Composer David Newman Explores Paramount Pictures' Musical Legacy

A century of the studios' finest film scores have been restored for live performance.

By Scott Huver
|  Monday, Aug 27, 2012  |  Updated 6:23 PM EDT
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Paramount Pictures

James Stewart and Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 psychological thriller "Vertigo," music from which will be played at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 2.

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To celebrate Paramount Pictures’ 100th anniversary, composer David Newman’s about to raise the baton on its monumental movie music legacy.

Since 2007, Newman’s been the conductor for “The Big Picture,” the Hollywood Bowl’s annual celebration of some of the most iconic film score music in history, performing the scores live as classic movie moments play across the screen.

Newman’s got something of a history in Hollywood himself: the president of the Film Music Society and an Oscar-nominated film composer whose credits include “Heathers,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “The Sandlot,” “The Flintstones,” “Anastasia,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Scooby Doo” and dozens more. He’s also the son of widely influential film composer Alfred Newman, the brother of composer Thomas Newman (“American Beauty”) and cousin of composer/singer/songwriter Randy Newman (“Toy Story”).

On Sept. 2, Newman and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra will  be joined by guest composers Michael Giacchino (“Star Trek,” “Super 8”), Alan Silverstri (“Forrest Gump”) and Lalo Schifrin (“Mission: Impossible”) and host Jason Alexander will join Newman to celebrate some of the greatest themes and backing music from Paramount’s century of cinema.

This is a one-of-a kind opportunity to go through some of these classic Paramount scores - but you also do something like this every season at the Hollywood Bowl.

This is something the Bowl has been doing annually throughout much of the history of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra – kind of quietly doing this because generally when someone wants to perform film music, it's in very bad shape and it's very difficult to find, much less to define the parts of the scores and the things that you need to actually play it like this. Every year the Bowl restores about 50 to 60 percent of what they do – if not 80 to 90 percent. I think much of it this year is all stuff that The Bowl has restored, so this is now stuff that can be played. They've been doing this for years and years with really not much publicity about it, about the good that they're doing, in terms of the Hollywood film music community. We always look to either do a studio or some kind of theme, and this year it's Paramount's 100th anniversary, so we're doing a little bit from each era of Paramount's history.

Can you talk about some of the pieces of music from that rich Paramount legacy that you’ll be highlighting?

We try to do longer sequences so that the audience can get into the whole spirit of watching a scene with live music and not just little snippets…The orchestra plays the music live while the scene is going on, on the screen, so it's much like a scoring session when you're scoring a film, but of course then it's recorded and it can be edited etcetera. This is a live concert, but you're watching clips the entire concert while the orchestra is playing live – it's kind of a movie night and film music night combined. With the silent film "Wings" – which is a 1927 Paramount silent film that's very famous – we're going to do a nine-minute sequence from that movie. We're going to do the 1934 "Cleopatra," the score by Rudolph Kopp, which is a wonderful little sequence. We're going to do the tower scene from "Vertigo," the Bernard Hermann-scored Hitchcock film, when Kim Novak runs up the tower and evidently jumps off. And the final scene from "Sunset Boulevard."

We're going to do this fun thing that we do sometimes from the Jerry Lewis film, the 1960 film "The Bellboy." There's a scene where he's an usher in a concert hall and he's cleaning up the stage and then he pretends that he's conducting an orchestra – it's this crazy thing! From "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," the 1989 movie, there's a scene where there's a fire and motorcycle escape and then they escape in a boat – it's this long, extended John Williams sequence, a very fast, very fun, a great sequence. We're going to do something from "Forrest Gump" and "Titanic" and "Star Trek" and "Transformers," and then we're going to end up with "Mission Impossible" at the end, because I think that is one of the most iconic Paramount themes.

Is there one of those pieces of music that was specifically influential for you, or a composer from this group that had a strong influence on your sensibility?

I mean, they all they have their own things. "Forrest Gump," I think, is one of the great scores of the twentieth century. I didn't know the score that well to "Breakfast at Tiffany's," that Henry Mancini score. We're doing the end of the movie, and it struck me how modern Mancini still seems, the way that he scores. Not just the jazz influence – which is a very heavy jazz influence – but the way that he develops it and the way that he uses the jazz idiom to score movies, I felt, was very interesting for me because I didn't know it that well. The rest of this I know pretty well.

What does it mean to you to be able to celebrate the legacy of Hollywood film music?

It's something that I've always been interested in. When I was young I ran the composers lab at the Sundance Institute, but we also had a film music preservation program where we were doing exactly what the Bowl has been doing for years: finding out what movie scores orchestras around the world would like to play and trying to get that music available to rent. Much of it doesn't even exist at all, or it exists in kind of short form, or exists with scores and no parts. It's a very expensive, time-consuming project, but it's something that I've always been interested in. I think it's really important because I've been doing more and more conducting with film music, and more and more orchestras want to do film music. It's hard to do because there's no sort of central place where you can rent the music, and ask somebody ‘What films would be good to do? For our audience, what could we do?' So I think what the Bowl has done has been extraordinary.

Was there one piece of music from the Paramount selections that needed considerable research and restoration?

Most of them did – certainly "Wings" and "Cleopatra." "Vertigo" had been done before. "Sunset Boulevard" they did before. There are other studios that have been worse about their catalogue than Paramount – most famously MGM, of course. There's a famous incident in the late '60's where MGM, all those Busby Berkeley musicals, "The Wizard of Oz," all of that stuff, they took all of that music, the parts and scores and burned them because it was taking up too much space. They just thought that it was throwaway stuff. They had no idea of the value - even the value of the actual paper – of a score. A score like "Wizard of Oz" in an auction house has a great value, much less the ability to play it in public, in concert. Paramount has actually been fairly good about it.

Does it have an extra significance, given the dynastic quality of your family in Hollywood music, that you get to be the temporary conduit through which some of these classic scores are going to flow the audience again?

Kind of. I certainly have a love for it and maybe a bit of an understanding of it because of my work in it and because of my father's work. But for me it's so much about the work. It's about getting this stuff out there. It sort of irks me that it's so difficult for, say, an orchestra in Kansas City to say, 'Okay, we want to do a film music concert, but we don't know what to do and we don't know how to get it and we don't know where to rent it. So I guess maybe we won't do it.' Or they will do it, but it'll cost them a ton of money and it will be really difficult and they won't have the experience to do it. As a member of the film music community in Hollywood that just irks me, because we all like our music played.

It's good for Hollywood to have these kinds of events, because it reminds people of what it's like to be in a space with a bunch of other people watching movies, which is what the Academy and everyone is trying to get people to do, is to go to the movie theater and watch movies. That's how directors make movies. They don't make them to be watched on television. They make them to be watched in the theater with other people. So I'm glad. Whatever small part I can play in helping that, I am very pleased to do it.

Orchestras around the world want to perform film music now. Why is that, in your opinion?

These are unique experiences that I think audiences really love. It's something new to do. It's a little more serious than a pops concert. It's certainly not like a classical musical concert, but much of the music is terrific music, on its own or with a film. But it's more fun to watch it with the film because that's the way that it was intended, so I think this is just a matter of attrition. This will just keep growing as it becomes easier to do. More than anything, it's just that it's hard to do. The Chicago Symphony has a series. They do four full-length movies every year and they've been doing it for eight years. Once you get a taste of it, and your audience gets a taste of it, they want to keep doing it because it sells well and people enjoy and it's fun, as a seasoning to whatever else you have on your season as an orchestra, depending on what you're doing.

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