75th Annual Academy Awards
Listening to the Academy Awards: Oscar-Nominated Film Scores
March 23, 2003: Frida and Andy Trudeau's Oscar pick
March 16, 2003: Catch Me
If You Can and Far From Heaven
March 9, 2003: The Hours and Road to Perdition
March 23, 2003 -- Music is crucial in the making of a contemporary film, and often can be the critical final factor in making the film a success. For the past seven years, Weekend Edition Sunday listeners have been taking a close listen to Oscar-nominated movie scores in the company of movie music critic and NPR programming ace Andy Trudeau.
Organizers for the 75th Academy Awards ceremony say that even with the prospect of war in Iraq, the show will go on in Hollywood on the night of March 23, 2003.
Last year, Trudeau correctly predicted that Howard Shore's score for Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring would win the Oscar.
This year's nominees, in alphabetical order:
Catch Me If You Can by John Williams
Far From Heaven by Elmer Bernstein
Frida by Elliott Goldenthal
The Hours by Philip Glass
Road to Perdition by Thomas Newman
Trudeau began this three-part series with a look at the scores for The Hours and Road to Perdition.
The Hours was scored by Philip Glass, known primarily for his repetitive, pulsing beats and minimalist sound palette. Glass got the job to score the film in an odd way: some of his compositions were used as a temporary soundtrack while the film was being edited, and the director liked the temp tracks more that the compositions being written by others. "He's effective, but I want to hear more -- that minimalism remains constant," Trudeau says.
The score is effective, he says, because it mirrors the film well -- "the intercutting of personal stories over a wide span of time, held together by a single music approach... Both typical Glass, in its reliance on music minimalism for many effects, but also tuneful and even old-fashioned in places."
Trudeau next took on Thomas Newman's score for the Sam Mendes film Road to Perdition. "It's another score filled with original Newman blendings of instruments," Trudeau says. "At times it's quirky, and at times it all comes together for moments of great beauty."
Newman plays with expectations -- in a story infused with Irish tradition, he delivers Irish accents in a very original, unexpected fashion. The composer also employs out-of-tune guitars and other odd instruments to create a sound that Trudeau dubs "cooking with sour milk."
"This is music writing at the service of the story," Trudeau concludes. "It does what it needs to do."
In the second of this series, Trudeau dissects scores created by Elmer Bernstein and John Williams.
"They are film music," Trudeau says. Bernstein and Williams have had two very different career arcs. Both have worked steadily for more than 50 years, but Bernstein began big, and dominated the scene in the 1960s.
While Bernstein fell from the mainstream for a while and is now enjoying something of a comeback, Williams began his career slowly, gradually winning larger and larger assignments. Today, he is likely Hollywood's best-known film composer.
For Catch Me If You Can, Williams uses a "cool jazz" style to establish the free-wheeling mood of the 1960s. The chase scenes in particular have Williams' trademark rhythmic feel.
Far From Heaven composer Bernstein is best known for his scores for classic Westerns and films such as To Kill a Mockingbird. But 2002 was an up-and-down year for him. His score for Gangs of New York was rejected. Trudeau says that in Far From Heaven -- an intimate, 1950s period piece -- Bernstein connects with the characters.
There are no big climaxes. The Far From Heaven score makes its point in small ways, "with lots of nice little turns," Trudeau says.
Trudeau finishes off his three-part series with an examination of Elliott Goldenthal's score for Frida.
"It's chamber music -- ethnic chamber music, at that," Trudeau says. "This is a film and a score steeped in Mexican locales. Goldenthal points out there is no one Mexican music, but there are some sound characteristics that signal Mexican -- and he used those."
The score, he says, evokes a folk simplicity, but in in a complex way. "He walks a fine line between composed music with functional purpose and a 'feeling' for song," Trudeau says.
And Trudeau's pick for winner of the 2002 Academy Award for Best Score is....
"This year, all the scores were really fascinating -- there were no clunkers," he says. "So that allows me to add a new element into my list of criteria: sentimentality."
"And my sentimental pick? Elmer Bernstein, for Far From Heaven."
Heard on Fresh Air, March 19, 2002: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz considers the original Hollywood movie score from the Silent era to the present.
BACK to the Oscars 2002 home page.
MORE npr.org coverage of the Oscars:
List of Oscar winners
Bob Mondello's films that Oscar forgot
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