One of the most important miniseries in television history, the Emmy-winning 9 1/2-hour Holocaust, was the first TV production to focus specifically on the rise of Nazism and the Third Reich’s “final solution” to murder six million Jews. The producers hired Morton Gould, one of America’s most distinguished composer-conductors, to write the score (his music for CBS’s 26-part World War I series remains one of the greatest documentary scores ever penned for the medium). It was an honor to write the notes for the album, drawing on my 1992 interview with the composer; although a Grammy-nominated LP in 1978, it had not previously been available on CD.
One of the world’s great jazz trumpeters has a secret desire: to set aside the instrument and transition into a new career of writing music for movies. Arturo Sandoval recently wrote the underscore for Clint Eastwood’s The Mule — for which he also played the trumpet and penned the delightful Latin-infused source music. We visited with Sandoval at his studio for Variety and talked with him about his odyssey from Cuba to America, his collaboration with Eastwood and his hopes for a new career (we were reminded that he’s already won an Emmy for scoring his own life story in HBO’s For Love or Country).
Every December I review the top 20 “classic soundtrack” albums: expanded reissues, first-time releases of great film music of the past, and re-recordings. This year, for the first time, Variety agreed to publish it. It’s a bounty of great movie music, including four John Williams scores, three by Jerry Goldsmith, more by Dave Grusin and Nino Rota, and two from the new Universal Heritage series. Here is the list, with commentary about each.
On Dec. 17, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released its “shortlists” of movie songs and scores that will be eligible for nomination for this year’s Oscars. It’s the first time since 1979 that they’ve used this process — narrowing voters’ choices from the 156 qualified scores and 90 qualifying songs down to a more manageable 15 scores and 15 songs from which to make their final five choices in each category. Here is my instant analysis for Variety, written in just an hour or two after the lists were revealed. And, interestingly enough, most of the scores were included in my top-10 list written weeks earlier but published that day in Variety‘s Ultimate Awards Guide publication (click on the image to the left). My later, somewhat more detailed, look at the shortlists — and their shortcomings — is here.
In a little over a week, we’ve seen the Golden Globe nominations for song and score; the Grammy nominations which, with its offbeat eligibility year, combines the best of this year with last; and the news about scores that were disqualified, for various reasons, from Oscar consideration. Here are three stories I wrote for Variety that summarize each: a quick analysis of the Golden Globe nominations in music; a look at Black Panther composer Ludwig Goransson’s surprising Grammy nods; and our annual look at what the Academy music branch has nixed for potential Oscar consideration.
The venerable Varese Sarabande company — long seen as Hollywood’s leading soundtrack label — celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, so Variety asked me to look back at its history, interview composers about its impact, and research its biggest hits. It was a surprisingly fun assignment, as its full backstory had not previously been told: how a small classical outfit accidentally became a movie soundtrack label, spawned a million-selling hit, and may have even won an Oscar for one composer (that’s in dispute, but it’s a good story). Here is the main story, about the label’s history; here is a top-10 rundown (assembled from SoundScan numbers and Varese executives’ memories); and here are some thoughts from grateful composers.
The process of choosing “best song” and “best score” for this year’s Academy Awards will be a little more complicated for voters. Revised Oscar rules mandate that the music branch choose 15 pre-nominees in each category, requiring them to see and evaluate all of the eligible works an entire month earlier than usual. This may alter the results and eliminate late-December releases from the race. I discuss this in an analysis story for this week’s Variety. Also this week: individual looks at 13 potential score nominees, including Mary Queen of Scots, A Quiet Place, Green Book, On the Basis of Sex, Widows, Red Sparrow and Fantastic Beasts 2, BlacKkKlansman, Stan & Ollie, Boy Erased, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, If Beale Street Could Talk and Vice.
As many of you know, one of my special interests over the years has been the music of composer John Barry. He scored just four Westerns during his career. I first met him while interviewing him about one of those, his eventual Oscar winner Dances With Wolves, for Premiere magazine. But in the early 1980s he scored another one, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, and it was a pleasure to write the liner notes for this first-ever CD release of the 1982 LP. Country legend Merle Haggard sings the ballad, “The Man in the Mask,” and lyricist Dean Pitchford contributed some eye-opening reminiscences in a new interview for my essay.
It’s always a pleasure to write program notes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It’s one of the nation’s leading orchestras, and these extraordinary musicians perform in one of the world’s great music spaces, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. This past weekend the Phil (along with the Los Angeles Master Chorale) performed excerpts from the classical pieces chosen by director Stanley Kubrick for five of his films — 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut — and, in a first for these films, they played the music live to picture. Jessica Cottis conducted.
In addition to writing the program notes (you can click on the image at right to read them), it was great fun to write the script for host Malcolm McDowell — who augmented my music and film commentary with some truly hilarious anecdotes about working with the legendary director. It was especially exciting to experience the opening of 2001, with its now iconic Richard Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra, along with Gyorgi Ligeti’s eerie Requiem for scenes of the monolith on the Moon; and my favorite themes from Barry Lyndon, adapted from the original Handel and Schubert by Leonard Rosenman (who won an Oscar for his work, the only time a Kubrick music score was so acknowledged).
Make no mistake, Mary Poppins Returns — the long-awaited sequel to one of the most beloved Disney films of all time — will be among this year’s biggest Christmas movies. I was lucky enough to see it several weeks ago in anticipation of writing at length about the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and the score by Shaiman. Variety published it this week, and it includes not only the thoughts of Shaiman and Wittman but also comments from director Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt. My longer, more general story about the film that incorporates even more of my interviews — including co-star Lin-Manuel Miranda, was posted a few days later, and that is here.