What is the Academy telling composers?

February 27, 2007

Despite many friends saying to NOT go and watch BABEL, I went, trying not to be prejudiced against Gustavo Santaolalla, the guitarist, er, composer, who won the Best Original Score Oscar last year for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. You may remember my groaning about that choice last year. Gustavo’s extremely sparse oud playing was peppered throughout, just as sparse as his “Blackbird” rip-off music for BB Mountain. Well, he got yet another Academy Award for Best Score. Give me a break.

I can’t fault Mr. Santaolalla. He is a tasteful guitarist and the music he provides for these films is effective. But what the hell is the Academy telling us that it wants in film music??

As I see it, the implications from these past two years are as follows:

  1. Orchestral music is out. It’s too old world.
  2. To hell with melodies. It’s just too sentimental. We’re tougher now.
  3. Producers can save HUGE amounts of money now. They don’t have to hire orchestras, and pay the musician royalties for years to come. They can cut down on composer’s fees as well, seeing as how great film scores can just be make with solo guitars and a good microphone.
  4. Electronica is out. We want to return to the good earthy sound of new acoustic guitar strings, tastefully strummed from time to time.

You ask: Who is the Academy? Well, only composers who are in the Academy can make nominations, but EVERYONE votes, whether they are expert in the field or not. It doesn’t matter. The majority of the voting Academy has spoken. This is the kind of music THEY want.

Who were the competitors?

Philip Glass provided a full orchestral score and did an excellent job on NOTES ON A SCANDAL. He even wrote some tunes.

Thomas Newman wrote brilliant orchestral music firmly rooted in the tradition of Bernard Hermann for THE GOOD GERMAN.

Javier Navarrete, although still a novice composer, provided an effective (ok, I gave it a B+) score, and left us with a tune that is hard to get out of your head.

And my own favorite was Alexandre Desplat’s score for THE QUEEN. Witty, beautifully composed and orchestrated and the real thing.

But who got it? The Argentinian guitar player.

Am I sounding bitter? Just old-fashioned I fear.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jan2 February 28, 2007 at 12:38 pm

I’m relieved to see you didn’t like the guitar parts of the Brokeback score. The guitarist sounded to me like he was just noodling around, but after all the acclaim I feared I was missing some really interesting structural features hiding in there…I have the cd from the film somewhere but find the guitar tracks too torturous to endure


PK March 3, 2007 at 7:02 am

I have not seen most of the Oscar movies, although I had a sentimental pull for Tom Newman. Not having seen Babel, and only thirty minutes of Brokeback Mountain, I do not know much about this successful upstart, but I would suggest that the Academy is telling us something we should be listening to, not arguing with. My career as a composer was, perhaps, foreshortened by my constant disagreements with the powers that were. In retrospect, as a music editor, I have seen how they were almost always right. My first mistake had been my assumption that movies/television had anything to do with art. The relationship between art and craft is complex, there is a difference. A craftsman can create art as a side product, an artist can use craft to make his art, but to insist that a craft is an art is to hire Van Gogh to paint your house.

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