Diana Friedberg’s long-in-production documentary on the pioneering film composer is finished at last, and now available on Blu-Ray (along with a television debut on TCM). Max Steiner: Maestro of Movie Music takes a long and loving look at the Oscar-winning composer of such classics as King Kong, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, The Searchers and A Summer Place. I was pleased to be asked to contribute along with longtime friends and even more knowledgeable Steiner experts as biographer Steven C. Smith, orchestrator John W. Morgan and conductor William Stromberg.
John Barry’s 1971 score for the Vanessa Redgrave-Glenda Jackson movie about 16th-century English and Scottish history has been released twice before: In its original Decca LP format, and on CD by Intrada in 2008 (with liner notes by yours truly). Thanks to the recent discovery of previously unknown tape reels in Universal’s vaults, the enterprising Quartet label has now issued an expanded edition including all of Barry’s Oscar-nominated score. It’s the third and final film of what I think of as Barry’s historical-drama trilogy (also including The Lion in Winter, 1968, and The Last Valley, 1971), all of them magnificent and worthy of revisiting.
Every year, mostly in November and December, Variety asks me to see a nonstop barrage of new movies and interview their composers. This year’s crop included Justin Hurwitz for Babylon, Marcelo Zarvos for Emancipation, Chanda Dancy for Devotion, Nicholas Britell for She Said, Ludwig Goransson for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Hildur Guonadottir for Tar, Terence Blanchard for The Woman King, Michael Abels for Nope, Benjamin Wallfisch for Thirteen Lives, and Michael Giacchino for The Batman.
This year the Recording Academy finally added a category for game music soundtracks. It’s a far more important issue in the composer community than ever before, considering the vast number of games being played and the high quality of music now being composed for them, by some of the most talented people in the industry. I discussed the upcoming Grammy competition in a Variety story here, previewed the possible nominees here, and unveiled the actual nomination slate (along with all the other Grammy nominees in the visual-media field) here.
I don’t often get to write about one of my favorite jazz artists: Vince Guaraldi, once famed for his Grammy-winning “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” but now best known for his scores for more than a dozen animated Peanuts specials of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Charlie Brown Christmas album is said to be one of the best-selling jazz albums in history, and to our great surprise, the original 1965 recording sessions were recently unearthed. Craft Recordings, which owns the old Fantasy record label, has issued an expanded Charlie Brown Christmas album with extra tracks in a number of formats. My piece for Variety includes new interviews with Guaraldi biographer Derrick Bang and Jason Mendelson, the son of longtime Peanuts TV producer Lee Mendelson.
It was a miracle to pull this one off. When we launched the Quinn Martin Collection of TV soundtracks (including Barnaby Jones, Dan August, Cannon, Most Wanted, The Invaders, The Streets of San Francisco), we knew it would be difficult to include one of Quinn’s earliest successes, the World War II series 12 O’Clock High — because it was a co-production of QM and 20th Century-Fox, and clearing the rights was therefore complicated. But we had over 12 hours of music that Dominic Frontiere composed for the 1964-67 series and I really wanted to collect and release what I felt was Frontiere’s best work for television. Luckily, with QM defunct, Fox found a way to clear it, and we were able to assemble a “best of” 2-CD set. We also had the cooperation of Dominic’s family and were able to include some period photos of the composer in the booklet.
Werewolf by Night, which debuted on Disney+ in October, was among the best-reviewed Marvel projects in ages. It really was fun, and the surprise to many was the identity of the director: Michael Giacchino, Oscar- (Up), Emmy- (Lost) and Grammy-winning (Ratatouille) composer. He talked about the experience with me (he scored it, too!) for this story. Giacchino was later named Variety’s composer of the year — considering his massive recent success with the music for Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Batman, Jurassic World: Dominion and Lightyear — and the publication featured him in a conversation with his friend J.J. Abrams, which I recounted in this story.
The Sound of 007 is a 90-minute documentary on the history of music in the James Bond franchise. Filmmaker Mat Whitecross enlisted me early on as a consultant and on-camera commentator based largely on my book, The Music of James Bond. Over several months I probably did six or seven hours of recording with him, providing background on Monty Norman, John Barry and many of the other composers and songwriters who have contributed music to the series over the past 60 years. I pop up once in a while in the final film, which had the blessing and cooperation of the Broccoli family and Eon Productions. It debuted around the world at the same time on World James Bond Day, Oct. 5, 2022.
One of the great thrills of this year was being asked to pen the notes for The Sound of 007 In Concert program, an all-star event held Oct. 4 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. David Arnold, composer of five James Bond film scores including Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale, produced the evening (which later became a TV special on Prime Video). My “History of 007 Music” essay appeared over four pages in the middle of this lavish, 44-page brochure. This, I suspect, was an outgrowth of my participation in the Sound of 007 documentary, which aired that same week.
Some of today’s most compelling scores are on television, and for science-fiction and fantasy projects. This year’s crop was especially interesting, and I explored several of them in stories for Variety: Bear McCreary talked about his grand-scale music for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; Amie Doherty and Ramin Djawadi discussed their scores for She-Hulk and House of the Dragon, respectively; Laura Karpman regaled us with the complexity of recording Ms. Marvel; Natalie Holt and Hesham Nazih talked with us about Marvel’s Loki and Moon Knight; the composers of Severance, Foundation and The Book of Boba Fett chimed in on their special challenges; and Nami Melumad talked about the latest Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. Nicholas Britell talked with us twice about Andor, first in announcing his involvement, long kept under wraps; and after the series debuted, although he was still reluctant to give away any secrets.