A neighbor of mine, an avid filmgoer, was surprised to learn that the current Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga movie A Star Is Born is a remake of an earlier film (in fact, this is the third official take on the story). Variety asked me to look at the music of the prior films: the 1937 original with its Max Steiner score; the 1954 edition starring Judy Garland, with its Oscar-nominated song “The Man That Got Away”; and the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and its Oscar-winning love theme “Evergreen.” I talked to historian Leonard Maltin, Garland expert John Fricke and songwriter Paul Williams for this fun assignment, which was even deemed one of a handful of Star Is Born-related pieces most “worth reading” by The New York Times.
A new film on the craft of creating music for movies, Score: A Film Music Documentary, opens this weekend in New York (and next weekend in Los Angeles). It features new interviews with composers including Hans Zimmer, John Powell, Quincy Jones, Brian Tyler, John Debney, David Arnold, Rachel Portman and others; footage from earlier films featuring John Williams and Thomas Newman; and commentary from critic Leonard Maltin, agent Richard Kraft, Disney executive Mitchell Leib, record producer Robert Townson, director James Cameron, and many more. I am on camera from time to time to offer historical perspective. Filmmaker Matt Schrader filmed numerous scoring sessions in Los Angeles and London, and the result is a fast-moving, illuminating look at the art and business of movie music. You’ll see me in the trailer, which is here along with the New York Times‘ rave review.
It was a pleasure to participate in Saturday’s event celebrating The Man From U.N.C.L.E., old and new, with fans and friends at Creature Features in Burbank, Calif. Veteran special-effects artist Bob Short showcased dozens of original props, costumes and behind-the-scenes photos from the original series, and regaled us with tales of being on the set as an extra — along with his later work as consultant and gun designer for The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. I was happy to sign copies of my book The Music of James Bond and talk about producing the U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack albums.
Then on Sunday it was down to the D23 Expo in Anaheim, where I was delighted to join composer Mark Watters and Disney historian and filmmaker Dave Bossert to talk about music for animation. Bossert screened his award-winning documentary The Tunes Behind the Toons, in which Watters and I appear. Earlier in the day we attended a concert of music from Disney’s Silly Symphony series, hosted by Leonard Maltin. Here is my review of that event.
Warner Bros. invited me, along with film historians Rudy Behlmer and Frank Thompson, to record a commentary track for this 1945 war-movie classic starring Errol Flynn. My job was to discuss Franz Waxman’s Oscar-nominated score, which is one of his very best (and that includes a career filled with such classics as Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun and The Nun’s Story!). The DVD was originally released as part of a five-film package called Errol Flynn Adventures. Critic Leonard Maltin praised our work, calling it a “superlative commentary track… Rudy Behlmer, Frank Thompson and Jon Burlingame offer a master class in film appreciation, backed by careful research and a lifetime of knowledge.” Can’t ask for a better recommendation than that!
Leonard Maltin called and asked if I would discuss the music in Disney’s original Zorro series (1957-59) starring Guy Williams. I jumped at the chance. I loved the series when I was growing up, and it was a great opportunity to talk about George Bruns’ famous title song (“Out of the night / when the full moon is bright / comes the horseman known as Zorro”) and the Spanish-flavored, swashbuckling scores of William Lava.
And as Maltin later wrote in the foreword to A Research Guide to Film and Television Music in the United States: “It took a scholar like Jon Burlingame to know where Lava’s papers and scores resided. He not only facilitated our access to this material but provided me with vital research about the scoring of the show based on the files of the American Federation of Musicians’ local in Los Angeles. That’s how we both discovered that Walt Disney commissioned original music for all 78 episodes of the show…” Thanks, Leonard!
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.
An unparalleled reference source and much, much more, Sound and Vision offers a detailed history of movie music on record and compact disc; up-to-date biographical sketches of composers throughout movie history; and annotated listings of the best-selling, award-winning or otherwise noteworthy soundtracks of the past and present — original film scores as well as movie musicals and song-compilation scores. It even provides a comprehensive index so that can instantly know if the music you’re looking for is commercially available.
From Leonard Maltin’s foreword: “There are few chroniclers of the film music scene as astute and accurate as Jon Burlingame, and this book is a valuable gift to anyone who’s just getting hooked on soundtracks.”
A few reviews:
“Anyone with even a passing interest in film music should have this book.” — Randy Newman
“Burlingame’s taste is impeccable, and film score fans exploring the range of the hobby will find the book a perfect checklist for what they should seek out. Sound and Vision puts their obsession in a cultural and commercial context they probably rarely consider.” — Jeff Bond, Film Score Monthly
“A fun and informative look at scores on disc… a perceptive and reasonable examination of trends and trendsetters, with a clear-headed business consciousness that should give readers a renewed understanding of the politics of the recording industry.” — Randall Larson, Soundtrack!
“Smart, comprehensive and fun to read.” — Daniel Schweiger, Venice magazine
“Sound and Vision is an absolutely indispensable reference book, with a fascinating history of soundtracks and a remarkably comprehensive listing of composers and their work.” — Fred Karlin, composer and author of Listening to Movies
“In an era in which books about film music are proliferating at a rapid rate, it is Jon Burlingame who speaks with the most clear and authoritative voice. He is a researcher willing to check the facts at the source. He speaks with great love for the art of composing music for film and is a kind and knowledgeable critic of the state of the art.” — Elmer Bernstein
“Jon Burlingame has approached this book with devotion and wide-ranging knowledge…. Every serious film buff should welcome Sound and Vision with genuine enthusiasm — Rudy Behlmer, author of Memo From David O. Selznick
“Burlingame has wisely chosen to chronicle those soundtracks that, by virtue of their quality, importance or popularity, should be made known to film music’s ever-increasing audience. His informative history of movie soundtrack recordings is alone worth the purchase price.” — Clifford McCarty, author of Film Composers in America