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.
Filmmaker Diana Friedberg realized a long-held ambition to produce a documentary on the pioneering film composer Max Steiner. I was delighted to be part of a team of writers and musicians who helped shed light on this fascinating Viennese master, and the film’s debut on TCM is cause for celebration among all of us who care about this music. I am on camera as well as Steiner biographer Steven C. Smith, conductor William Stromberg, orchestrator and music historian John W. Morgan (who actually knew Max!) and archivist James D’Arc, among others. The film is called Max Steiner: Maestro of Movie Music.
The music of On the Waterfront and Casablanca were the subject of “Upbeat Live” talks I moderated on Friday and Sunday prior to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first-ever live-to-picture concerts of both scores at Disney Hall. David Newman, who conducted both, was on hand to offer musical insights into the classic Leonard Bernstein and Max Steiner scores. On Friday we were also joined by composer Laura Karpman, and on Sunday our guest was composer Charles Bernstein. Both Karpman and Bernstein are current governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; this past weekend’s concerts marked the first of several events in the new three-year partnership of the Phil and the Academy. I also contributed the program notes for both films (Casablanca is here; On the Waterfront is here).
Dave Strohmaier, who has spent decades restoring all of the great Cinerama films of the 1950s and ’60s, asked me to participate in his documentary about their music. “The Best in the Biz: The Cinerama Travelogue Composers” examines the scoring process and the grand symphonic music written by such greats as Max Steiner (This Is Cinerama), Morton Gould (Cinerama Holiday), the team of David Raksin-Emil Newman-Sol Kaplan-Jerome Moross (Seven Wonders of the World), Dimitri Tiomkin (Search for Paradise) and Alex North (South Seas Adventure). It’s a whole hour, a rarity in DVD extras today, and I am proud to share screen time with my friends, composers William Stromberg and John Morgan, and filmmaker Harrison Engle, talking about these landmark scores.
On Saturday, I was honored to host the San Francisco Symphony’s “Night at the Oscars” concert, which included excerpts — played “live to picture” — from classic film scores including Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Adventures of Robin Hood, Max Steiner’s Gone With the Wind, Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur, Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane, and Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart’s Wizard of Oz.
It was great fun to share the podium with conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos and to work with legendary TV and concert producer John Goberman. We had some laughs and the audience really loved the music. We even got a nice review.