“Mon Oncle” — I find the music to Jacques Tati’s films just sublime–and this theme in particular hits all the pleasure centers, especially as when you first hear it you see on the screen little dogs running wild in the streets of a sleepy French town–supercute! There is a purity and innocence to this music that captures the wistful joys of childhood–and Tati’s Monsieur Hulot is the ultimate child-man.
“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” –so breezy and summery, just like the film. You can hum this theme pretty much instantly after you hear it–a hallmark of the greatest film music. And humming this theme to yourself without the images in front of you magically conjures up the mood of the entire film. Just lovely…
Casino Royale–Burt Bacharach is a particular favorite, his best film and pop music indelibly associated with the swinging 60’s. This one is as playful as it gets and rocks like crazy, especially with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass making merry on the original. To compress all the action to solo guitar was not easy–but I think I nailed it!
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance–I recall developing these Burt Bacharach themes for a concert Zorn was curating in the 90’s at the second Knitting Factory in NYC on Leonard Street. I remember him tearing into the club right before the show started, furiously erasing the listed price of admission written on the blackboard–and raising it another five bucks. Yeah!!
Bali H’ai–Saw this film when I was about 4 years old, and this sequence was the most mystical and psychedelic thing I had ever seen…the wind starts blowing, the palm trees shaking, everyone gets a far-away look in their eyes, and the sky changes to multi-coloured magenta and violet hues in rapid succession through the use of color filters. The 3 note main motif to my ears is a lift from Franz Waxman’s “Bride of Frankenstein” theme, but what the hey: “Mediocre artists borrow–great artists steal” (variously attributed to Picasso, Stravinsky, andT.S. Eliot ). I mean, there are only 12 notes in the Western scale–and they’re all good ones 🙂
J’accuse— In June 2009 I premiered my new live score composed in collaboration with the young Dutch composer Reza Namavar (we each composed different sections) for the Nederlands Filmmuseum’s restored print of French director Abel Gance’s epic 1919 silent anti-war masterpiece “J’Accuse” on a commission from the Holland Festival. Working with the excellent 9 piece Dutch group Ensemble Kameleon, we sold out two nights and received standing ovations at the Staadschouwburg in Amsterdam. Here is my original opening title theme, a dark and militaristic gallop that features fireball-on-the fiddle Emi Ohi Resnick, and my acoustic guitar.
Sátántangó–When I first heard about this 7 hour marathon film, I scoffed at such a notion, as I have a problem pretty much sitting through anything over 3 hours (with the exception of “Parsifal”). But then I finally got around to seeing this film a few years ago and–WOW!! Hungarian director Bela Tarr is arguably one of the greatest film makers of all time, particularly in collaboration with novelist László Krasznahorkai. This film is a hypnotic masterpiece–and never ever boring. The music by Milhaly Vig– especially the cue featured here, “Dancing in the Pub”– I could listen to over and over again, and frequently have, thanks to my friend Phil Mango, who made an infinite loop of it at my request which lives on my computer desktop. This theme so burned itself into my brain I was compelled to work out an arrangement for solo guitar–it was calling out to me! The 10 minute long film sequence it plays under is one of the most real drunken pub debauches ever filmed (probably because it WAS real). I made a pilgramage to Sarajevo recently specifically to give Bela Tarr (now heading up an international film academy there) a copy of my version–and he dug it!
Our Love is Here to Stay--arranged for and played ar the wedding of my friend film critic emeritus Glenn Kenny (of the late great Premiere Magazine’s “Ask Glenn” column), I also played this at my father’s funeral in 2009 (he loved this song). It was significantly Gershwin’s last composition, and famously has no bridge. It doesn’t need one.
Vertigo/Psycho medley–Bernard Herrmann is a badass– I find his themes riveting in nearly everything he scored, right up to “Taxi Driver” (which quotes from “Psycho” at the very end). He borrows a lot too, but all is forgiven because he knew how to “Make It New!” (one of Ezra Pound’s few useful dictums). In the case of “Vertigo”‘s opening 8 note motif, I played a variation of “Stump the Band” with both Alex Ross of The New Yorker and John Schaefer of WNYC’s “New Sounds”, as to where Benny H lifted this famous hypno-riff. Why, from Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”–the melody is the airborne Rhinemaiden’s fierce battle-cry: “Ho-jo-to-ho!!” played forward and then retrograde. My discovery occurred when I came to arrange the Wagner for solo guitar and noticed the similarities in voicing the melody on guitar. “Psycho”‘s string-driven score needs no introduction– Herrmann famously referred to it as “black-and-white music” and it still chills me to the bone everytime. This medley of “Vertigo” and “Psycho” was originally titled “Hitchcocked” and was one of my earliest showpieces live– played in real-time here (as are all the other pieces on my album), with no pre-existing looping or sequencing.
Fellini’s Casanova/ Lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby–recorded live at the 2009 Jecheon International Music and Film Festival in South Korea late at night on a floating stage set in the middle of a beautiful lake nestled high up in the mountains. That is one of the programmers, lovely Hena Yang, introducing me in front of a huge crowd of young cineastes. I love Nino Rota’s film music, and this theme is transcendental–and in fact is the very first piece I played at my very first solo guitar concert in NYC at the old Knitting Factory in June 1988 (talk about a “statement of first principles”!). Komeda’s “Lullaby” from Rosemary’s Baby is another exquisite gem, and the two pieces sound so good segueing into each other. I love to perform these live in concert.
Spanish Dracula— I was approached at the Jecheon Festival by young British documentary film maker Sebastian Doggart, who was impressed with my live score accompanying “The Golem” (co-written with Walter Horn) which I’d also performed there. He told me if I gave him some music for his new doc. about Condoleeza Rice, “American Faust”, he would recommend me to play at the Havana Film Festival. The thing was, I would need a Latin-themed film in order to be invited there. I recalled that the legendary Spanish “Dracula”, filmed in 1931 at night in Hollywood on the same sets as Lugosi’s “Dracula” but with a Latin-speaking cast for the burgeoning Latin market, was famously music-free– and hit on the idea of composing a non-stop score to accompany the film live. My premiere there at the La Rampa Cinema in Dec. 2009 was a triumph –and I have subsequently gone on to play with the film at film festivals all over the world
Aguirre, The Wrath of God--I recall seeing this, perhaps the greatest film in Werner Herzog’s staggering oeuvre, at the old 8th Street Playhouse in the West Village in 1978, and it made quite an impression on me–especially the performance of Klaus Kinski and the overwhelming music. So much of the experience was directly communicated through the luminous music of Popol Vuh, who scored many of the early Herzog films and whose prime mover Florian Fricke I later eulogized in the pages of the UK’s “The Wire” Magazine http://www.popolvuh.nl/
Sex and Lucia–again commissioned for a wedding (the bride and bridegroom were very broad-minded!). Alberto Iglesias’ dazzling romantic theme has become one of my concert show-pieces over the years, and why not? I am told this popular theme has even turned up in the background of “Mad Men” quite anachronistically 🙂 A wonderful film too.
Howdy Doody Theme–basically the same as “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom Di-Ay”
Entr’acte–I composed and premiered this live score in 2000 on a commission from the Film Society of Lincoln Center for a program entitled “Sounds of the Surreal”, which also included music for short surrealist films by Fernand Leger and Ladislaw Starewicz. It features many of my composed themes mixed with improvisation and some judicious quotations. This is a hallmark of my live scores for film–I approach them like an old time silent film pianist, and have never ever played any of them the same way twice–which keeps the whole thing fresh for me.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) Like “Mon Oncle”, another wistful, child-like jazzy theme, this one by Vince Guaraldi, that really swings and perfectly captures all the joys and heartaches of growing up.
Around the World in 80 Days–From the epic film, sporting luminous performances by David Niven and Cantinflas. I have always loved this theme since I was a boy. I arranged it on a holiday with my wife in Lake Placid NY a few years ago, as a gift for her. Enjoy!!
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