The great composer-songwriter Randy Newman was my guest at a screening of Marriage Story sponsored by Netflix on Friday night at the iPic in Westwood. During a wide-ranging 45-minute conversation, we discussed his second collaboration with director Noah Baumbach (after 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories); the orchestral music he wrote for the searing depiction of a divorcing couple (played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver); a bit about his Toy Story 4 score; and rumors that a documentary is being made about his life and career.
This year Disney and Pixar have been on a roll, revisiting classics and asking their original composers to return with new music, or refreshed versions of their award-winning music from the past. Music is so critical to our appreciation of these fantastic worlds, and in each case Variety asked me to interview the Oscar-winning musical architects. First, Alan Menken talked about revisiting the songs and score of Aladdin for the live-action remake, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul discussed writing new lyrics for it. Then Randy Newman discussed returning to the world of Woody & Buzz for the wildly popular Toy Story 4. And finally Hans Zimmer talked at length about returning to the African setting of The Lion King, now redone in an incredibly realistic computer-imagery version, and how diversity in music-making fueled his decisions.
Randy Newman — undoubtedly one of America’s greatest songwriters who also happens to be one of our finest film composers — sat down with me last year for a 90-minute interview about his music for movies. It was, as always with Randy, great fun, and I was delighted to be asked by the Film Music Foundation and the Academy’s Oral History program to formulate and ask the questions. He talks about the history of the legendary Newman family, about his major scores (including Ragtime, The Natural, Toy Story and the other Pixar films) and his classic movie songs from “I Love to See You Smile” to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
For Oscar Sunday, the CBS newsmagazine Sunday Morning decided to profile the famous Newman family of film composers. They interviewed composers Randy, David, Thomas, Maria and Joey, representing the second and third generations of Newman composers in Hollywood; and discussed Alfred and Lionel, from the first generation, along with visiting their old haunts on the 20th Century-Fox lot. I was delighted to help provide some historical context for the piece, which you can find — at least for the next few days — here.
For Variety‘s final roundup of potential award nominees in the music categories, I covered nine scores and broke them down into three categories: Suspense (Michael Abels’ Get Out, Patrick Doyle’s Murder on the Orient Express, Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); films that centered on families (Jon Brion’s Lady Bird, Randy Newman’s The Meyerowitz Stories, Marcelo Zarvos’ Wonder); and music for animation (John Powell’s Ferdinand, Mychael and Jeff Danna’s The Breadwinner, Michael Giacchino’s Coco). It certainly was a diverse and fascinating year for original music in films.
It’s always a pleasure to interview composer Randy Newman, and even more fun to attend a recording session for one of his movie scores. Newman loves the orchestra — and they love him, as you’ll read in a story for this week’s Variety — and for Cars 3, he used no fewer than 107 musicians. That’s more than most Star Wars movies. At 73, Newman is still at the top of his game, crafting a fine, expressive, even classically styled score for the latest Pixar film (his eighth; he’s won two Oscars and been nominated six more times for his songs and scores for such previous hits as Toy Story 1, 2 and 3, A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc.) Pixar czar John Lasseter even showed up while we were at the session, and he raves about Newman yet again.
The subtitle of this wonderful new album by the brilliant concert pianist Gloria Cheng is “Great film composers and the piano.” A few years ago she was presented with a five-movement suite by Bruce Broughton; a four-movement piece by John Williams followed. Cheng then commissioned three more pieces (by Don Davis, Randy Newman and Michael Giacchino) and added a recent work by Alexandre Desplat. It’s a wide-ranging album in terms of mood, texture, color and complexity; I’ve played it several times and continue to find new facets and subtleties. Most of the liner notes are by the composers themselves, but I penned the introduction. Here is a piece that goes into more detail about it.
Don’t invite Randy Newman to speak at your event if you don’t want to laugh nonstop for an hour. Especially in front of a group of musicians. The Recording Musicians Association asked me, again this year, to conduct a live Q&A with one of their favorite composers, the estimable, Oscar-winning songwriter Randy Newman. Really, with Randy you just wind him up and get out of the way.
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
When Randy Newman was replaced by Jerry Goldsmith as the composer of the Harrison Ford thriller Air Force One, the Los Angeles Times asked me to write about it. It was news, of course, and I did interview both Goldsmith and director Wolfgang Petersen. But I tried to frame this unfortunate situation in a larger historical context by talking about the history of “rejected scores” including all the classics, from 2001 to Torn Curtain and The Battle of Britain. I also talked with Elmer Bernstein, no stranger to the phenomenon, and director Roland Joffe, who had tossed a couple of his own.