Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Who's The Best Film Composer?

Since the departure of David Edelstein, Slate’s film section hasn’t had a single, strong critical voice. But it’s had a series of intriguing essays about various aspects of cinema, including this week’s look at the best film composers.
Writer Jan Swafford looks at the work of Max Steiner (KING KONG, DARK VICTORY), Bernard Herrmann (PSYCHO, TAXI DRIVER) and Toru Takemitsu (WOMAN IN THE DUNES, RAN).

Whose film music carries you away? Whose soundtracks have you sought out, even when the film doesn’t live up to the score?

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2 Responses to “Who's The Best Film Composer?”

  1. Dustin Hisel says:

    Well three names that at the VERY LEAST deserve mention are John Williams who’s musical scores have truly transcended the films he has composed.
    Next, and I hate to state the obvious would be Hans Zimmer. He finds the mood the movie is looking for and amplifies it. The Last Samurai was an awesome flick and I think the music lent heavily to the atmosphere.
    And finally a man who’s music often times often times determines the course of the movie in itself…Danny Elfman, a man everybody’s heard of but few people know. Those three are giants in their craft and deserve to be noted.

  2. Ian Toll says:

    My favorites tend toward what I guess would be the “classics”, in this case — Herrmann, Rosza, Morricone, etc. — but of anyone working today, I think one of, if not the best, would have to be Howard Shore, if only for his versatility, alternating as he does between the avant garde stuff he does for Davids Cronenberg and Fincher and more accessible old school “Hollywood” soundtracks like LORD OF THE RINGS.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon