In 2009, I had the opportunity to interview James Newton Howard, the hugely talented film composer, about his first work for the concert hall, debuted by conductor Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony as part of its annual (and wonderfully progressive) American Composers Festival.
All those years covering this field and this was my first chance to meet Randy Edelman, whose music I’d been hearing since the days of MacGyver. He was about to win BMI’s Richard Kirk Award, so it was a wonderful opportunity to revisit such scores as Gettysburg, Come See the Paradise, Last of the Mohicans and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Directors Rob Cohen, Ivan Reitman and Ronald Maxwell are also quoted. And here’s another favorite piece, a Los Angeles Times story from 2002 explaining why Edelman’s obscure, cancelled-Fox-series theme wound up becoming famous for its use in Olympics telecast.
This was a genuine labor of love. The U.S. Postal Service was about to issue a Mancini stamp, and there was to be a big ceremony downtown. So the Times asked me for a retrospective piece, yet one that would quote friends, family and give a sense of his impact on popular culture. This is one of my all-time favorite pieces for the L.A. Times.
I was so fascinated by the 42-years-late release of the composer’s final film score that I just had to write something about it for the L.A. Times.
This was another favorite assignment: Philip Glass was in town to promote his work on the film The Hours, and the L.A. Times asked me to interview him and discuss his work in films. I found him a fascinating guy, a true artist but with a very savvy commercial sense. I loved his score for the film, ranking with Kundun as among his most effective music for films. Three years later, I talked to him briefly about his brief but oh-so-Philip-Glass theme for ABC’s Night Stalker.
The release of the misbegotten film version of I Spy served as a springboard for a piece about why filmmakers can’t seem to get big-screen versions of classic ’60s spy shows right. Detective-show historian Ric Meyers, veteran TV critic Matt Roush and pop-culture specialist Robert J. Thompson all chimed in when I called. I was irritated by the trashing of The Wild Wild West, The Avengers and Mission: Impossible — and worried about what might happen with a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie (see Roush’s great quote at the end).
It was an incredible opportunity: celebrating John Williams’ 70th birthday with a big Sunday piece that would enable me to interview almost everyone important in his life: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (on the phone from Abbey Road, where he was recording Attack of the Clones), Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn and others. In addition to the praise from friends, I tried to install something of a historical perspective — where he came from, where he was going — while giving a sense that he was in no way slowing down. I’m very proud of this piece.
I am very proud of this one. This L.A. Times story was the first mainstream-press piece to call wide public attention to the immense accomplishment of Howard Shore in composing the score for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. I delved deeply into the orchestral and choral details of the music for Fellowship of the Ring, interviewed both Shore and Jackson, and then broadened the story to include Shore’s earlier collaborators, David Cronenberg and Jonathan Demme. Of course Howard would eventually win three Oscars for his work — but this was the very beginning of a multi-year, multi-film odyssey that continues today.
I was thrilled to be able to put Elmer Bernstein on the front page of the Los Angeles Times‘ Calendar section. He was being honored by the Motion Picture Academy for his half-century of composing for movies. It was a great year for Elmer; he was celebrated around the world. This was a big feature I wrote that chronicled his career (at least, as much as you can do in 2,400 words). Interviews were conducted with Elmer, Gregory Peck, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, James Newton Howard and Leonard Maltin.
I interviewed James Newton Howard during one of his busiest periods, doing Unbreakable for Shyamalan (this was post-Sixth Sense but pre-Signs and The Village) and Vertical Limit for Martin Campbell. We’ve remained friends over the years, and he gave me exclusive access to the King Kong scoring sessions, but I’m still trying to find that story online.