Matt Rogers

Reel Music Bites into Summer Blockbusters

Jaws-movie-posterThis summer, the movie Jaws and the summer blockbuster phenomenon it launched turn 40 years old. It may be hard to remember or believe, but there was a time when summer was a movie wasteland. The big studios put out their second rate material then and saved the good stuff for fall and winter, hoping to score Oscars in the new year. While the more serious award contenders do still tend to launch after the kids are back in school, summer is hardly the cinematic malaise it used to be. That all changed June 20, 1975 when the film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws hit theaters.

It was supposed to be a flop. “Bruce,” the mechanical shark, never worked properly, and director Steven Spielberg lived daily in fear of being fired as the schedule and budget ballooned. When production wrapped, the movie cost three times what studio execs had allotted and took three times longer to film than they had expected, although producer David Brown admits, “The release of the film was deliberately delayed till people were in the water off the summer beach resorts.”

Jaws was an instant success with critics and audiences alike, spending fourteen weeks at number one and earning 470 million dollars worldwide (more than a billion when adjusted for inflation).  It spawned three progressively absurd sequels and inaugurated the summer season of big budget, high action movies. Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982), Top Gun (1986), Jurassic Park (1993), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Avengers (2012) all owe their summer release dates to the success of Jaws.

Oh, and did I mention that some of these movies have thrilling film scores? Join me for “Reel Music: Summer Blockbusters,” Friday, July 31, 9pm on 89.9 and WDAV.org. In the meantime, enjoy this deliciously hokey original trailer: “It is as if God created the devil and gave him … JAWS!”

Remembering Film Composer James Horner

Cinema has lost one of its best. James Horner, composer of more than a hundred film scores, died Monday, June 22, 2015 when the plane he was piloting crashed in southern California. Horner had been working steadily in Hollywood since the late 1970s, getting his big break in 1982 with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and later picking up two Oscars (Best Score and Best Song) for the 1997 James Cameron epic Titanic.

If John Williams was the composer of my childhood, then James Horner was that of my adolescence. I certainly knew of Horner early on, thanks to his work on Star Trek II and III (I was a big Trekkie), but it was Horner’s scores for Glory, Field of Dreams, Braveheart, and Titanic that most affected me. Horner was known for his ability to combine orchestra and choir in a way that evoked feelings of longing and melancholy, which my daydreaming, somewhat angsty young adult self-identified with on a deep level.

In interviews, James Horner has always struck me as a gentle, sensitive composer, aware of what was happening on the surface of the story—what you see on screen—but also very tuned in to what was happening beneath the surface, the tensions and motivations of the characters. Below are some clips of James Horner talking about his work.

Tune in Friday, June 26 at 9pm for Reel Music: Remembering James Horner.

 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Field of Dreams (1989)

Titanic (1997)

Karate Kid (2010)

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Bernard Herrmann, Man of Many Genres

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a film director. I was fascinated by every aspect of movies, including the film score. Especially the film score. I loved how music could in some cases become its own character in the movie and an invisible part of the setting. I grew up on the exuberant, joyful John Williams scores to Star Wars and Superman, but it was a much older soundtrack that first taught me how much music can add to a movie.

I was in elementary school when I first saw the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring the always-wonderful James Mason and a better-than-you’d-expect Pat Boone. A movie theater in town was showing old movies for a dollar-something during the summer to occupy kids and give their parents a break. The subterranean world director Henry Levin created out of Jules Verne’s imaginative novel captivated me. Imagine! A whole world beneath our feet, just waiting for young kids like me, to explore.

A crucial part of that world Levin constructed from all the various elements that make a movie was a brilliantly effective original score. Composer Bernard Herrmann threw in all the instruments of the orchestra, even the king of them, the pipe organ, to build the film’s soundscape: cymbal crashes for volcanic eruptions, a shimmering harp for the descent into the earth, the cornett-like serpent for a giant prehistoric lizard, and, yes, the pipe organ for the film’s climax.

Journey to the Center of the Earth made me a lifelong fan of Bernard Herrmann, whose success lay partly in his great versatility. He was equally comfortable writing music for three very different genres—drama, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror/suspense. Have a listen to the sample below, and then join me Friday night, November 28, at 9:00, for “Reel Music: A Tribute to Bernard Herrmann,” on 89.9 FM, WDAV.org, and our Apple and Android apps.

Top 5 Scariest Halloween Soundtracks

It’s Halloween, and that calls for creepy themes to give you a chill. Matt Rogers, host of WDAV’s Reel Spooks, gives us a show preview by sharing his top five picks for scariest Halloween soundtracks.

Cape Fear

This is Bernard Herrmann at his brassy best. When the horns kick in, you know you’re in trouble. The score was so good that it was used in both the original movie and the remake.

 

 

Exorcist

The main theme, “Tubular Bells,” by Mike Oldfield, wasn’t written for the movie, and by itself isn’t particularly scary. But see the movie, and those seemingly innocent chimes will forever after conjure images of sweet little possessed Regan.

 

 

The Omen

Jerry Goldsmith finally won his Oscar for this chilling score. He was also nominated for Best Original Song for the film’s choral piece, “Ave Satani” (“Hail Satan”). It’s creep-tastic.

 

psycho-quote

This is the pinnacle of the Herrmann/Hitchcock collaboration. Those screeching strings are iconic. Try to imagine the famous shower scene without them. Just wouldn’t be the same.

 

 

Bride of Frankenstein

 

UPDATE (10/27/15):
To listen to all of Matt Rogers’s picks — including Psycho, Bride of Frankenstein, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Omen, and more — tune into ‘Reel Spooks’ Friday, October 30, 2015 at 9 p.m. Are you in the Charlotte area? Tune into 89.9fm Classical Public Radio. Prefer to stream? Listen live at WDAV.org or on Apple and Android apps.

 

Reel Music: James Horner & James Cameron

Film score composer James Horner has had some of his greatest successes working with director James Cameron, but it was not always a happy union. The two got off to a bad start in 1986 working on Aliens. With just six weeks to the movie’s release date, there was still no final edit of the film, and therefore, nothing for Horner to score, since, in the movies, timing and cues are everything, and the music has to match. Aliens

By the time James Horner was able to get to work, time was so short he had to record the film’s score in just four days. But the result was perhaps proof that sometimes the pressure of a deadline is good for the creative spirit because James Horner picked up his first Academy Award nomination for Aliens.

After the film was finished, tensions between the director and composer were so high, that Horner assumed he and Cameron would never work together again. And for ten years, they didn’t. Then, in 1995, James Cameron heard the score Horner wrote for Mel Gibson’s epic, Braveheart, and realized Horner was perfect for his own epic, Titanic.

On set, much of the cast and crew got a dose of what Horner had endured on Aliens. Director Cameron was known for his explosive temper and screaming rants. Actress Kate Winslet said, “There were times when I was genuinely frightened of him.” When the film was running long and well over budget, studio execs suggested a full hour of specific cuts, to which Cameron responded, “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!”

Composer James Horner, having learned from his experience on Aliens, waited until James Cameron was in an acceptable mood to present him with the now-classic song, “My Heart Will Go On.” Director Cameron wanted no songs in the film, particularly at the end, which he felt might be perceived as “going commercial.” After hearing the song several times, however, Cameron consented, and the rest is history. The song and the score won James Horner his first—and so far, only—Oscars.

Enjoy a tribute to James Horner on the next Reel Music, Friday, August 29, at 9pm, on 89.9 and WDAV.org. And to hear music from Aliens and other classic films, listen to this recent concert by the Brevard Sinfonia: