Reel Music

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 In the meantime, enjoy this deliciously hokey original trailer: “It is as if God created the devil and gave him … JAWS!”

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,, and our 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 And to hear music from Aliens and other classic films, listen to this recent concert by the Brevard Sinfonia:

Reel Music: Kristen Anderson-Lopez

Oscar-winning songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez talks with WDAV’s Matt Rogers about her work in the Disney blockbuster “Frozen.” Anderson-Lopez, who shares her Oscar nomination with her co-writer and husband Robert Lopez, discusses the creation of the story and the music of “Frozen,” including their writing of the hit, “Let It Go.”

Anderson-Lopez hails from the Charlotte area, and she tells Matt how her path took her from Charlotte Country Day High School to the Hollywood red carpet.

“The things that make you shine are often the things that are scariest to share because they’re risky, because they’re different.”
– Kristen Anderson-Lopez