Lalo Schifrin, the Argentine-born composer of Mission: Impossible, Mannix and more than 100 film scores (including Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry and The Amityville Horror), will receive an honorary Academy Award on Sunday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ annual Governors Awards. Schifrin, who has been nominated six times but never won, helped usher in a new era of film scoring in the 1960s and ’70s with his seamless mixture of jazz and classical influences. To preview the event, I wrote this appreciation of the composer for Variety (which features a rare photo of him performing with the L.A. Philharmonic in 1971).
Bernard Herrmann — the composer of such classics as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest — is today more revered and influential than even during his lifetime. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and The Film Music Foundation deemed his legacy important enough to launch an oral-history project focusing on this key American composer. So far we have done nearly four hours of interviews with biographer Steven Smith, director Larry Cohen, editor Paul Hirsch, conductor Richard Kaufman, the composer’s daughter Dorothy Herrmann, and Foundation executive Les Zador. They are all available here, at the Foundation’s website. More interviews are expected to be done in December.
The Academy never stops tinkering with the music rules. The latest addition is actually a throwback to an earlier era: There will now be an Oscar “shortlist” for best song and best score of the year, a 15-film list for each category from which the final five nominees will be chosen. It’s a process the Academy music-branch used to follow, back in the ’60s and ’70s, but long ago abandoned. Academy governors refused to discuss the reinstatement of the concept, but I obtained an in-house document and talked to Academy insiders about what it means and how it will be accomplished for this Variety story.
The music of On the Waterfront and Casablanca were the subject of “Upbeat Live” talks I moderated on Friday and Sunday prior to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first-ever live-to-picture concerts of both scores at Disney Hall. David Newman, who conducted both, was on hand to offer musical insights into the classic Leonard Bernstein and Max Steiner scores. On Friday we were also joined by composer Laura Karpman, and on Sunday our guest was composer Charles Bernstein. Both Karpman and Bernstein are current governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; this past weekend’s concerts marked the first of several events in the new three-year partnership of the Phil and the Academy. I also contributed the program notes for both films (Casablanca is here; On the Waterfront is here).
The Los Angeles Philharmonic, in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, is doing a weekend of live-to-picture concerts of classic films. I’ve been asked to do the pre-concert talks, but instead of a lecture, I’m interviewing the conductors and current/former Academy music-branch governors. We began Thursday night with Leonard Rosenman’s score for the 1955 James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause. Joining me in Disney Concert Hall were Scott Dunn, who not only restored the score for live performance (this was its debut) but also knew the composer quite well; and Charles Fox, the Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer and songwriter who is also a former Academy governor. We all talked about Rosenman’s life and career, and more specifically about his unique approach to Rebel — which combined his groundbreaking modernist style with a lively urban-jazz touch. Philharmonic performances of On the Waterfront and Casablanca will follow.