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.


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