pearl of wisdom by Zorba (Anthony Quinn) at the beginning of each cut. But that’s the only one I can think of. I didn’t even care for the release of Fred Katz’s music for The Little Shop of Horrors which had some speaking on the album, and am glad to say that a recent release of it is music only.
9. What is your opinion of the state of film music in recent years. compared to the 40.s 50.s 60.s and 70s?
I seldom get a chance to see new films or hear new scores so I have to rely on your reviews for that, John! I was disappointed in Alexandre Desplat’s score for the 2014 Godzilla, a movie I otherwise quite enjoyed. If you’re going to compose for a movie or series that already has a good score, why not try your very best to top it? Desplat didn’t even come close to Ifukube, who probably wrote the greatest theme for any monster movie, the twelve-tone Godzilla theme and Godzilla’s march. Listening to Morricone taught me that a film score should be its own added dimension, complete in itself, like a parallel universe existing alongside the film even though it is, of course, subservient to the film. You can always sense the generosity of Morricone in his music, writing outstanding melodies even for films that never go anywhere. His commitment is never less than 100 percent. The problem is that there are many film composers who do not give themselves wholeheartedly to film music, as Morricone, Herrmann and Williams have done. Howard Shore has said he writes film music in order to experiment with big orchestras. His less-than-absolute commitment shows up onscreen in my opinion. There are also some really bad composers out there, the worst being Hans Zimmer. What on earth is that man doing writing film scores? He should be releasing New Agey-type concept albums because his work utterly fails to get at the deep internal dramatics, the essence of the movie. Other composers I just can’t get excited about from the ’70s and ’80s are James Horner and James Newton Howard. There just isn’t that genius, that thing that makes you have to stop and listen to their work. Sorry, Horner fans. It is worth saying here why Morricone is the absolute genius of film scoring. Other composers score from the outside in, one famous example, the “pretentious hack” I cited above, being utterly, laughably unable to discern the essence of the movie he’s writing for and writing silly intellectualizations of the material that impress the hell out of his equally pretentious fans. All it would take is to ask the simple question: where does the drama come from? Morricone knows better than any other composer that it comes from the inner conflicts of the characters. He scores the TRUTH of a scene and a film, not just what’s happening onscreen. He scores, as it were, from the inside of the movie outwards while others, lacking the deep understanding you need to write a score that is truly a work of art, pound around on the outside trying to get in. And failing. There are two composers whose work is so great that it almost doesn’t matter if they take this approach, Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa. The overwhelming emotional involvement is always there, so the greatness of these two men comes through in the scores. Too bad both are long gone. I should also say about film music that its fans are some of the worst, most in-need-of-educating enthusiasts out there. Reading the ludicrous comments by some collectors on various boards makes me feel especially sorry for film music creators, so puny is the degree of critical evaluation and feedback. One criticized Morricone’s score for Mission to Mars because it didn’t have trumpet music for the space scenes; on another board, some said they didn’t like the “Indian” voices (there aren’t any) on his revolutionary score for Death Rides a Horse. And this is from people who are probably his most dedicated fans! In general, film music fans can be depended upon to venture boorish generalizations on anything about a score that they don’t immediately understand. But if even classical composers depended on serious feedback from their fans to keep going, none of them would write another note. Same with all serious writers.
10. How do you store your Cds?
I store the CDs themselves in big black albums while I keep the sleeves in a separate bin. That gets rid of the plastic case problem. Both sit under the bed I’m lying on as I write this.
11. If you were asked by a soundtrack label to choose ten soundtracks to be released for first time or re released in a complete version what would be on your list ?
I know there are vastly more than 10 out there but I can only think of a few right now. Clifton Parker’s score for Curse of the Demon (1957): that is so in demand that it seems like a reconstruction and recording of the score will have to happen someday soon, perhaps by William Stromberg, if someone can come up with $10,000 dollars. Worth it, I’d say. There is a lot of James Bernard, the composer for Hammer Films, that needs to released. The Gorgon (1964) would be one I’d definitely put on the list. Also complete versions of his work on Frankenstein Created Woman, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Kiss of Evil. I understand his music for Horror of Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein is going to be re-recorded and released soon; I can’t wait! Of course, I’d put Rozsa’s score to George Pal’s great sci-fi thriller The Power (1967) on it although that’s available already, right down to every last cue, on an expensive Rozsa collection. I have it but for some reason, given its fame, a lot of people who really want it don’t seem to know it’s already out there, except on a slightly truncated Film Score Monthly release. Ron Grainer’s catchy score for Thief (1971) would also be on the list. That same music was re-used for a made-for-TV movie from 1972 called Fire House. I’ll bet those tapes are sitting somewhere in the ABC Studios vaults. And certainly Barry Gray’s score for Doppelganger, a.k.a. Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969), which Gray considered to be his finest work for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The Fanderson group seems to have the tapes…but where’s the score! I’ve been waiting decades for it and the wait doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. Gil Mellé’s score for The Deliberate Stranger (1988): I don’t think Mellé was all that crazy about having his soundtracks out there (for some reason) but now that he’s passed on, a lot of his stuff is getting released anyway, meeting the demands of fans like myself. Oh, and the music Jerry Fielding wrote to the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Gil Mellé’s music for that has long been available on a low-to-medium quality bootleg which I have, but not Fielding’s.