Tell us a little about your background, both personally and professionally (in terms of film music). How did you first discover film music?
I was born in 1955 in Brighton on the south coast of England, which is where I still live. I discovered film music via my mother, I suppose. She worked at a local cinema, the Odeon, which is still operating in the same street today. She took me to see so many movies, mainly family films but occasionally there were big movies being screened, and I was allowed in, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was the first film I went to see where I actually noticed the music – I was around 7 – and the theme in particular seemed to stand out for me. I also think it was the percussion that attracted me, plus of course it was a good movie. I was so taken with the score that I was given an LP of the music, but this was not the original score – it was something by the London strings or someone like that – but I still loved it, and later added the original soundtrack to my collection. It all stemmed from there really.
ZULU was next. I still get excited when I hear John Barry’s opening theme, and after this I discovered more John Barry in the form of James Bond and also got into things like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, 633 SQUADRON and others. It was at this time that composers such as Ron Goodwin were releasing compilation albums on EMI Studio 2, this was referred to as light music, but in amongst the light material there were many film themes, and because the original soundtracks were hard to come by at that time, these albums were a godsend.
I look on film music as a passion rather than a job or even a hobby, its something that I love and always have been into. I have a collection of around 7,000 soundtracks on compact disc and 3,000-4,000 on LP record.
How did you begin writing about film music? Tell us a little about your history, and what you do now in terms of film music journalism.
I suppose I started out writing for a magazine when I submitted my first proper review to The Max Steiner Music Society newsletter many years ago, and then later to “Legend”, which was the Jerry Goldsmith Society’s journal. After this, and with the friendship and help of John Williams of Music from the Movies, I began to write more regularly, submitting reviews, editing articles and interviewing composers. I also contributed to Movie Collector and the Marvel publication Hammer Horror, and it was from here that I began to be asked to write sleeve notes for soundtrack releases, and also to attend recording sessions at places such as Abbey Road in London.
I had always loved music from Italian movies, in particular Italian-made westerns, so I decided to try and interview the composers involved and up to a point was successful. Remember, this was the days before e-mails, and I had to rely on the actual mail, but I found a friend in Franco De Gemini, who was so kind and generous and put me in touch with iconic composers such as Stelvio Cipriani, Carlo Rustichelli, Nico Fidenco, Franco Micalizzi, Nora Orlandi and others, who were responsible for creating the original sound of the Spaghetti western. Also, Lionel Woodman and Roberto Zamori of Hillside CD production and Hexachord records respectively, put me in contact with Alessandro Alessandroni, Edda dell’Orso, and others, who also made great contributions to Italian film music. From here I was involved with the writing of numerous notes for soundtrack releases, and I worked for labels such as Silva Screen, GDM, GDI, RAI Trade, Hexachord, Tsunami, Tickertape, Intrada, Quartet, Cereton, Castle Communications, Kronos, Hillside, Movie Score Media, DRG and Beat.
I also wrote the entire film composer section for the Variety International Film Guide in 1996, as well as writing an extensive article about Ennio Morricone for the Variety magazine in the same year, which involved talking to John Boorman, Bernardo Bertolucci and David Puttnam. My blog/site was born via a Yahoo discussion group that I started in 2000, when internet really had begun to take hold. I was surprised how many other people shared my love of Italian film music and also film music in general. It progressed from a yahoo group to a meagre website that was quite simple, and now I have a WordPress blog, and I contribute to RunMovies and Film Music Site. The blog has received over 14,000 hits in under a year – not sure if that’s good or not – but I am pleased with it. I am also in talks at the moment about a radio show which will be a weekly slot on a community radio channel in the UK called Reverb, and I continue to review scores, interview composers and write about film music and the composers involved with scoring motion pictures and television productions. To date I have interviewed nearly 100 composers – my latest was a couple of weeks back with Frank Ilfman who wrote an amazing score for BIG BAD WOLVES.
What, in your opinion, are the things that are necessary for a film score to be successful?
I was told by composer Trevor Jones that if you go to see a film and you begin to notice the music rather than watch the movie then the music is too overpowering and it is not doing its job properly. Well, to a degree, I suppose that is true. It could be that the film is just really bad and the score is brilliant, but I think for a score to be successful it has to first and foremost be correct for the film it has been written for. It has to underline the action, punctuate the comedy and grace the romantic scenes. But it also has to be good on its own for people to want to go and buy it, so the composer I suppose has to look at the film first and serve this, and maybe along the way he might be able to create something that is melodic and haunting enough for audiences to appreciate and hopefully want to go out and buy.
Things in film scoring have changed a lot since I started to become interested. I don’t think we really get the big full blown main titles any more like we had in the 1960s, in films such as EL CID, ZULU, KHARTOUM, or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and at times I also think the composer is restricted in his or her creativity by certain film makers who really just don’t understand how music works in film. That’s just my opinion. The film music composer has a very difficult job, and also one that must be frustrating at times. They are obviously talented individuals, plus they have to be so disciplined and meticulous in writing music that lasts for a set duration. I don’t think I could do it, that’s why I respect them so much.
What is your opinion of the film music industry as it stands today, especially in the UK?
Honestly, I think Hollywood scores all sound very much alike nowadays. There is nothing that I would call fresh or original, and at times its hard to differentiate between any of the composers that work on these big box office productions. Of course there are exceptions to that rule, like John Williams, Alan Silvestri, at times Danny Elfman, and occasionally James Horner. In the UK we have Debbie Wiseman who, although she works mostly in TV, still produces wonderful scores on every occasion. Then there is Rolfe Kent and Lorne Balfe, who I know works with Hans Zimmer, but seems to have a voice of his own when scoring movies. Alex Heffes, Craig Armstrong, Patrick Doyle, Jodie Jenkins, all of whom have written some great scores. However, it is Spain has in the past five years or so yielded a treasure trove of magical sounding film scores that, for me, evoke what film scores used to be like from Hollywood, and they are a delight to discover and listen to, filled with romance, drama and adventure.
I cannot understand it when a film music collector says to me “film music is dead and buried, there is nothing that moves me any more”, but then they refuse to listen to any new scores. My outlook is to take on board every new score. Don’t compare it with classic film music, just listen to it and discover it, don’t be blinkered in your views or taste in film music. So what if it is a synthesised score? Does it work, does it sound good? Enjoy it, don’t analyse it.
Who do you think are the best film music composers, historically and working today? What is it about their music that appeals to you?
Like I said, I grew up with Jarre, Bernstein, Morricone, Barry, and Goldsmith, but these were influenced by the likes of Korngold, Rózsa, Newman, North, Tiomkin, and Friedhofer, so I would have to include these in my list. But let’s not forget Jerry Fielding: his score for THE WILD BUNCH blew me away when I first heard it. Also, Z by Mikis Theodorakis and BLUE by Manos Hadjidakis made me want hear more of those composers’ music. Then there were Brits in the form of Ron Goodwin, Ron Grainer, and going back further Clifton Parker, Stanley Black, William Alwyn, James Bernard and numerous others, they all contributed and shaped what film music is today.
As for newer composers, well: Nuno Malo, Oscar Navarro, Javier Navarette, Atli Örvarsson, Víctor Reyes, César Benito, Ilan Eshkeri, Alexandre Guerra, Benjamin Wallfisch, Frank Ilfman, Fernando Velázquez, Bartosz Chajdecki, Pinar Toprak, Federico Jusid, Marco Werba, and whole lot more. All have such great talent. I am glad they are writing for film as I know, with composers like this, we need not worry about the future of the film score.
Read John Mansell’s work at Movie Music Italiano