“This is Halloween” from A Nightmare Before Christmas

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            Music for films, whether by a pianist improvising for silent films, or that scored for full romantic-era orchestras, has always been an essential element in the medium.   And film composers, and their individual paths to success, have varied remarkably over the years.  From so-called “classical” composers such as Aaron Copland, Virgil Thompson, and a host of others, to those who were practically self-taught, with simple roots—it doesn’t seem to matter.  All that essentially counts is musical talent, creative imagination, a capability for artistic growth, and the ability to work within the demanding, cost and deadline-driven requirements of Hollywood.  The music from the recent film hits, Pirates of the Caribbean, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Spider Man are cogent examples of different ways of achieving success in the industry.  The music of  Danny Elfman is illustrative.

            Elfman entered the business more or less through the backdoor.  Composer for almost one hundred films, over a dozen TV shows, and other associated activities, he began in the seventies as a member of the new wave band, Oingo Boingo—early on a ska-influenced group, and later a guitar-based rock band.  Some may remember their performance of “Dead Man’s Party” in the Rodney Dangerfield movie, Back to School.  Others may not.  But in any case, from this background the essentially self-taught Elfman soon became a Hollywood insider, known for his creative scores.   To name only a few:  Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Men in Black, Batman, Goodwill Hunting, Fifty Shades of Gray, and The Girl on the Train.  His style varies widely with the nature of the films, with clear influences from such eminent composers as Bartók, Stravinsky, Philip Glass, Prokofiev, and Satie.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2017 William E. Runyan