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On movies and music, he knows the score

Film industry veteran heads from West Coast to Berklee

Dan Carlin, newly named chairman of Berklee College of Music's film scoring department, has won an Emmy Award for his work on the TV movie "Under Siege," was nominated for an Emmy for "The Temptations" mini-series and has collaborated with artists including Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson, Julie Andrews, Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, film directors Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann, and film composers Alan Silvestri and Danny Elfman.

He recently submitted to an e-interview from California, where he's living before relocating to Boston.

Q: List the 5 most underappreciated film scores.

A: OK, in no particular order:

1) Marlon Brando directed only one film in his career: "One Eyed Jacks," starring Karl Malden and Brando himself. The score was written by Hugo Friedhofer, an Oscar winner ("The Best Years of our Lives") and eight-time Oscar nominee, but not for this score, which in my mind is a western classic, combining a fabulously romantic theme with gritty melodrama and ethnic flavoring.

2) Georges Delerue won an Oscar for "A Little Romance," and wrote the music for over 350 other projects, including "Agnes of God," "Julia," "The Day of the Dolphin," and "Anne of the Thousand Days" - all Oscar-nominated scores. He was more internationally honored for his collaborations with the great French director Francois Truffaut, including the classic "Jules and Jim." A Delerue score that was not nominated was for the Herbert Ross film "Steel Magnolias," starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and a host of others. The music mirrors and complements this film as it begins with ebullient joy, peaks at overwhelming tragedy, and concludes on a note of eternal optimism. The music that enters in the moments following the main character's death and resolves at the funeral is as heartbreakingly beautiful as you will ever hear.

3) An important film executive (who wouldn't want to be quoted in print) commented to me that Ennio Morricone had a better grip on "The Mission" script than did the director. This score is probably my favorite of all time. Morricone manages to combine traditional music from the Latin Mass with native polyrhythms, indigenous voices, and soulful symphonic melodies. And he does so after introducing them individually so that they evolve throughout the length of the movie in a most skillful and artistic manner. Although nominated for an Oscar, this score lost out to " 'Round Midnight," which is another story.

4) Jerry Fielding was nominated for three Oscars and would have received greater recognition had he not been blacklisted during America's notorious McCarthy era. Jerry wrote a great score for Sam Peckinpah's "The Getaway," starring Steve McQueen. I was knocked over when I heard it, but very few others ever had the opportunity because it was tossed out at the insistence of McQueen - not for musical reasons, but, now don't be shocked, for political reasons.

5) Jack Nitzsche was one of the very first film composers to come from the rock world. He therefore seemed an improbable choice for director John Byrum to score "Heart Beat," the story based on Carolyn Cassady's autobiography (as a sort of response to Jack Kerouac's Beat memoir "On The Road," in which she played a major role). Nitzsche had the great sense to hire Shorty Rogers to arrange all of the jazz charts, and Jack wrote a killer theme for Carolyn. This score is bebop at its best, arranged and performed by some of the major musicians of that era, including Pete Jolly, Shelly Manne, Pete Candoli, Bob Cooper, and Art Pepper, who played the alto solos. I loved this score and hope to get my hands on it again sometime.

Q: What's a good example of a film score that doesn't work?

A: Hey, I may be moving to Boston, but I still have family in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you get into this business?

A: Just like almost everyone else: nepotism. My dad was after me for years to join him in the film-music business, but I grew up in the '60s when most of us were dead set on saving the world. When I failed to accomplish that, I started working with my dad. I am grateful to him for inviting, training, and then allowing me to grow on my own. He was a wonderful music editor and a fabulous mentor to me, my siblings, and dozens of others.

Q: What instruments do you play?

A: These days I play at the piano and guitar. But at one time I was a pretty good brass player (trumpet, baritone horn, trombone) and bassist (upright and electric). I was never good enough to compete with studio musicians, but I did luck into some early conducting gigs, so I studied formally to achieve some sense of legitimacy at that.

Q: What's the most familiar/popular song we can hear you on, or you at least touched in some way?

A: Can't brag about a song, but I did conduct most of the music in both "The Black Stallion" and "The Last of the Mohicans," which are not bad to listen to. I also produced all 53 of the re-recordings you hear on the soundtrack for "The Temptations" miniseries - and that was really fun, especially if you're into Motown music.

Q: John Williams or Randy Newman?

A: I've not had the pleasure of working with either John Williams or Randy Newman, but I know and admire both of these guys. Did you know that John started as a studio piano player? (That's John playing piano on Henry Mancini's original theme to "Peter Gunn.") John not only is the most highly regarded film composer in our business, but he also is known for being the complete gentleman. And his is the only studio where you still can walk in and find only a piano, a dozen sharpened pencils, and blank manuscript paper.

As for Randy Newman, here's a guy who could sell tickets to his scoring sessions just to watch him on the podium. In fact, I firmly believe that the musicians would play for free just to be included on his dates. This is the funniest guy making music in Hollywood. I also think that he is an absolutely brilliant composer who has managed to bring into his scoring the irony displayed in his songwriting. And, in my opinion, no one since [Aaron] Copland has managed to deliver symphonic music that is so identifiably American.

Q: Bernard Herrmann or Elmer Bernstein?

A: I never met Bernard Herrmann, but I understand and appreciate your desire to acknowledge his greatness. Try looking at a Hitchcock film without the music - for instance, the driving scene in "Psycho" after our heroine is stopped by the highway patrolman. She's just driving, and there are only three camera angles, and nothing happens, but the music gives you incredible tension.

As for Elmer Bernstein, well, he was a family friend, so I am quite prejudiced. My sister, Kathy Durning, was his music editor for over 20 years, starting with "Airplane!" Elmer's uniqueness was in remaining excellent while composing in such a wide range of styles. And when he fell out of fickle favor, he went over to Europe and reinvented himself with wonderful scores to small independent films like "My Left Foot" and "The Field." I also liked Elmer because his sense of artistry and esteem would not allow him to tolerate the degrading treatment occasionally dished out by directors. He even walked off a stage once. Ahh, those were the days.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at For more on the arts, visit ae/theater_arts/exhibitionist. A complete text of this interview can be found there.

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