RANDALL D LARSON.
What was the movie that got you interested in film music and was this your first soundtrack purchase or acquisition?
That’s an easy one – it was ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST that first woke me up to both the power of cinema storytelling, and the power of music to really electrify the dramatic intersection of film and music. My general musical awakening began with The Beatles in 1964, and I’m still a rock and roll geek, but the emotional dynamic of film music when I watched the restored ONCE UPON ON A TIME IN THE WEST on its TV debut that evening in 1972 is what really changed my life, and launched my collective passion for both film music and cinema.
I quickly discovered a record store in San Francisco that carried imported soundtracks and shortly the LP was mine. It wasn’t the first soundtrack I bought, my budding interest in movies led me to acquire a few previously but I don’t remember what they were; but Morricone’s OUATITW is the first soundtrack I bought that mattered. I was a die-hard collector from that moment on. I’ve since found that most members of my generation got into film music via maestro Morricone – or if not him, then John Barry’s 007 scores did the trick to open our minds into the excitement and pathos of film music.
I know you have a really varied taste when it comes to film music, new, old etc. Do you have to see a movie before you decide to buy the score on a recording, or is it a case like most collectors that you buy on past scores by composers?
It’s usually the composer that attracts me to buying the soundtrack, although there have been plenty of times I’ll see a film and my liking of it or its score will prompt the quick acquisition of the soundtrack album. After a while, though, in order to maintain my professional familiarity with film music when I began writing, reviewing, and publishing about the medium, I pretty much tried to buy all the film score soundtracks as I could. Of course that was easier back in the 70s and 80s than now, when nearly every film has a soundtrack release in one form or another. I still try to keep up.
What composer or artist would you say dominates your film soundtrack collection?
Morricone, easily. My collections of most other major composers are pretty complete but because of (a) Morricone’s sheer prolific output and (b) my near-life-long love of his music, I try to keep up with his work above all others.
There have been many formats on which soundtracks have been released: record, tape, 8 track, mini disc and CD/download, what format do you favour and did you or do you sometimes purchase vinyl?
I grew up in the era of 8-tracks but never got into that format. When I started out, of course, it was vinyl all the way. These days, with few exceptions, I can’t afford to buy modern 80-gram collector’s release quality vinyl soundtracks, but I respect the medium and agree the analog purity of the sound remains the most honest interpretation of music outside of live performance. But I collect mainly on CD, mostly because of the clarity of its sound quality – no pops, scratches, or other noise inherent to vinyl to distract me. I’ve never really collected on cassette tape, except when that was the only form used by some collectors to privately trade unreleased scores with. Through financial necessity or the medium of choice for promo copies to reviewers, I’ve been making due with digital releases – and finding as my ears get older that the sound quality of digital mp3/wav downloads is more than acceptable. With neighbors nearby and pets in the house I rarely have the opportunity to crank up the speakers and really get to shake the shelves anyway.
What is the most expensive soundtrack you have purchased and have you ever regretted not buying a soundtrack when you had the opportunity to do so?
Oh yes, I’ve kicked myself early on when I didn’t or wasn’t able to buy a collectible soundtrack when I should have. As a collector I’ve learned that if I find an expensive but affordable deal on a rare soundtrack, I better pick it up right then because if I don’t, the likelihood of finding it again at that price probably won’t come around again. The most expensive box set I bought was the “Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box” in 2011, and second to that was the DOCTOR WHO “50th Anniversary Tardis Box Set” in 2013.
Aside from those “routine” expensive box sets, I think the most I’ve paid for a single rare soundtrack CD has been around $100-ish.
As well as music from movies I know you are passionate about the horror genre. When did you first become interested in horror pictures and what films do you normally go for, classics or maybe the newer more gory productions?
I like almost all kinds of movies – but I tend to specialize in horror/s.f./fantasy genres because I grew up as a huge fan of them, and so it’s become a niche that I focus on as a film music journalist. But I love all kinds of movies in all genres and all periods, although I do tend to favor action thrillers within those genres more than dramas, with some notable exceptions. I’m not a huge fan of gore by the cement-mixer-load, but I’m not adverse to it either.
There’s a place for the moody style of James Whale and Val Lewton just as there is for Clive Barker and Eli Roth, and I respect and enjoy both. A non-genre film, CASABLANCA, is my favorite early-to-mid 20th Century movie, but then HELLRAISER is in my top ten my favorite horror films. Space for lots more in between. I also try and keep up with European and Asian film music as I can.
Do you think that contemporary film music is as good as say movie scores from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s or would you say that because film music is evolving all the time, we must be more acceptable of differing styles etc.? Do you lament the way in which contemporary scores seem to omit any real themes as music to open the movie and to close it?
I tend to like more styles of film music than I don’t, and I’m not a strict critic as long as the music is pleasing, engaging, and functions appropriately. I find as much to love about contemporary film music as I do about that of the Golden and Silver ages, and I welcome all approaches is they meet that pleasing-engaging-and-functional standard. While I do miss the use of melodies and real themes in a lot of modern film music I am not opposed to the rhythm-based/sound-design-styled approach where it’s warranted. That said, I do find that some modern scores lack honest musicality in favor of seemingly random noodling on acoustic or electronic instruments, much of which I consider a functional failing; but I’ll willing to give them a try. I feel that sound design scores have really amped up the fear factor in horror films, for example, and that works great – but not all horror films need or deserve that kind of approach. A favorite horror score is Humphrey Searle’s THE HAUNTING, which has the benefit of utilizing both styles quite effectively. I also respect and admire Zimmer & Co’s film music as much as I do that of the old masters; I grew up with rock and roll so I can admire the tonal rhythm-based approach even though I’m a sucker for a melodic orchestral score – both have the power move me emotively.
There are many soundtracks that remain unreleased, if you could release any of these what would be your top five list, and maybe tell us why?
My top pick for an unreleased score is definitely Gerald Fried’s score to ROOTS. With all due respect to Quincy Jones’ music for the African scenes, Gerry Fried gave us the heart and soul of the story once it reached the U.S. His main theme is a heart-breaking melody and his folk- and Americana-based material is wonderful. A second would be the previously mentioned Searle score for THE HAUNTING which has been criminally ignored for decades. Equally of personal interest albeit not on par with either Fried nor Searle are the scores of composer Jaime Mendoza Nava who provided some very memorable and effective scores for dozens of low-budget genre films during the ‘60s and ‘70s, but all of his film music has been evidently lost, as far as we’ve been able to tell. A lot of Hammer horror scores can use a visit from Tadlow, as only a few of them have been issued on CD or compilation soundtracks. I used to add the Universal horror and science fiction scores to the list, but Messrs.’. Morgan and Stromberg have done a fine job of availing these scores in thunderous re-recordings, though there’s still a lot to mine from these genre jewels.
Before the arrival of the CD how many LP Records did you have in your collection?
That’s hard to remember nowadays, as I have not kept any records of my records, so to speak. Most of them have been sold when CD versions replaced them. Probably a few thousand I’d guess.
How many soundtracks would you say you had in your collection, all formats?
I keep a database of all my music collections (I also seriously collect a dozen or more genres of rock jazz, blues, pop and other forms of music) so I am assured that as of today I have 12,381 soundtracks in my collection in all formats including digital. I’m a collector at heart, of course, for both personal and professional reasons, and try to maintain a wide collection since I write about film music daily and need to maintain my expertise current and up-to-date.