I come from a family of diplomats and officers who were really into history and epic stuff, in their life and in their tastes. Especially my uncle, who worked with many explorers including Jacques Cousteau, and is a big movie fan. As he loved westerns, adventures, swashbucklers, and war films, he bought film music albums and I remember he played me Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Big Country, The Sea Hawk and The Magnificent Seven when I was about 5 years old. Then I began to read his collection of western, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas and sci-fi books, listening to that music, and to see all those great epic movies. Then, when I was about 8, my grandmother took me to a James Bond Festival where we saw From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball, and she bought me the James Bond Cinema Gala album conducted by Roland Shaw for Decca. I guess 007 music was my more important film music shock. Besides that, I’m from the Star Wars generation, so when I saw the movie in 1978, John Williams’ music overwhelmed me, and the same goes for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Superman.
It was so cool to be a film and film music lover at the end of the 70’s and in the 80’s, with Star Trek, Conan the Barbarian, First Blood, Indiana Jones, Krull, Rumble Fish, Flesh + Blood and so on. But when I was a teenager, I was also really into pop music: in high school, it was better to listen to The Cure than to Jerry Goldsmith if you wanted to hang out with girls, and what’s more important when you are 16? I really began to buy film music albums by composers in 1987, thanks to a college friend who already had a ton of scores and who recorded me all his collection on cassette. And believe me, he had everything. He really made my education in film music, from Golden Age to modern scores, and as he was a subscriber to Soundtrack Magazine – I read all past issues of the magazine – and Cinemascore, Legend and Music from the Movies. I began to write about film music in fanzines and about indie rock music in a professional magazine called L’Equerre when I was in high school, and in 1989 I sent some reviews to the French movie magazine L’Ecran Fantastique, because they didn’t have a film music column anymore. They immediately published them and I did that for a few years. In 1992, I began to write tons of reviews for the French edition of Soundtrack until it ceased publication in the early 2000s.
How did you begin your website? Tell us a little about its history, and what you do now in terms of film music journalism.
In 1999, I was hired by a famous French movie magazine called Mad Movies to write about films and film music, and I still work here. As it’s a monthly magazine selling about 60,000 copies, and is well-known by many directors and composers worldwide, my film music reviews get incredible support and response from thousands of collectors but also from many labels, especially Intrada, La-La Land and Music Box Records. It also has a companion blog (which is kind of dead now but will resurrect soon if my editor follows) and a surprisingly successful Facebook page, where I post news and opinions on a daily basis. Besides that, I conduct film music panels at the British Film Festival of Dinard, write liner notes for a Movie Score Media releases, and of course I interview many composers for the magazine, not to mention another very exciting project coming in a few weeks. Concerning my reviews, I try to be concise, fun and informative. Today we can sample the scores on the net, so we don ‘t need overlong reviews to know what they sound like.
What, in your opinion, are the things that are necessary for a film score to be successful?
It totally depends of the movie. It has to be its internal language, its inner emotional drive. In other terms, it has to drive the movie where it wants to go, to be a subtext but also to enhance the visuals when needed, which is a very difficult balance to find. I don’t care if it’s orchestral or not, but it must have strong thematic ideas. Recent examples like Gone Girl, It Follows or Lost River are electronic scores that some people call sound design, but it’s not, and they perfectly fit the films they were created for. I really hate that film music fan thing which tells you symphonic is better than synths or modern music and that there is no themes in, let’s say, The Dark Knight Rises or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s an anachronic, classical music fan way of thinking. And I’ve always been more into pop, rock and jazz than in classical music, even if I adore epic symphonic film music because of its emotional strength and muscular energy.
What is your opinion of the film music industry as it stands today, especially in France?
In France, it’s a disaster. Michel Legrand and Philippe Sarde don’t write for film anymore, except on rare occasions, Alexandre Desplat is now more a Hollywood composer than a French one. Philippe Rombi is talented, but rarely works on good movies and, generally speaking, producers don’t give composers enough money to write and record their scores. Very talented guys like Guillaume Roussel, Maximilien Mathevon or Raphaël Gesqua deserve to get real musical budgets. In USA, 2% of a film’s budget is devoted to the music. In France, it’s about 0.3%, and it’s even worse on TV. Maybe the future of French film music is to be found in the so-called French Touch, with electronic composers like Rob or Carpenter Brut, but it’s not enough. We also need orchestral composers who are ready to deal with new scoring techniques. Thankfully, American film music is quite interesting nowadays. US producers and directors don’t hesitate to hire Spanish or French composers like Roque Banos and Alexandre Desplat, and it’s very exciting to have Hans Zimmer and Remote Control stuff, symphonic composers like Michael Giacchino or Brian Tyler, and the lyrical, atmospheric and folk-oriented scores of Dickon Hinchliffe or Johnny Greenwood.
Who do you think are the best film music composers, historically and working today? What is it about their music that appeals to you?
Historically, I guess it’s Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry. Miklós Rózsa for the Golden Age. Working today, John Williams is still among the best, but I think James Newton Howard is also an incredible composer, one of my personal favorites with Basil Poledouris and Michael Kamen, in fact. Michael Giacchino is also very talented and James Horner is still very good, same goes for Hans Zimmer, who never ceases to amaze me. Among the rising composers, Marc Streitenfeld is very promising and I’m a big fan of Tom Holkenborg. I loved his work in pop music as Junkie XL and I’m really happy he became a film composer. What appeals to me in the music of all these composers is their gift for melody and rhythm, and the visceral emotion they give to images on screen.