Composer Lalo Schifrin on Sunday night received an honorary Academy Award “in recognition of his unique musical style, compositional integrity and influential contributions to the art of film scoring.” Actor-director Clint Eastwood, for whom Schifrin composed eight scores (including Dirty Harry and Joe Kidd), presented Schifrin with his Oscar during an entertaining and funny 20-minute segment at the Motion Picture Academy’s 10th annual Governors Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
Actress Kathy Bates (whose 2004 film The Bridge of San Luis Rey features a Schifrin score) opened the segment, noting that “when the score is in the hands of an artistic master like Lalo Schifrin, a good film can become great and a great film can be transformed into an all-time classic. “His work cannot be easily labeled,” she added. “Is what he creates jazz? Is it classical, contemporary, popular? The answer is yes, it is all of those things. He helped define the music of the ’60s, from The Cincinnati Kid to Bullitt to Cool Hand Luke. And without the cool Mission: Impossible theme, I’m betting Tom Cruise fails in his mission the first time — which means no next five sequels,” she quipped to audience laughter. “[Lalo] is a true Renaissance man: a performer at the piano, a painter with notes, a conductor and composer who has scored some of the most memorable films of the past half-century.”
Bates introduced a six-and-a-half minute film that followed his career from his native Argentina to studies in Paris, joining Dizzy Gillespie in New York, and finally movies in Hollywood (including six Oscar nominations between 1967 and 1983). Academy governors Michael Giacchino and Laura Karpman were interviewed about Schifrin’s impact over the years, and composer Terence Blanchard said “he’s more of an explorer than anything; music happens to be the language he uses.”
Eastwood ignored the teleprompter, instead asking Schifrin to come up because “I want to ask you a couple of questions.” Music director Rickey Minor struck up the composer’s famous Mission: Impossible theme while the honoree made his way to the podium. What followed was an impromptu conversation that contained some of the evening’s funniest moments, as well as a heartfelt outpouring of affection by the hundreds in the star-studded audience.
“We’re both jazz nuts,” Eastwood noted, pointing out that young Schifrin had to pirate jazz LPs into his Buenos Aires home. “Jazz was considered immoral,” Schifrin said. “Well, it is, kinda,” Eastwood responded to audience laughter. “Jazz is the American classical music,” Schifrin said to massive applause. When Eastwood apparently ran out of questions, Schifrin quipped, “It’s very nice talking to you,” to more audience laughter.
“Composing for movies has been a lifetime of joy and creativity,” Schifrin said on a more serious note. “Receiving this honorary Oscar is the culmination of a dream. It is a mission accomplished,” he said to even more cheers and applause.
Fellow honoree Frank Marshall (who, with his wife Kathleen Kennedy, received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award) stopped by Schifrin’s table before the awards ceremony began, as did director Steven Spielberg. Also receiving honorary Oscars Sunday night were actress Cicely Tyson and publicist Marvin Levy. The final moments of Schifrin’s acceptance speech are here. My appreciation of Schifrin’s music, published last week in Variety, is here.