John Cassevetes fans have much to celebrate this July. As New York’s BAMcinematek continues its month-long retrospective of the pioneering American director’s work, his go-to composer Bo Harwood has just made 20 previously unreleased tracks from Cassevetes’ films available for download on his personal website. Peter Rinaldi posts an excellent, in-depth piece about Harwood over at MUBI’s Notebook, which is a great read for Cassavetes fans and neophytes alike.
In his prologue to the downloadable tracks, Harwood posts a disclaimer: “Warning: The twenty music tracks that may be downloaded from this website have never been exposed to the public before. This is film music in the raw, as rough and unpolished as Cassavetes’ movies, with the lyrics pouring straight out of John’s heart, conjuring melodies that flowed through Bo’s fingers onto guitar strings and piano keys.”
Though these are mostly scratch recordings, “warning” is the wrong word. Harwood’s music is as much essential to the soul of Cassavetes’ work as the performances of Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes himself. The newly unveiled tracks include seven pieces of music from the 1977 backstage drama “Opening Night,” which stars Cassavetes’ wife and muse Gena Rowlands as a dissolute actress in an existential crisis. This is among Rowlands’ most flamboyant, fully realized performances, underscored by Harwood’s nimble compositions and Cassavetes’ verite direction. You can also here the simple, tragic and gorgeous piano theme from the 1974 masterpiece, “A Woman Under the Influence.”
Harwood began working closely with Cassevetes as sound editor on the ensemble drama “Husbands” (1970) and later on “Minnie and Moskowitz” (1971). But Cassevetes brought him on as fully credited composer on “A Woman Under the Influence.” Denied the polish of a proper studio, Harwood recorded the music in Cassavetes’ LA office. According to the must-read “Cassavetes on Cassavetes,” edited by Ray Carney, Harwood only knew how to play guitar when brought on to score “A Woman.” But Cassavetes demanded he learn piano, and quickly. Peter Falk had a keyboard down the hall he tinkered with, and the results are transcendent. You can listen to that track below.
Harwood remained Cassavetes’ stalwart composer through the director’s penultimate film “Love Streams” in 1984. Head to BoHarwood.com to download the tracks.