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 Torino (homeland of FIAT automobiles), in northern Italy, in 1971. I remember my first exposures to film music were John Williams – oh what an original thing! In 1980 my uncle gave me a 45rpm of Superman: The Movie, and I was overwhelmed by its gorgeous Love Theme and thunderous Main Theme; it was music composed just for me, for my own inner world, and I loved it to death. Some years later I went to the cinema to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and the next day I stressed my mom till she took me out by car in search of John Williams’ soundtrack LP. I was obsessed by the Flying Theme, I needed it! Needless to say, I spent countless hours listening to this absolute masterpiece of the 20th century.
Then along came the scores for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and no, you’ve read well, no Raiders of the Lost Ark – it came later for me (around 1987), but I still remember it was a knockout.
There were also Bill Conti’s Rocky scores, Horner’s Cocoon, and Goldsmith’s Rambo scores, but my deep love for film music is clearly a John Williams affair.
How did you begin your website? Tell us a little about its history, and what you do now in terms of film music journalism.
I started writing for Soundtrack magazine back in the nineties; I interviewed Ennio Morricone in 1991, and it was such an experience! Then I was hired by two Italian musical magazines, Classical CD and Audiophile Sound, where I was the only film music reviewer. The feedback was really good, so I went on writing for them about six years. Then I entered the group of reviewers and writers at Colonne Sonore, where I still am. I also conducted for a while a radio show about film music and cinema called Lanterna Magica, which was quite successful.
In the past years I’ve met and interviewed some of my heroes and it was always a great experience. Besides Morricone, I was fascinated by the very friendly Michael Giacchino, and by Alan Silvestri’s kindness. I also became good friend with conductor and film music champion John Mauceri, a truly special and warm artist.
You know, like every reviewer, I’m a failed writer. I miss the perseverance to put down a real novel (I’ve written dozens of short stories and begun “the Book”, with a capital B, countless times) but a movie critic or a score review is likely rather affordable for my intermittent writing art.
Beside that, I really love writing about a composer or a film score I like – or not, of course – sharing my deepest feelings with the readers. Also, I’ve always had the will to write about film music not in a too much technical way, but conversely I’ve always tried to write the reviews I’d like to read, to write a small account of my thoughts and reactions about the score I’m writing about. I always try to tell a story more than a straight analysis of the music, it’s by far less boring. Then there’s my proud membership to IFMCA where I also play the duties of Regional Coordinator for Italy, keeping contact with Italian composers in the name of IFMCA.
What, in your opinion, are the things that are necessary for a film score to be successful?
Is there a rule for a film score for being successful? I don’t think so. For sure the old belief that the best film music is the one unnoticeable is a real piece of nonsense. The best film score is the one that works perfectly with the picture and also goes noticed by the public. Imagine how E.T. could fly through the dreamy starry night in front of that perfect Spielbergian moon if the great John Williams wasn’t there to sing the music of our collective souls with one of the ten greatest film scores of history? And how could Norman Bates kill Marion Crane if Bernard Herrmann’s genius wasn’t there to guide his knife? How could a Pink Panther jazzily run from Clouseau, and how could Holly Golightly finally find her huckleberry friend, without Henry Mancini’s heart-stopping art?
That’s my belief: you shouldn’t necessarily get out of the cinema humming the movie theme (how much I loved it, and how much I miss it…), but the best film music should enrich your experience being smart and intelligent, adding something to each part of the movie, and leaving in you the idea that you’ve just seen something special. A good score can do all this.
What is your opinion of the film music industry as it stands today, especially in Italy?
To me, currently, film music isn’t that well. We’ve entered a strange, new world. Composers are slowly disappearing, making room for sound designers attitude. Many young, and some less young directors, are going for soundtracks that are ever more undefined, fashionable for contemporary masses, but tedious, monolithic, without subtleties, noisy to be kind, great melodies are nowhere to be found. That’s the current trend. Blockbusters are all scored in the same, horrible way, and if only some years ago one was waiting thrilled for that type of scores, nowadays I almost lost hope and interest in them.
Certainly we still have great composers on the scene. The uncompromised Ennio Morricone and John Williams, still at the top of their game; the ever growing Danny Elfman; Chris Young (how much I miss his old, sad, hyper-personal aching melodies though); James Newton Howard (although shortly after The Village, his absolute masterpiece to me, suddenly he seemed obliged to ape those awful noise makers to be hired – he, the composer of Alive and Wyatt Earp! If this isn’t sad tell me what it is). Alexandre Desplat, the great underestimated Philippe Rombi, the always good Howard Shore, Roque Baños (Balada Triste de Trompeta was one the greatest scores of the last years but why on earth Hollywood brought on one of the most talented young composer alive just to turn him into an RC clone…)
It’s strange, though, to notice that Europe is by far better than Hollywood in film music nowadays. Young composers are going for a post-Williamsian/Goldsmithian style of music, while Hollywood is rejecting the old composing school due to shortsighted production choices. We have the likes of Pasquale Catalano, Daniele Falangone, Kristian Sensini, Paolo Vivaldi, Paolo Buonvino, and many others in Italy, although sadly there’s always too little money for the music score. Philippe Rombi, Raphael Gesqua, and Bruno Alexiu in France. Victor Reyes, Fernando Velazquez, Federico Jusid, and Pascal Gaigne in Spain, and many others giving all their great talents to the silver screen, joyously sending a message to Hollywood: you forgot how much better is this way!
Who do you think are the best film music composers, historically and working today? What is it about their music that appeals to you?
The fathers of film music should be studied and analysed – and loved, of course! – by anyone who is willed to write about this wonderful art form. How could someone speaking about soundtracks omit in his basic training the likes of Steiner, Korngold, Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Rozsa, just to name the greatest? To me, the lasting experience of being exposed for the first time to the scores of Korngold, Herrmann and Rozsa is unforgettable.
I remember very well the joy I experienced when listening time and time again to the Varese CDs of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. It was then that I understood where John Williams’s Star Wars and Indiana Jones were coming from. Those incredibly lush orchestrations, that busy action music, really made me cry of joy. Rozsa’s Ben Hur, Quo Vadis and El Cid also made a great impact on my love for film music. How could you bear the incredible beauty of that sea of themes and marches and glorious musical storytelling?
Then there’s the tortured, romantic, frightening genius of Bernard Herrmann, probably the greatest film composer of all time. When he goes for love stories there’s always a sad, hopeless voice in his music, even when it shines, that sings of all the lives he hadn’t lived, of all the loves he couldn’t love, of all the clouds that overshadowed countless suns. And when he went straight for the psyche he was the sharp blade that cut your fears into thousands new fears: using musical instruments he was able to find your inner frightening music and to use it against you to make you feel you were the victim you were watching in the movie in front of you. And that is genius to me!
Of course, I’m in deep love with John Williams, who is up there with Herrmann to me, a composer who never fails to introduce me in a state of awe as if I were in the Sistine Chapel and not listening to a film score. The same can be said for Jerry Goldsmith, one of the deepest loves of my entire life. And the immense Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Henry Mancini, Bill Conti, Elmer Bernstein, Georges Delerue, Maurice Jarre, Basil Poledouris, and all the others I’m now forgetting.
I also have a special place in my heart for James Horner. There were times in my life I loved him or detested him. Since his tragic death I’ve not been able to listen to his music anymore. It’s too much painful and I miss him in a way I could have never imagined. Sooner or later I’ll be back to his incredible music and I’ll finally find once again that old good friend who helped me when I was a teen getting through thick and thin, gently waiting for me to walk together down where the road ends.
Read Dimitri’s reviews at Colonne Sonore.