The Last Avignon/NY Panel -- Creative Composing
by Amanda N. Nanawa
How do you cap off the round-table discussion series at the 4th
Avignon/New York Film Festival? Ask composers Angelo Badalamenti, Carter
Burwell, and music supervisor Barry Cole to participate in a panel
entitled “Aesthetics of Music and Cinema” and watch the theater fill up.
Presented by ASCAP, the three hour-long discussion did not focus on the
licensing issues — which will be discussed by the IFP in July — but
rather, on the “creative choices,” commented moderator Sue Devine,
Associate Director of Film and Television Music of ASCAP.
Many independent filmmakers do not consider source music or original
music in their projects until post-production. The composer can be
considered as the creative detour for most projects when the director’s
initial choice of music is too expensive.
Composer/songwriter Angelo Badalamenti (“Twin Peaks” series, “Twin
Peaks: Fire Walk With Me“, “The City of Lost Children“) stressed that
the director must be satisfied. On discussing his relationship with
director — whom he also calls his “second wife” — David Lynch,
Badalamenti recalls the 1996 film “Blue Velvet” which began their
creative journey. As the story goes, actress Isabella Rosellini had to
record a song for the film but was not satisfied with the outcome of the
recording. Producers began looking for someone who is able to get the
job right, and they contacted Badalamenti.
After one hurdle comes another. Lynch wanted a song from the
British band Cocteau Twins but Producer Dino DeLaurentis was not willing
to pay $50,000 for their track. So, Badalamenti was asked if he could
write something similar to the band’s dreamy sound. Unsure of what the
director really wanted, he asked Lynch to write the lyrics to what
subsequently became “The Mysteries of Love”. He teamed up with vocalist
Julie Cruise from New York and produced a sound that made Lynch blurt,
“My Goodness, this is peachy keen. That’s the ticket.”
“I love the idea of marrying orchestrations with synth tracks,” said
Badalamenti. For the television series “Twin Peaks”, he described the
process with Lynch as, “Slow and reverse”; but likened the fact that
once Lynch hears the sound he loves, “he does not change his mind.”
Carter Burwell (“Kalifornia“, “The Big Lebowski“) was not exactly the
Coen Brothers’ first choice to compose their film “Blood Simple“.
Burwell pointed out that Joel and Ethan Coen said there should be no
music at all for the movie; only sound. But Burwell thought something
was there. Despite having no demo to show the Coen Brothers’, he had a
knack for undiluted inspiration that drove him to write the score for
“Blood Simple” the day after he watched it.
After convincing them he could do the task, he worked on the project for
free and eventually benefitted from a fruitful and prosperous
relationship, making Burwell the mainstay composer for all of the Coen
For Burwell, music is not a layer you slap onto a film and proclaim as
excessive noise. He melds music into the sound effects and dialogue to
what he describes as an, “Optimal integration”. He continues to say that
he watches a film to see what is needed, not add what’s already there.
In “Fargo“, because of the subject matter of the film, he felt that
overplaying the music at the starting credits would set the tone of the
movie, setting off a foreboding, tragic-comic mood. The use of
Scandinavian music not only wrapped itself around the scenes but also
gave a culturally historic identity to where the film took place.
Music supervisor Barry Cole reinforces the use of music as identity in a
clip from James Toback’s “Two Girls and a Guy.” The Jackie Wilson song
“You Don’t Know Me” was scripted to be used as a foreshadow a character.
In a clip from Paul Schrader’s “The Comfort of Strangers“, Angelo
Badalamenti uses Turkish music to identify the location and characters
of the film and prefers not hearing any temp music. Although unfamiliar
with Turkish music, Badalamenti professes that, “it’s really easy to get
into the soul of music, if you’re open to it.”
Despite the discussion ending on a good note, time ran out on conducting
a general Q & A among audience members. That’s too bad, it would have
been interesting to hear concerned filmmakers and music supervisors
relate their war stories on creativity and post-production hell.
[To learn more about ASCAP and other scheduled workshops/seminars, call
212.621.6000. Their web is accessbile at: www.ascap.com> and their
email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org>.]