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THE FENTON CHRONICLES : Composer a ‘Vampire’ Victim Too

Think you know the score on “Interview With the Vampire’s” conflict-filled production?

Buried amid the screams of Anne Rice fans over the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat, a less-publicized blood war was being waged just a month before the film’s opening--as director Neil Jordan and producer David Geffen rejected the score of George Fenton (“Gandhi,” “The Fisher King”), a frequent Jordan collaborator.

“I think George is very talented,” Geffen says, “but he didn’t hit the bull’s-eye on this movie. (The score) was too dark.”

Pinch-hitting: New York-based Elliot Goldenthal, who has created imaginatively textured scores for such movies as “Alien 3" and the just-released “Cobb.”

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But while Rice’s vampires are cursed with having eternity at their disposal, Goldenthal found himself in the opposite predicament.

“I was working in Martha’s Vineyard, exhausted,” recalls the 40-year-old musician. “I had a 102-degree temperature. The telephone rang and it’s Neil Jordan. He said, ‘How would you like to do “Interview With the Vampire”?’ I asked, ‘How long have I got?’ He said, ‘About four weeks.’ Then he called back: ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you--you’ve got three weeks.’ ”

In fact, the costly, last-minute replacement of a score is far from uncommon, especially on closely watched or troubled movies. Oscar winners Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein precede Fenton in seeing their work thrown out--a situation Goldenthal says isn’t always the composer’s fault.

“I thought Fenton’s score was lovely,” he says. “But sometimes a composer is on the same beam as the director and sometimes he’s not--and the composer knows he’s going to have to take the heat.”

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(Fenton, who was unavailable for comment, wrote the score for another film, the Steve Martin comedy “Mixed Nuts,” being released later this month.)

“I wanted to create--wherever I could--a sense of up-tempo, of fast music, because I knew I had to support emotions that are quite dark. Jordan would say, ‘I want more about seduction'--then we try to define what seduction is in music. The biggest cliche in a modern picture about seduction is throwing in a sax. Well, what are you going to do in the 18th Century?”

Goldenthal’s solution: dusting off that classical-era aphrodisiac the harpsichord, which he also employed to heighten “Vampire’s” bleak humor. “The hardest thing to do was to pretend I was an 18th-Century composer hired to be in the room with these two vampires--and my job was to make it funny! That took forever . . .”

Forever? “Well, in the lexicon of three weeks, forever was a day and a half.”

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Goldenthal says that one virtue of the schedule was the lack of time for anxiety--except perhaps during an early pep talk from producer Geffen.

“He said, ‘We’re all taking a leap of faith here--you’d better do a good job, or I’ll kill you,’ ” Goldenthal remembers cheerfully. “I’m thinking about the $70 million it took to do this movie. I figured you could probably kill somebody for $50 million.”


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