LAST NIGHT, film composer Jerry Goldsmith stood by nervously as the Oscars were handed out, waiting for the Best Score to be announced. This year he was nominated for his wonderful score for "Poltergeist." But it was not to be.
He lost to his good friend John Williams and his score for "E.T."
It's not a new routine for Goldsmith, of course: he's been nominated 11 times (winning in 1975 for "The Omen").
"Poltergeist" is but one of more than 100 movie scores (with a few TV blockbusters like "Masada" thrown in) that Goldsmith has completed in the last quarter century. "I have two coming out in June," he says, "one of which I did last November." That film is "Psycho II" and Goldsmith was asked if he had mimicked Bernard Herrmann's classic score. "I hope not," he said with a laugh. "It's a totally different concept and musical approach--I use a great deal of electronics. The picture is structured differently, too."
His other recent project, the score for "The Twilight Zone," might sound a bit more like the original, but Goldsmith has a good excuse: he scored 15 of the television originals at the beginning of his career when he was under contract to CBS. "There are four different stories, with four different directors," he says of the film. "One episode is approached in a rather bizarre fashion and it reminded me of the way I would score it in the old days. It's not like a normal motion picture: the episodes are short and we tended to be more direct with what we were doing."
In scoring a film, Goldsmith explains, "I try to be as subjective as I can with the characters and try to make the music very subjective. I think that I have a great deal of versatility and I think my dramatic sense happens to be quite good, so my approaches are quite unusual. In terms of standard film scoring, I've tried to always find a different way of doing certain things."
Another of last year's projects was the animated "Secret of NIMH," "a really old-fashioned kind of motion picture score. It was terribly eclectic and all, but that's the fun thing about doing a motion picture. If you're doing a concert piece and you want to throw in a little Strauss or a little Ravel, they chase you out; but in motion pictures you can get away with that. And let's face it, it's fun to do."
He points out that in "The Boys From Brazil," director Franklin Schaffner "had a very good idea that we should have the 'villain-type' music be very Wagnerian and I said since Lieberman's a good man we'll play him very Viennese. It was fun writing ersatz Wagner and Strauss, like going back to school again and doing a composition or theory exercise. You couldn't do that elsewhere."
Goldsmith says he waits until a film is at least in a rough cut stage to start scoring. "I can't get ideas from a script. One can look at a piece of music and envision the sound, or look at a painting and get the idea, or even read a play and imagine; but a script is just a blueprint and what comes on the screen is so totally different that you really can't conceive of it until you see it. Plus, I can't really start to write until the film is locked in since we write to the 10th of a second; a foot changes and it throws off the music."
The waiting can sometimes lead to tensions with a director, as it did on "Alien," "not one of my most pleasant experiences. There's a terrible situation that happens in motion pictures: directors get very nervous when they're cutting up film; dialogue and sound effects are missing and there's no music, so they put on what they call track music, canned music, and they think they're doing me a favor because they'll take an album of music that I've done and track it. Unfortunately, it's rarely right, but after a while they get used to it and all of a sudden they think it's wonderful. In 'Alien,' they tracked it with the music I'd written 20 years earlier for the picture 'Freud.' They said, 'Isn't that wonderful,' and I said, 'No, I think it's terrible.' Lo and behold, what ended up in the picture was 'Freud.' They bought the soundtrack and put it in."
To avoid such confrontations, Goldsmith says, "the only way to work is to have a dialogue between your director and yourself, to understand where you're going." He has several "favorites"--Franklin Schaffner, Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg. "They are just so tuned in to music . . . and they can also verbalize. I've worked with Schaffner for 25 years: he can blink an eye and I know what he's talking about. Steven is very articulate, loves music; we spend a great deal of time discussing it, playing things, doing things together, and his suggestions are wonderful. Michael's the same way--he loves music and is terribly articulate about it. It's fun to work with these people because I can get more of a dialogue going."
So after all these years, does he have a favorite score? Goldsmith pauses for a moment. "I'm beginning to think--and I shouldn't say it because I just finished it--but I think 'Twilight Zone.' It's the first thing I've written in a long time that I don't mind listening to myself. I usually get bored with a score afterwards. . . . Maybe it's because 'Twilight Zone' is four unrelated movements, but each one is different stylistically, thematically, orchestrally. It's quite intriguing and one of the best things I've ever done."
Which means that next year, Oscar night will probably mean nervousness all over again for Jerry Goldsmith.