Shortly after the Venice Film Festival announced its heavyweight lineup last month, fest director Alberto Barbera teased us with the promise of later additions to the programme: "There are at least a couple of films we're still working on, American films," he said, stirring much excitement and speculation over various high-profile titles. Today, at least some of those latecomers were announced, and even if they're not the breathlessly awaited A-list titles some pundits were improbably hoping for, they add further shading to an already eclectic selection.
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POZNAN, POLAND—If you have film scores in your music collection, chances are very good that they are on the Varese Sarabande label.
To celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, Varese Sarabande, which takes its first name from French composer Edgard Varese and its last from a Spanish dance, took its show on the road, holding concerts in Los Angeles, Macau, China; Tenerife, Canary Islands, and here in Poznan at the Transatlantyk Festival. A final concert will be held Oct. 19 in Los Angeles.
Robert Townson, VP and producer for the Studio City, Calif.-based label, has just overseen the release of his 1,200th project for Varese Sarabande. At more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone, the company’s best seller is the soundtrack to “Ghost,” which included Maurice Jarre’s score and Alex North’s “Unchained Melody,” made famous by the Righteous Bros.
Townson is an incredible film score historian. When we asked him to list his five all-time favorite scores, we knew his selections would be interesting, but we didn’t know we’d also find out some fascinating movie trivia at the same time.
And yes, his five selections have all been issued on Varese Sarabande, but that’s what happens when you love film scores as much as he does. “I would never limit the scores to my label,” he says, “But as it turns out, it’s been a self-fulfilling prophecy. So in every case, it’s a situation where if I love a score so much, of course I’m going to do my own release of it.”
Townson’s top five scores in descending order:
5. “Planet Of The Apes” (Jerry Goldsmith): “In a lot of ways, number five the hardest spot to fill because, of course, it has to be Jerry, but the breadth of his work is unparalleled. Bottom line, no one did the amount of great work that Jerry did because he treated every film as though it were ‘Chinatown,’ whether he was working on ‘The Swarm’ or ‘Patton.’ He wrote the scores for the films that the directors wished they had made. And always brought his A Game and to a degree that is unmatched, Jerry just never had a bad day. The consistency of excellence is all his own. ‘Planet of the Apes’ was just creating an all-new language, taking us to a world that we have never seen before, through his music, convincing us that they were on a distant planet and all of these unusual sounds: French horns being played without mouthpieces and stainless steel mixing boards and the whole tapestry was genuinely and completely a world he created. He was working with Franklin J. Schaffner on that picture. Schaffner was a great example of a director who trusted his composer and let him do his thing. And that’s why we have the masterpiece that is that score and the film has gone on to become part of history.”
4. “Sunset Boulevard” (Franz Waxman): “‘Sunset Blvd.’ is an example of a mastery, a psychological role that the music plays in that film— so much range and energy in the writing. You have the glamour and the madness and the way Wasman wove it all together. Fifty years after Waxman won the Academy Award there had never been an album for ‘Sunset Blvd.’ Never, ever, ever. There was a concert suite that ran seven minutes, that was all that ever came from “Sunset Blvd.” So 50 years later, in 2000, I went to Scotland with [composer] Joel McNeely and we recorded the complete score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. I found when I went through the manuscripts the 10-minute prologue for the scene that never exists in the film called ‘Conversing Corpses,’ and the movie originally opened with a scene where WIlliam Holden’s character wakes up in the morgue and the other corpses tell the story of how they met their end. So no one had ever heard that before and it’s my favorite piece of the score. It’s where he introduces all of his melodies and in that setting it’s just macabre and masterful and brilliant in so many ways.”
3. “Vertigo” (Bernard Herrmann): “I just see it as the summit of his work. It’s passionate, it’s psychological. It’s so responsible for shaping the impact of that film. That’s the film that literally among Hitchcock’s script notes—he wrote it himself— ‘We will leave this scene for Mr. Herrmann.’ They had worked together since ‘The Trouble With Harry’ in 1955 and had developed this shorthand, this relationship, where Hitchcock was confident enough in the voice that Herrmann was bringing to the film that he passed the reins to the composer. The best scores have always resulted in directors trusting the composer. The best advice or input to give to a composer is just have at it.
2. “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Elmer Bernstein): “It’s just such an emotional score. Elmer Bernstein, one of the great composers of all time. So grateful that I got to spend the time I did with Elmer. We did 30 some albums together. I recorded ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with him conducting himself with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He spent so much time before writing a single note just thinking about the score. He took the benefit of time to really let the film soak into him. The master composer that he is then came out with this melody that is just the most expressive reach into the heart. It’s what happens in the hands of a master composer who knows things that we can’t even conceive, but there’s just the soul of a great artist being expressed with notes on paper.”
1. “Spartacus” (Alex North): “I started doing what I do when I was young enough to get to spend the last few years of Alex North’s life working with him. We would hang out in his studio and talk about music. This is a guy who every genre he stepped foot in, he revolutionized. When I started talking to Alex about doing new recordings of his scores, the first one I brought up was ‘Spartacus.’ It had been my favorite score since growing up: the depth of writing, the mastery of every note, the range and all the different styles he put into it and still it all tried together in a unified work. ‘Spartacus Love Theme’ is just one of the greatest melodies to ever come from film and the degree to which he broke ground just in the orchestral writing, his language and what he was doing musically in that score just set the stage for so much of what came after. Just at its heart, the emotion behind it where he had all this genius but that it kind of disappears within the fabric of the story that he’s telling musically. When I found out that Universal was doing a restoration of the film in 1990, we were going to try to align with that, but then we realized the window that we had in order to get the recording done in time wasn’t going to happen. I promised Alex when we moved Spartacus out of the lineup, that one day I would restore and release his score. Twenty years later when I’m approaching my 1000th album, which was also the year that celebrated Alex’s 100th birthday and Spartacus’s 50th anniversary, [we did.] He didn’t live to see it, but what happened in the 20 intervening years is I got to produce ‘Spartacus’ at a level where it was the most elaborate production of any film score in history.” (Varese Sarabande’s 2010 release included 6 CDs, 1 DVD and an 168-page booklet, including two CDs devoted to “Spartacus Love Theme,” with variations by Carlos Santana, Bill Evans, and Ramsey Lewis, and Alexandre Desplat, as well as a new Lee Holdridge arrangement featuring flautist Sara Andon.)
How is George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" going to shape up this season? Frankly, this "movie" movie is starting to looking like another "Argo," potentially, a middle-ground choice that entertains with a slice of history but has a populist edge to it that will draw in audiences, not just the industry.
When each season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" ends, executives at HBO, and fans of the show, wait in earnest for Larry David to decide when or if he wants to make another one. My belief is that the gig is too much fun for David to entirely walk away from, but for 2013 he passed on doing more "Curb" in favor of writing and starring in "Clear History," an HBO film that debuts Saturday night at 9.
Many of you will remember the days when Chad Hartigan was our reliably astute and highly discriminating box office analyst back at the old In Contention site -- we miss him still. But that was then and this is now, and Chad's been making waves on the festival circuit this year with his thoughtful, penetrating second feature "This is Martin Bonner." "'Decency' isn't much of a buzzword in the current, irony-fuelled indie realm," I wrote in my Edinburgh Film Festival review of the two-hander character study, "but 'Martin Bonner' possesses a pure, palpable strain of it from first cleanly composed frame to last."
Matt Damon has managed to stake out a very interesting niche for himself as a filmmaker and actor, and I am constantly impressed at how he manages to pull it off.
By any standards, you have to consider him a major movie star, yet whenever I've had a conversation with him, he's one of the most normal, casual guys I can imagine. Someone like George Clooney has a sort of aura where you are constantly aware of the reactions of everyone around him, where even if he's not trying to turn it on, he creates this ripple just by walking through a room. I honestly believe Damon could get away with relative anonymity if that's what he wanted. He's certainly able to turn up the wattage for the films he's in, but in person, he strikes me more like a dad I'd meet at a Little League practice than a movie star selling a $100-million-plus production.
One thing I've heard repeatedly from people who have worked with Damon is that he's a great collaborator, willing to put the film's needs above his personal needs. There are plenty of actors who will ask for changes that are about their image or their public persona, but Damon seems like much more of a big picture guy, someone whose goal is always to make the film better overall.
A review of tonight's "The Bridge" coming up just as soon as I get the Saran wrap...
It's funny timing, me running a piece last night in which I responded to the accusations by the filmmakers behind "The Lone Ranger" that critics pre-write their reviews of films. I think those guys are doing damage control, playing a shell game of sorts by saying what they said, but the truth is that certain films do make their first appearance already bloodied, targets painted on their backs in vivid red, and there is no doubt that Paul Schrader's "The Canyons" is one of those films.
The opening credits of the film have a haunting quality that I hoped the film as a whole would possess, stationary shots of abandoned theaters, movie palaces that have been left to the elements. But from scene one, there is a dissonance between Paul Schrader's visual work with photographer John DeFazio and the quality of the performances, and I have to confess, the entire thing just made me sad.
To all of you who are Time Warner Cable customers, I want to send you my sympathies (no Showtime? No CBS? What the hell?) and promise I will do my best to unravel the mess that is this night's episode of hamster meltdown. May the CBS app be with you!
We kick things off with Gina Marie reveling in her HoH status, which means she hasn't tried writing her HoH blog just yet. Apparently, this enterprise caused her to weep bitterly, knowing that the general public would discover she's mostly illiterate. If it makes her feel any better, I think we all had an inkling. Anyway, she lures the hamsters she's just insulted into her room as flip-flopping pond scum in order to make nice. She tries to assure Jessie she's not the target, because being the pawn is SO much safer. Gina Marie promises her that her door is always open, as if she's 7-11 or possibly a paid escort. The good news is that, when Gina Marie gets voted out and discovers she's unemployed, she definitely could have a future in customer service.
Amber Tamblyn joins "Two and Half Men" as Charlie's long-lost lesbian daughter
"She’s somewhat of a chip off the old block," Chuck Lorre says of Tamblyn's character Jenny, who shows up in the season premiere.
"CSI" to host a "Cheers" reunion when John Ratzenberger guest-stars
Ratzenberger will get to play opposite Ted Danson in his guest appearance.
Shonda Rhimes' next TV project: A Miami detective drama
ABC is interested in a cop drama about a pair of detectives, one male and one female. PLUS: Rhimes plans to binge-watch "The Wire" soon.
PBS is up dramatically in key 18-34 demo thanks to "Downton" and remixed Mr. Rogers
PBS has been able to attract younger viewers without dumbing down its programming.
An "Exorcist" TV series may be in the works
A drama project based on the book and movie is being shopped around to cable and broadcast networks.
Jordana Spiro joins FX's "Tyrant"
She'll play Justin Kirk's wife on the drama project from the creators of "Homeland."
Jennifer Aniston starred on 4 TV comedies before "Friends"
Here's a look back at her past on such shows as "Ferris Bueller" to the sketch show "The Edge."
Watch another "American Horror Story" tease
"Pins & Needles."
CMT orders "Tattoo Titans" and a reality show for "The Voice's" Cassadee Pope
Also, "Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders" has been renewed.
Will "Sons of Anarchy" have a happy ending?
"No," says Kurt Sutter, "but I do think that there will be something hopeful about the way it ends."
Chelsea Handler learns her grandfather served under Hitler
The comedienne, who is Jewish, learned the news on "Who Do You Think You Are?"
BET facing a transgender discrimination lawsuit from B. Scott
Scott claims he was told to wear men's clothing.
Which "Walking Dead" Season 3 finale scenes were reshot months later?
"Originally, the beating scene that started the episode wasn't there," says Dallas Roberts.
PBS hopes "Superheroes" documentary will woo the Comic-Con crowd
The film about the history of comic book superheroes was promoted today at TCAs.
Check out Zach Gilford & Kiele Sanchez's wedding photos
The "Friday Night Lights" star married "The Glades" star in December.
Goodbye to the groundbreaking "Skins"
The teen drama exited this week after seven seasons.
The best reality shows: Skill-based contests?
Why shows like "Project Runway" have proven superior in the reality genre.
Lucille Ball's "I Love Lucy" dress sells for $168,000
The polka-dotted dress was expected to draw about $60,000.
Watch the trailer for Showtime's "Sunset Strip"
The documentary on Sunset Blvd's rock and roll stretch debuts Aug. 16.
BBC America's "Broadchurch" is terrific, but are viewers starting to experience "murder fatigue"?
The eight-part drama about the murder of a child, which begins tonight, is reminiscent of recent shows like "The Killing" and "The Bridge." PLUS: "Broadchurch" is perfect -- the anti-"Killing."
Looking over the past few months, you might think the summer surprise of 2013 was the critical and box office success of "The Conjuring." Not really. All corners of the industry knew that Warner Bros. release was a hit in the making after early screenings started the buzz in the spring. It wasn't the word of mouth success for "Fruitvale" either. That award-winning drama had a passionate following out of Sundance in January. And the disappointments of "Lone Ranger," "White House Down," "After Earth,""Turbo" or "R.I.P.D."? Um, yeah. Personally, I'm kicking myself for not going to Vegas to put money down on how those movies would perform months ago. No, the surprise this summer is, hands down, "Blue Jasmine."
MTV really did threaten to cut Daft Punk from VMAs if the band appeared on "Colbert"
Thanks to the MTV threats, Daft Punk pulled out of its "Colbert Report" on Monday, reports the NY Times, which details the "intense" negotiations between Comedy Central and MTV, both of which are owned by Viacom.
"Duck Dynasty" stars to make their acting debut on "Last Man Standing"
Si and Willie Robertson will appear in the season premiere.
"Mindy Project" nabs Glenn Howerton
The "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" star will woo Mindy.
Tom Sizemore joins "The Red Road" on Sundance Channel
He'll co-star with Julianne Nicholson in a drama about a cop and his family.