Elfman's DVD Picks: Movies' Unforgettable Music Danny Elfman has created the music for dozens of movies and TV shows, from Batman to The Simpsons. So it's no surprise that, when asked to choose his favorite films, he settles on ones with great scores.

Elfman's DVD Picks: Movies' Unforgettable Music

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Even if you've never heard of Danny Elfman, there's a good chance you've heard his music.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Danny Elfman created the music for dozens of movies and TV shows, from Tim Burton's "Batman" to "The Simpsons." And today, he joins us to talk about what entertains him. It's one of our occasional conversations with people in Hollywood about their favorite DVDs.

Danny Elfman joined us from the studios of NPR West.

You have sent us this list, which is labeled - I'm not sure if this is your label here - it says, The Danny Elfman Gemini No Way Can I Ever Decide Anything List.

Mr. DANNY ELFMAN (Musician, Composer): That's it. It's what I did last night. I realized I can't make a list. It's an impossible thing.

INSKEEP: Okay, well, let's start at the top here. Stanley Kubrick - you decided you wanted to include a Stanley Kubrick film, but you couldn't decide between "Dr. Strangelove" and the "The Shining."

Mr. ELFMAN: How could one decide? "The Shining" was always one of my favorites. I loved the way he used the music in it, although it wasn't an original score. And "Dr. Strangelove" is just one of the best movies ever made on every level.

INSKEEP: Because you're a composer, I have to ask about the ending of that film. It's a light-hearted movie about the destruction of the world through a nuclear war, and as the world is being destroyed, at end…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELFMAN: "We'll Meet Again."

INSKEEP: (Singing) Don't know where, don't know when.

Mr. ELFMAN: It was best use of a song I'd ever heard. It was so perfect. Nothing else could've worked better than that.

(Soundbite of song, "We'll Meet Again")

Ms. VERA LYNN (Singer): (Singing) …this song.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when. But I know we'll meet again some sunny day.

INSKEEP: And it's perfect, because it's completely inappropriate.

Mr. ELFMAN: Inappropriate and perfect.

INSKEEP: Can you think of a film on your list here where there's a particular scene that is just actually made by the music? Maybe it wouldn't even work if the music wasn't there.

Mr. ELFMAN: Well, I mean, "Psycho" is as good as - "Psycho" - I can't imagine almost any of the scenes in the movie working as well without the music. I mean, not just talking about the famous shower scene. It's almost…

(Soundbite of noise)

Mr. ELFMAN: Well, that almost didn't have music, you know. Ironically, that became one of the most pieces of music.

INSKEEP: How did it go from being no music to having that strange sound - that string music sound?

Mr. ELFMAN: Well Hitchcock was toying with the idea of making a scoreless movie. And then he decided, well, maybe "Psycho" is not the one for that. But I don't want anything in the shower scene - just the sound of water. It'll be scarier that way. And Bernard Herrmann decided to write a cue anyhow. And…

INSKEEP: Bernard Herrmann was the composer there on "Psycho"?

Mr. ELFMAN: Yeah, Bernard Herrmann was the composer. And amazingly, they didn't come to blows. He played it for Hitchcock. Hitchcock had the wisdom to decide that he was wrong and Herrmann was right. It's one of those little minor film scoring miracles.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And that's got to be one of the most famous single-note compositions in history of the sort.

Mr. ELFMAN: Oh yeah, that and "Jaws" would be like probably the two most famous pieces of music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELFMAN: That would be in everybody's subconscious.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Orson Welles makes your list here. "Citizen Kane" is one your ties for greatest of the greats, along with "Lawrence of Arabia." What about this great old film attracts you?

Mr. ELFMAN: Everything. It's Orson Welles. He's brilliant. The script is brilliant. The photography is brilliant, the score. First film score for Bernard Herrmann, who became the inspiration for me to want to become a film composer at all, or to think about it. It was all inspiration from Bernard Herrmann, and that was his first score.

"Lawrence of Arabia" and "Citizen Kane" - I just wouldn't change a note of it. I wouldn't change a frame of it. And the scores, the way they were presented - so perfectly laid out and up front and in your face.

Every now and then, somebody says, you know, the thing about film music is you really shouldn't notice it. It's best when you don't notice that it's there. And I go, you're crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELFMAN: Go check out "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Citizen Kane." Those scores are so there.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ELFMAN: It's an art, and just like the photography, you notice it.

INSKEEP: Danny Elfman, I got one of the question for you. You've sent us this list, which you described as your No Way Can I Ever Decide Anything List. You've got all these alternatives and choices. How do you decide which movie to watch on a Saturday night?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELFMAN: That's hard, because Sunday nights, my family comes over, and we do in fact get into movie watching when there's no "Deadwood," "Sopranos" or "Rome." And now that those are all gone, we're forced to watch movies again. I try to do a kind of a semi-democratic system, or I'll choose four or five movies and then everybody votes on it.

INSKEEP: You let somebody else do the deciding for you.

Mr. ELFMAN: Yeah, yeah. It's a - it's still a democratic process in my house.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You can find Danny Elfman's complete list of DVD suggestions at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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