Category Archives: Film Music

Michael Giacchino directs a film… and it’s terrific

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

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.

Music by John Barry

I was thrilled to collaborate with my UK friends Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker on this book. They wrote the definitive Barry bios, The Man With the Midas Touch and Hit and Miss: The Story of the John Barry Seven, about this tremendously important British composer. Music by John Barry takes an in-depth look at 42 of his scores; I covered 20 of them, along with writing the introduction (based on an interview I did with Michael Caine) and afterword. My contributions included many of the classics: Born Free, The Lion in Winter, Mary Queen of Scots, Somewhere in Time, Body Heat, Out of Africa, Dances With Wolves and several other favorites that are not as well remembered but equally significant in his oeuvre (Deadfall, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frances and others). This was a true labor of love, and maybe the most fun I ever had writing a book.

Billie Eilish, Hans Zimmer and James Bond

Billie Eilish and Hans Zimmer take on James Bond! Those were the headlines for weeks in early 2020 as production on No Time to Die, the 25th 007 film, was winding down. A year later, Eilish and her brother, co-writer Finneas O’Connell, won the Grammy for her title song even though the film had not yet been released. When we finally saw No Time to Die in October, we discovered that Zimmer had incorporated “We Have All the Time in the World” as part of the dramatic score, and I wrote a Variety story explaining the references to John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score (including that song). In December I had the pleasure of interviewing Billie & Finneas about their title song, and in January it was a special honor to interview the entire Bond team — producer Barbara Broccoli, director Cary Fukunaga, composer Zimmer, songwriters Billie & Finneas, and associate producer Greg Wilson — for a 40-minute Zoom conversation on music in No Time to Die. And of course Billie & Finneas won the Oscar in March.

The Eiger Sanction

When record labels come calling and offer you a John Williams title, you don’t say no. Especially when it’s a score from decades ago that you loved then and love now. The Eiger Sanction, a Clint Eastwood movie from 1975, was classically styled and yet also jazzy, the perfect combination (of course! it’s Williams!) for this spy thriller. I would have been happy with the original MCA album but producer Michael Matessino was able to expand it to include all of the original film score as well as the soundtrack LP, which made it so much fun to listen and write. I’m going to go listen to this right now!

Somewhere in Time

Somewhere in Time has long been a favorite score, not only for John Barry fans but for fans of romantic music from movies who might not even know his name. For this first-ever expansion of the 1980 score for the Christopher Reeve-Jane Seymour fantasy, I interviewed Seymour herself, as she was the person who felt that a Barry score would elevate this “little” movie about love transcending time. I also talked with director Jeannot Szwarc, who detailed his process with the composer, and incorporated a number of things Barry said over the years about it. He often said that he got more letters about Somewhere in Time than any other score he ever wrote. And, indeed, the bittersweet romantic qualities of that music are timeless, and working on this project was a highlight of the year for me.

The Gambler

No, not the Kenny Rogers Gambler movie! Rather, Karel Reisz’s terrific The Gambler from 1974 with a greatly underrated performance by James Caan and a fine script by James Toback. For the remastered Blu-Ray release, I contributed On the Morning After: Composing The Gambler, a 10-minute featurette on Jerry Fielding’s music. It was an unusual situation, as the filmmakers asked the composer to base his score entirely on Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Fielding essentially took bits and pieces of the Mahler First and rebuilt it into a dramatic score for Caan’s obsessive gambler character.

Midnight Cowboy

John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy score has always been a favorite of mine, so when Quartet Records informed me that they were going to do an expanded edition of the classic, Grammy-winning 1969 soundtrack album, I leaped at the chance to be involved. I wrote a 3,900-word essay that — I am proud to say — is the most detailed look at the creation of that soundtrack (both songs and score) that has ever been attempted. I tracked down director John Schlesinger’s assistant Michael Childers, who amazingly had several photos he took during the recording sessions (and which we reproduced in the booklet) as well as wonderful recollections of the shoot and the music. I was thrilled to receive my second Deems Taylor Award for outstanding music journalism for these notes.

Two Mules for Sister Sara

This was one I asked for. It’s true, to quote a recent album title, “everybody loves Ennio Morricone,” but this was special. A 1970 Clint Eastwood-Shirley MacLaine western directed by Don Siegel, with a remarkable (and, let’s face it, classic) Morricone score that contains both reverential choral material and wacky mule noises — well, who could resist the challenge. I interviewed the maestro several times over the years but never got to ask him specifically about this score. Still, the complete score for the first time, plus the original Kapp LP, makes for compelling listening. We even did a video interview for it.

The Oscar nominations for music

Variety was first out of the gate with an instant analysis of Monday morning’s Oscar nominations for original song and score. The early readings suggest that Hildur Guonadottir’s Joker score and Elton John’s Rocketman song have the inside track, but I am being cautioned that Oscar voters can be unpredictable in these categories and not to count out newcomer Cynthia Erivo for her Harriet song or Thomas Newman (a 15-time nominee so far without a win) for his 1917 score. Voting actually doesn’t begin until Jan. 30, and the Oscars are almost a month away. The original Monday stories, containing more statistical detail, can be found here for score and here for song; the slightly truncated print versions are pictured above.