Music You Won’t Hear at the Movies
When “Air Force One” opens July 25, audiences will be treated to a stirring score by legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith. What they won’t hear is any of the music that Randy Newman wrote and recorded for the same movie just a few weeks earlier.
Rejected, rewritten and replacement scores have become almost commonplace nowadays, particularly on high-profile, megabudget major-studio pictures where the pressure is especially intense to deliver as “commercial” a product as possible.
Wynton Marsalis’ music was thrown out of “Rosewood” and John Williams hired to replace it. Last year’s “Mission: Impossible” had Alan Silvestri music before Danny Elfman rescored the picture. Ry Cooder succeeded Elmer Bernstein on “Last Man Standing,” and James Horner replaced Howard Shore on “Ransom.”
“Air Force One” is just the latest example. According to director Wolfgang Petersen, the original choice of Randy Newman (whose Oscar-nominated scores include “The Natural,” “Avalon” and “Toy Story”) was “a little bit risky” in that Newman had not previously scored a big action picture.
"[I thought,] ‘Maybe we’ll get something that’s a little different, more daring.’ Finally, it didn’t really go together. At the end, it comes down to the filmmaker, what kind of taste he has. If I just have the feeling that it doesn’t work for the picture I’ve done, then I have to make a hard decision.
“It has nothing to do with the quality of the music,” Petersen says. “Randy’s one of the greatest in the business, and a hugely talented man. We all know that. But it was not my taste, and finally I had to make that decision.”
About half of Newman’s score was recorded before he was fired around June 1. Goldsmith, a past Oscar winner (“The Omen”) and veteran of action films ranging from “Rambo” to “Total Recall,” was hired immediately.
“When you have to make a decision so late in the process, and change everything around, you have no room for error,” Petersen says. For the director (who had previously worked with composers including Ennio Morricone, James Newton Howard and Silvestri), hiring Goldsmith meant “we hit the jackpot. His ‘Chinatown’ is one of my three or four favorite scores of all time.”
The score for “Chinatown,” coincidentally, was also the second score for the 1974 classic, replacing music that Phillip Lambro had written. Producer Robert Evans, at last year’s retrospective screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, credited Goldsmith with saving the picture.
The “Air Force One” situation was uncomfortable for Goldsmith. “I’ve known Randy since he was a kid. I’m very fond of him,” he says. “I don’t know what happened, or what went wrong. But regardless of whether I did it or anybody else did it, obviously they were going to change it. And it’s a wonderful picture. It’s a very emotional film: the president and the threat to his family, the decisions he has to make as a president, a father and a husband--this kind of conflict, which makes it more than just an action picture.”
Newman declined to comment.
Tossed scores aren’t new; the history of unused movie music goes back at least as far as 1935. Max Steiner, composer for such classics as “Gone With the Wind” and “King Kong,” even won an Oscar for a replacement score (1944’s “Since You Went Away,” which succeeded music by the now-forgotten Alexander Tansman).
That was a rare instance. In fact, there are only about two dozen cases of scores being thrown out prior to 1970. Now there are at least half a dozen a year, although they are rarely publicized.
Steiner and such fellow Golden Age greats as Erich Wolfgang Korngold (“The Sea Hawk”) and Miklos Rozsa (“Ben-Hur”) rarely worried about their weeks and months of work being dumped. Under the old studio system, they were hired and supervised by savvy music department heads like Randy Newman’s uncle Alfred Newman (at 20th Century Fox) and John Green (MGM) who protected them, stood by the scores and took the heat in cases of failure. These days, composers are directly responsible to the directors and producers who hire them.
A handful of rejected scores have taken on almost mythic status among film buffs over the years. Several have even been recorded: Alex North’s original music for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Bernard Herrmann’s brooding score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain,” Sir William Walton’s heroic music for “The Battle of Britain,” Henry Mancini’s lost theme for Hitchcock’s “Frenzy,” Jerry Fielding’s music for Sam Peckinpah’s “The Getaway,” and others.
Among those that remain unrecorded and, as a result, the subject of intriguing speculation, are Lalo Schifrin’s original score for “The Exorcist” and Michel Legrand’s double concerto for violin, cello and string orchestra for “Robin and Marian.”
Goldsmith, too, has been on the receiving end of the rejection slip. He worked for six months on Ridley Scott’s “Legend,” only to see his elaborate orchestral tapestry replaced in the American version by a supposedly hipper, all-electronic score by Tangerine Dream. (Goldsmith’s music remained in the European cut and can be found in record stores.)
Completed, then rejected, scores are a sore subject for most associated with the projects. Composers generally decline to discuss them, either hoping to put an unhappy incident behind them or fearing that others in the creative community will construe it as a failure, costing them future jobs. Most producers and directors won’t talk on the record, either, feeling that they will be portrayed as villains.
Oscar-winning composer Elmer Bernstein, who has had several scores thrown out during his long career (including music for “A River Runs Through It” and “The Scarlet Letter”), views the situation pragmatically.
“The position of a creator in motion pictures--writers are in a similar position--is that of a chattel, albeit well-paid,” he says. “They buy music the way you buy a piece of furniture. So from a purely legal point of view, they’ve got every right to do whatever they want.
“But,” he adds, “directors who are very successful either are people who admit their musical ignorance and defer to the composer or who themselves have a tremendous feeling for music.”
Director Roland Joffe, asked last year about his dismissal of Bernstein from “The Scarlet Letter,” praised the score as “musically accomplished . . . what you’d expect from a man with enormous talent.” However, Joffe decided, “it wasn’t the right voice, because it didn’t have the simplicity [the film needed].” John Barry rescored the film.
A director’s giving his film over to a composer, Joffe said, is “an act of trust which is akin to getting undressed with a girlfriend for the very first time. You think you know what’s under the clothes. You can’t be sure. You hope it’s going to turn you on and you’re going to love it, and vice versa. But you never really know until you’re in bed together.”