Introducing the Critic: Dimitri Riccio

Dimitri RiccioTell 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.

IFMCA members attend Gent Film Festival, World Soundtrack Awards

ghentlogoThe beautiful city of Gent once again hosted the Film Fest Gent, with the World Soundtrack Awards taking place for the fifteenth time this year. Various members of the IFMCA flocked to the Belgian city like bees to honey. Those ‘flocking bees’ included Eleni Mitsiaki (Kinetophone), Thor Joachim Haga (Celluloid Tunes), Bregt de Lange (MainTitles), Thomas Glorieux (MainTitles), Olivier Desbrosses (Underscores), Paul Stevelmans (Score) and Pete Simons (Synchrotones).

The WSA ceremony and concert took place on Saturday 24th October. Its central guest was Alan Silvestri, whose “Back to the Future” is celebrating its 30th anniversary (you may have seen something about ‘back to the future day’ in the media…), whilst his latest film “The Walk” had its premiere at the start of the festival, with the music making its live debut during the closing concert. To commemorate to occasion, the WSA in collaboration with Silva Screen Records have released a compilation album. It was recorded with nearly 90 members of the Brussels Philharmonic and a 24-piece Flemish Radio Choir. On paper, that doesn’t read like a big choir, but they’ve got a good set of lungs between them! In a surprise move, the producers turned to crowd-funding to raise monies towards the recording. It’s a little sad to think that this was deemed necessary, and even sadder to see that only seventy-two people backed the project, raising only a third of its target. The recording went ahead anyway, and was released with nice packaging and liner notes from various contributors.

The concert deviated slightly from the album, and programmed the following titles:

01. The Polar Express (“Suite”) – The performance was assured and vibrant, which the choir sitting prominently in the mix. It was a faithful rendition of the original version, though the “Spirit of the Season” section was slowed down just a little.
02. Forrest Gump (“Suite”) – A nine-minute suite that followed the original suite. It was performed flawlessly, with the choir lending the “The Crimson Gump”-section an epic character.
03. Mousehunt (“Suite”) – It’s such a playful piece, so colourfully orchestrated; and Brossé and his orchestra did it great justice. Kudos to the bassoonists here!
04. The Quick and the Dead (“Main Theme”) – Great to see this in the line-up, as it’s a wonderful but slightly overlooked score. The performance was spot-on with a particularly big sound coming from the brass section.
05. Back to the Future (“Suite”) – Celebrating its 30th anniversary, of course this one was present. It received a confident performance, with the brass section giving it their all. Though, the structure of the suite was a little messy.
06. The Walk (“Suite”) – conducted by Alan Silvestri, this one received a extra-lengthy suite, offering all the themes, all of the beauty and all of the restrained epicness.
07. Predator (“End Title”) – It was quite surprising and a little daunting to see this on the playlist, as many orchestras have struggled with that odd metered rhythm. However, The Brussel Philharmonic got it exactly right and really kicked ass with this one.
08. The Mummy Returns (“Main Title”) – this seemed to follow the original end titles, with its soaring string lines, ethnic percussion and some seriously evil brass and choir parts. Simply put, Brossé and his posse absolutely nailed this cue.

Most of these were lengthy suites, with “The Walk” replacing “Cosmos”, “Cast Away” and “The Avengers”. The composer took to the stage himself to conduct “The Walk” in a calm, almost understated manner; as opposed to Dirk Brossé’s more flamboyant style of conducting.

The performance by the Brussels Philharmonic and the Flemmish Radio Choir was outstanding, as the accompanying CD will prove. They effortlessly worked their way through Silvestri’s often fast-paced, energetic compositions. With the selected titles, the WSA have highlighted Silvestri’s versatility, spanning several genres from comedy to western to drama and adventure.

The evening started with several awards, after all that’s why there’s an A in WSA. There were a few genuine surprises, with Antonio Sanchez winning both the awards for Discovery Of The Year and Best Film Score Of The Year for “Birdman”. He thanked this Academy for the recognition, putting a strong emphasis on ‘this’, as if to suggest there is another Academy that didn’t recognise his work… John Paesano took home the Public Choice Award for “The Maze Runner”, whilst Paul Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla won the Best Original Song category with “The Apology Song” from “Book of Life”. Earlier in the evening, Peer Kleinschmidt won the SABAM Award for Most Original Composition by a Young International Composer (this was part of a composing competition that the WSA organises each year).

Michael Giacchino won Composer of the Year and, in his pre-recorded acceptance speech, made a point of saying he would love to come to Gent. The ever jolly Patrick Doyle received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Dirk Brossé explained that the award was not simply about the number of years someone’s been active, but that it’s about legacy and the cultural footprint that a composer has left behind.

The first half of the concert included music from Lifetime Achievement Award winner Doyle, who had two lively pieces from “Cinderella” performed, as well as “Nom Nobis” from “Henry V” and the full 10-minute “Grand Central” from “Carlito’s Way” synced live to picture. It was a master-class in film scoring. Last year’s Discovery of the Year Daniel Pemberton also had three wonderful pieces performed from “The Counsellor”, “Steve Jobs” and “The Awakening”.

The Meet and the Greet

Earlier that day, just a mile or two up the road in the beautiful Kinepolis cinema, a “meet and greet” took place with composers Alan Silvestri, Patrick Doyle and last year’s Discovery Daniel Pemberton. Conductor and composer Dirk Brossé also took part. Patrick Duynslaegher hosted a panel discussion, which prompted several hilarious stories. Doyle talked about his friend Stanley Meyers and how Stanley had been left heart-broken after being fired from “Soapdish”, not realising that Silvestri ended up scoring that film. It left Silvestri blushing, trying to hide under his black leather jacket. Doyle also spoke of director Brian Da Palma and how little direction he gives to composers. Doyle mused “he told me to go away [and write the music] and come back later”. Silvestri retorted “I’m envious. He told me to go away, and then told me to go away again”, referring to his rejection from “Mission: Impossible”.

Both dismissed the notion of any significant changes in film music, when an audience member asked about their thoughts on the ostinati and ‘horns of doom’ that dominated current movies. Doyle explained that there is nothing new in film scoring these days, and that ostinati have been around since Bach’s time. Only the emphasis on certain techniques may vary over time. He mentioned that “it’s all music” and that they, as composers, have to pick their projects. Doyle noted he picks those projects where he feels he can have fun. He insinuated he frequently declines projects because he feels he wouldn’t enjoy the process. Silvestri added that they are writing music today, for today’s audiences and today’s sensibilities. Brossé did admit that modern directors seem scared of melodies and that even three notes can be too much for some. When asked to describe Silvestri’s and Doyle’s musical styles, Brossé complimented the composers on their orchestral writing, saying that just reading the score feels like coming home (he was referring to his background in classical music).

Doyle and Silvestri both talked about director collaborations, especially those with Brannagh and Zemeckis respectively. However it was a story of Doyle working with Brian da Palma that got everybody laughing. “He started reading the score. Not listening. Reading! I was shitting myself”, told Doyle. “If you’re working for someone like that, you had better up your game”. Silvestri talked of Bob Zemeckis and how he changed his live “artistically and financially”. He talked about how clever Zemeckis really is, how every little detail in the film works towards conveying a message and that the music is very much part of that. He talked about “The Walk” and explained how he avoided the actual ‘walk’ sequence of film. “I was scoring every other scene, just to avoid the actual walk. But what you hear during the walk needs to be reflected earlier in the film. Bob told me… you gotta go on the wire”. He explained it was a difficult sequence to score. “This is the action piece of this movie, yet we’re hundreds of feet up in the air with only the sound of wind and occasional dialogue”.

However, Daniel Pemberton was seemingly not allowed to talk about long-standing working relationships, as he clearly can’t have any yet, if moderator Duynslaegher is to be believed. He put his hand on Pemberton’s arm and said “we’ll ask you this question in a few years’ time”. Presumably it was all in good jest, but from the audience’s point-of-view Duynslaegher’s moderation came across as clumsy and sometimes awkward. It seemed like Pemberton was being treated like a fifth wheel, yet when you hear his music for “Steve Jobs” and “The Awakening” it becomes abundantly clear that he is a tremendously versatile and talented composer.

Things got a little awkward when a member of the audience asked whether he could do an internship with any of the present composers. Doyle jokingly called him “a cheeky bastard… you got the job!” The Scot went on to give a, surprisingly, sensible answer saying you need to have a good, basic understanding of music, harmonies, counterpoint, etcetera. Silvestri smirked “the only thing I would add to that is: no”. Pemberton explained he does everything himself so doesn’t need an assistant. “Besides”, he said, “why would you want to clean up someone else’s mess? Make your own mess. It’s more fun and you learn much more.”

Doyle was asked why he abandoned all of Williams’ themes when he scored “Harry Potter”? Doyle kind of talked around the answer, but mentioned he considers each project very carefully and assesses what his role is going to be. Can he bring his own ideas or is he merely going to be an orchestrator? He also joked that his kids forced him into accepting the job, just so they could go to school and say “guess what my dad is doing? Only Harry ****ing Potter!”

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IFMCA member Brian Satterwhite Celebrates 500th Show of Film Score Focus

180556_10150104826072871_2387641_nHost and producer Brian Satterwhite will celebrate his 500th episode of radio show ‘Film Score Focus’ on Friday, November 13th at 8 p.m. on KMFA 89.5.

This special anniversary show will be an extended two-hour episode, and will feature a retrospective look at the show’s history, candid interviews from the local film community, and fan giveaways.

“When I recorded my first episode of ‘Film Score Focus’ back in 2005, I never could have imagined I would eventually go on to produce 500 shows,” said host Satterwhite. “I was simply doing my best to get through one!”

10 years later, ‘Film Score Focus’ continues to take the listener on a weekly tour of film music from around the globe. Every show is organized with a central theme or “focus” that offers the listener a unique perspective into the world of film music. The show has covered topics such as a tribute to late film composer James Horner when he passed away in June of 2015, music from movies nominated for Academy Awards, and even an exploration of scores from movies about food.

“Luckily for all of us,” Satterwhite said, “there is still so much more film music to enjoy which makes getting to 1000 shows a genuine possibility.”

Producer and host Brian Satterwhite is also a film composer himself. He has written scores for over one hundred short and feature films, including “Artois The Goat” (2009), “Quarter To Noon” (2008) and the award-winning IMAX™ film “Ride Around The World” (2006).

“Film music is a unique art form deserving of its own attention and praise,” said Satterwhite. “During the past ten years, KMFA has been its steadfast champion and I feel wholly blessed to have had the opportunity to share my passion with Austin, and thanks to the internet, the entire world.”

‘Film Score Focus’ airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. on KMFA 89.5, with an encore episode on Saturday at 5 p.m. Shows are archived online for on-demand listening, and are available on

This report was originally published at

IFMCA welcomes five new members in 2015

The IFMCA is delighted to announce that five new members have been accepted into the Association in 2015

Roberto Aschieri, freelance (Chile)
Juan Carlos Jiménez, El Cine por Los Oídos (Spain)
Karol Krok, Films On Wax (UK/Poland)
Mihnea Manduteanu, Soundtrack Dreams (Romania)
Xinkai Sun, freelance (China/Australia)

Roberto AschieriRoberto is a film producer, conductor and producer of radio and TV shows in Chile. He was born in Argentina and began to study film and collect soundtracks in 1980. For professional reasons he relocated to Santiago in Chile in 1992. He soon started writing articles for El Mercurio. In 1999 he published his first book on the works of John Williams, “Over The Moon,” which was acknowledged by the Maestro himself. He has also conducted interviews with numerous composers including John Williams, Joel Goldsmith, Howard Shore, David Shire, Gustavo Santaolalla, Lalo Schifrin and Antonio Pinto. Since 2000 he has been a columnist for Radio Beethoven, and since 2001 a conductor and producer of his program “Funcion Privada”. In 2007 he debuted as a writer, conductor and producer of the documentary series “Escuchando El Cine,” which explored the art and craft of film music. That same year he served as a consultant for the feature film “Papelucho,” with music by Pablo Avila. For the first ever Morricone concert in Chile he wrote an article covering the event. In 2012 he had his third season with CNN-Chile, focusing on the value of cinema and the emotional aspects that define the cinematic experience. Robert has about 1,000 soundtrack albums and 3,000 film score CDs in his collection. His favorite composer is Jerry Goldsmith, and he is partial to his works of the 1970 and 1980s.

Juan Carlos JiménezJuan Carlos is the creator, along Jaime Ramos, of “El Cine por Los Oídos”, a Spanish language podcast which explains and analyzes the value and importance of film music featuring different topics each week. A journalist and assistant director on TV, Juan Carlos also collaborates on radio programs like “Vivir de Cine” and web pages like “35 Milímetros” and “Cinéfagos” always focusing on film music. His favorite composer is Jerry Goldsmith and if you can hum Gizmo’s theme, you are already his friend!

Karol KrokKarol is a lifelong film score enthusiast and a frequent attendant of various concerts dedicated to this subject. Karol is the editor of the film score criticism outlet Films On Wax, for which he writes regular soundtrack reviews and features, including interviews with such names as Dario Marianelli, Howard Shore and Abel Korzeniowski. He used to provide similar content for the major Polish radio station’s official website, Polskie Radio Online. Karol also runs behind-the-scenes film website The Assembly Cut. and currently resides in the hills of Derbyshire in central England.

Mihnea ManduteanuMihnea is of Romanian ancestry and currently resides in Bucharest. He has a MBA degree in Audit and Capital Markets, with an occupation in banking. He has been writing film music reviews in earnest since 2014 for his own website Soundtrack Dreams. To date he has 700 reviews to his credit. He enjoys collecting and has more than 2,000 film scores in his collection. Mihnea has written a number of articles including a review of Patrick Doyle’s score for Great Expectations. He has also had the pleasure of interviewing several composers including, Lorne Balfe, John Lunn, Freddie Wiedmann and Cris Velasco. He counts Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Ennio Morricone, James Horner and Patrick Doyle among his favorite composers.

Kevin Xinkai SunXinkai is a freelance film music journalist from Guangzhou, China, now studying for a Masters in Architecture in Melbourne, Australia. He has been writing reviews and film music related news on Chinese micro-blogging website “Weibo” since 2011 in order to promote film music amongst Chinese movie goers. He also write score reviews for other media platforms such as Movie View Weekly Magazine. On the journey of popularizing film music culture in China, he is also translating “Film Music: A History” by James Wierzbicki into Chinese with other colleagues. With current architectural education and previous classical music background such as grade 8 piano performance issued by the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music in UK, he possesses an analytical understanding towards the structure and the narration of film music composition.

Congratulations, and welcome to the new members!

Introducing the Critic: James Southall

James SouthallTell us a little about your background, both personally and professionally (in terms of film music). How did you first discover film music?

I’m a child of the late 1970s so I grew up in that wonderful era for young cinema enthusiasts when Hollywood was making all those films for kids through the late 70s and then the 1980s – which featured memorable music. The Star Wars trilogy, ET, Gremlins, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, the early Star Trek movies – these are the films I grew up on, and if they don’t turn you into a film music lover then nothing will. It wasn’t until I went to university that it really turned into more than a casual appreciation, because by sheer coincidence when I turned up on my first day I discovered that the guy staying three doors down from me was an even bigger fan of film music than I was. He was Tom Daish who went on to run the (sadly now departed) Soundtrack Express website for a number of years and it was a joy first discovering great film music from him that I hadn’t previously known about, then discovering new ones together.

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’ve always loved writing and I always wanted to be a journalist or a novelist but I’m too shy to be the former and not brave (or, in all probability, good) enough to be the latter. So I ended up doing maths at university and to satisfy my craving for writing I started writing what I loosely termed “reviews” of soundtracks on the free webspace provided by my university, which much to my amazement people somehow found (this was pre-Google!) and even sent me some feedback on. I began taking it more seriously and my Movie Wave website just grew and grew; and is still going today, nearly twenty years later. Of course, you basically lounge around all day at university not doing anything (at least, I did), so there’s lots of time for listening to and writing about film music, and that’s not the case afterwards; and as first a wife and then a daughter have come along, along with an ever-more-pressured real job, there’s been less and less time available for doing it – but I still love it.

I’ve never pretended to be anything other than what I am – an enthusiastic amateur – but I do take it seriously, I do remember that I’m writing about something that a number of people have toiled over for a great length of time, I’ve upset a few people over the years but for every email I’ve had off a composer telling me I’m an idiot there have been dozens from people telling me they only discovered Ennio Morricone or Alex North or Georges Delerue because they read one of my reviews, and those moments have made it feel like I might have done something important after all. I do try to do pieces of critical writing, I do try to explain why I do or don’t like something – I generally favour brevity and try to get my thoughts across as concisely as possible, because I know in 2015 people aren’t very likely to spend their time browsing through 5,000 words unless they’re really, really good words; and the sacrifice I’ve made to compensate for having less time for writing these days is to try to put down a thousand words (sometimes far fewer) and still get my point across. It’s probably forced me into being a better writer. (But then I’ve always thought I was better than I used to be, and then a year later I re-read something I wrote and wonder what idiot pills I’d taken that day.)

I had a brief diversion into writing some liner notes for Prometheus Records 15 years ago which I absolutely loved and really wish I could have done more of – but nobody’s ever asked, so I guess that’s the most pertinent review this reviewer will ever get! And as a direct result of having the website I’ve met some of my musical heroes, got to shake their hands, even interviewed a few of them in what now feels like the distant past. The first was with Michael Kamen, who wasn’t just a gifted composer, he was a warm and helpful and quite wonderful man.

As the owner of one of the oldest and most popular English-language film music review sites in the world, how have you seen film music criticism change since you first started in 1996?

The most obvious change is the move from print to the internet, which was still in relative infancy back then. There were several print magazines devoted to film music at the time and while I don’t think there was much of a difference between the better print critics and the better internet ones (in truth they were virtually all enthusiastic amateurs) there was certainly a difference in external perception, with the print magazines generally taken more seriously. I’ve always had the website for my reviews but I did enjoy also writing for the three main magazines while they were still running. Of course, the world moves on and the magazines have sadly disappeared but there are more online film music review websites than ever. They have come and gone over the nearly twenty years since I started doing it and vary greatly in quality but there are some really good ones (not surprisingly including the couple that have been around as long as mine has, but some of the newer ones are impressive too), and some I have to say are not so good. I’m not a fan of the “stream of consciousness” style approach that some people favour (some of the reviews look like they’re being written as the writer hears the album for the very first time) but obviously some people do. I do get the impression that some people race to get their reviews out as early as possible and would benefit from a more considered approach, but there’s a market for everything and I’m acutely aware what they say about people in glass houses.

What’s missing now that used to be in the magazines is the writing about film music other than reviews of albums. Jon Burlingame does it for Variety, there’s FSM Online, but there’s precious little else. There are a few people doing good interviews with composers but there are also some embarrassing puff pieces that really aren’t worth reading. What I really miss is detailed analysis of how music works in the film – you get this when the better liner note writers do it for albums, but you used to get it in all the magazines too, about contemporary scores and not just vintage ones. I wish there was a bit more of it going on today because it’s very distinctive from album reviews.

But the big, big thing that’s changed since 1996 is the availability of music and the impact that has on the purpose of the writing. Back then, if you wanted a film score album, you walked into a music shop and if they had the one you wanted, you bought it. Consulting reviews was a good way of knowing which ones to set your sights on, so the people writing reviews (like me) knew that what they were doing was a piece of writing designed to help someone decide if they would like something or not. These days, you can try everything before you buy, you can listen to things on Spotify or Youtube for free – so the review is less about helping someone make a purchasing decision, it’s less important to be descriptive at length – you don’t need to tell someone that the flute comes in after 16 bars and plays the love theme because anyone who cares will already know that. You’re writing about something that most readers will already have heard. So I think it’s even more important now to have something genuinely interesting to say, to try to find some insight and offer some thoughts on why the composer’s doing what he or she is doing with the music. And there’s no doubt, that’s harder to do well.

What, in your opinion, are the things that are necessary for a film score to be successful?

It’s a funny thing, liking film music away from films. When people ask me what sort of music I like, I usually get a puzzled reaction when I say film music. So what draws us towards it? I’ve always thought there are two types of people who like film music. The first group are those people who really like film and the soundtrack albums are a by-product they want as a kind of souvenir of the films. When I see on messageboards people moaning that twelve seconds of a cue has the cymbal crashes dialled up louder in the mix than it did in the film, I’m always just absolutely perplexed that anyone notices it. I mean, OK, if it’s Star Wars or something; but how do people get so familiar with Not Without My Daughter or something that they would ever notice that? And that’s how I know that I am absolutely not in that group.

The others, which is where I firmly sit, are those who like film music because they like it as music. There’s something in it that I think pulls people in because the best film composers write music of great dramatic structure – film music is descriptive music almost by necessity, it’s emotional music (though an increasing number of filmmakers seem to want it not to be) – and when it’s really good film music, you don’t need to know anything about the film to enjoy it.

Of course, what I’m talking about there is good film music on albums. Within the film I think it’s really hard to write a truly bad film score – they are few and far between, if truth be told. And I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all rule for what makes a good film score – it may be an obvious thing to say, but it depends on the film. Star Wars has a score that basically tells the story of the film through the music – when the film does X, the music does X. There are no hidden depths to it, John Williams isn’t telling you anything more than you can see on the screen – but it’s one of the greatest film scores. Then you contrast that with something like Patton where Jerry Goldsmith is doing the opposite (some of the time, at least) – he’s going so deep most people watching the film won’t even realise he’s gone there, but he’s influencing them, influencing their response to the character and to the film way beyond anything they are getting visually from it even if they don’t realise it.

What is your opinion of the film music industry as it stands today?

I think it went through the doldrums a bit after the turn of the century, with blockbuster after blockbuster being scored in the same way; nuance was lost as film music became wallpaper, filmmakers apparently wanting the paradoxical state of wall-to-wall music but making sure it stayed out of the way. One size really doesn’t fit all. As the albums became longer, the limitations of that style were exposed even more away from the films – when you score every scene as if it’s the biggest scene in the movie, you’re guaranteeing that nothing has any impact. But slowly the tide starting turning back again and in the last couple of years we’ve seen a real resurgence. I absolutely loved Interstellar last year – big and bold music, but with its subtleties too. A lot of thought went into it and it showed; I think it’s probably the best thing Hans Zimmer’s ever done. It’s what film music should be all about and I wish all the people copying Hans Zimmer would look at the way he approached that film and learn something from that, rather than just taking the notes he wrote and trying to write them again when they’re being encouraged to ape him.

In the same year, we had James Newton Howard writing arguably the best thing he’s ever done as well in Maleficent, we had Alexandre Desplat scoring an action blockbuster (Godzilla) – we’re getting to the point where we’re finding the best film music in the big blockbusters again, which I think is great. And this year we’ve had James Horner’s magnificent Wolf Totem (OK, not a big blockbuster, but it’s a magnificent piece of music), I loved Harry Gregson-Williams’s The Martian, Thomas Newman’s done a few really impressive scores, Michael Giacchino’s had a banner year – and we’ve still got a new Star Wars score by John Williams to come. Yes, I think film music’s in a pretty good place.

Who do you think are the best film music composers, historically and working today? What is it about their music that appeals to you

Jerry Goldsmith could do anything. So innovative, challenging himself and growing over such a long part of his career, incredibly prolific and yet never lazy, never just dialling it in even on those movies which were obviously not worthy of having a man of his calibre. When you look at something like The Omen trilogy – what other composer would write an Oscar-winning score, score the far less good sequel a couple of years later and write something different – and then score the even-worse third part of the trilogy shortly after that and write something not just completely different, but absolutely breathtakingly brilliant? Anyone else in his position would have just rehashed the first one for both sequels. It was funny, I listened to The Final Conflict on album dozens of times before I ever saw the awful film. I was waiting for the scene for which he wrote “The Second Coming” – imagining some dizzying visual spectacular. What else could have inspired such a rapturous piece of music? And then the scene came and it was literally just a couple of people looking at a little dot moving across a computer screen. Seriously, the fact that he could be inspired to write “The Second Coming” – a piece that more than lives up to its name – it’s jaw-dropping. And if and when the second coming does ever happen, I guarantee it won’t be accompanied by such good music. He’s the best there’s ever been in Hollywood and probably the best there ever will be.

There was a purple patch in the 1950s and 60s when all so many truly great film composers were active. The great masters of the golden age were still in their prime – Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann. All so different, all so good. Hugo Friedhofer I think was astonishingly good. Of that group of contemporaries, my favourite has always been Alex North. He was genuinely different – providing lavish, complex, challenging music sometimes in even the most mainstream movies. But alongside that, he could write a melody – some of the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful that anyone’s ever written for film.

At the same time as those guys were still active, a new group of film music superstars was emerging. Along with Goldsmith there was Elmer Bernstein and slightly later John Williams in America, in the UK John Barry was making his indelible mark, in France was Georges Delerue, in Italy Ennio Morricone. Amazing to think of that group all emerging around the same sort of time – they would all go on to have unbelievable careers. Morricone was (and is) something special, I think – I think he’s the one true genius that film music has produced. I’m no composer myself, but I can come to terms with how these guys work – I can imagine how training, hard work and no small degree of talent can result in them sitting coming up with this music. With Morricone, some of the stuff he’s done is so astonishingly creative, I just can’t imagine how he could have done it. And he’s done it all while sitting at a desk – never a piano. The Leone films are I think film and music coming together in about as perfect a way as could ever be, but he’s done so much wonderful work elsewhere, too. At times brilliantly witty, at times fiercely intellectual and challenging, at times jaw-droppingly beautiful, the man’s music is simply extraordinary. I’m not convinced Hollywood ever quite got him – he wrote some great music for American films but it sometimes felt like he had one hand tied behind his back. Fortunately there are all those hundreds of European movies he did, the vast majority of which I’ll probably never see but whose soundtrack albums I will forever cherish.

I think the only guy to have emerged after that who genuinely belongs to be mentioned in the same conversation as the great titans I have mentioned is James Horner. He didn’t write film music like anyone else – favouring lengthy through-composed music, always looking for (and always finding) the emotional heart. It was horrible to see him go so far out of fashion in the 2000s as filmmakers seemed, bizarrely, to want music that did anything other than seek an emotional heart; and he was obviously hugely fed up with it all. Tragic then, just as he seemed to be having a renaissance, enjoying composing again, being enjoyed by filmmakers again – that his life should be cut short. I think his body of work stands up with the very best and was horribly under-appreciated when he was alive.

Of the current group of film composers, I think Thomas Newman stands apart. There seems to be genuine class in everything he does – whether it’s the big melody Americana or the quirky and unique side he does so well, his music is always interesting, always thoughtful. He seemed about as unlikely a James Bond composer as there could be, but knocked that out of the park too. Then there’s Alexandre Desplat, John Powell, Michael Giacchino, Christopher Young.

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