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Holiday Sneaks | SHORT ENDS

Settling some scores

Join the club, Elmer

November 03, 2002|Jon Burlingame

Two major holiday releases -- "Gangs of New York" and "The Hours" -- have gone through multiple composers on their way to theaters.

The most widely talked-about change has been on Martin Scorsese's long-delayed "Gangs" for which Elmer Bernstein (the Oscar-winning composer of "The Magnificent Seven" and "To Kill a Mockingbird") wrote and recorded an entire score. The Bernstein-Scorsese relationship dates to 1990, when the composer scored the Scorsese-produced "The Grifters." He went on to adapt Bernard Herrmann's original "Cape Fear" score for Scorsese's 1991 remake and write original music for the director's 1993 "The Age of Innocence" (which earned him an Oscar nomination) and 1999's "Bringing Out the Dead."

Bernstein said that he worked with Scorsese over a period of several months late last year and earlier this year prior to recording the music in London. Afterward, Scorsese became "uncommunicative" until Bernstein received a letter "in which he basically said that he had decided he would do this as a typical Scorsese score, meaning bits and pieces that he puts together, as he did in 'GoodFellas' and 'Casino.' "

Miramax officials confirmed that there is no longer any Bernstein music in the film. Howard Shore (who worked on Scorsese's "After Hours" and recently won an Oscar for "The Lord of the Rings") has contributed music based on a previously unheard concert work, "Brooklyn Heights."

Scorsese has also borrowed music from a recent album by Peter Gabriel (who scored the director's "Last Temptation of Christ") and rock group U2 has written "The Hands That Built America."

Three composers wrote music for director Stephen Daldry's "The Hours," including Oscar winner Stephen Warbeck ("Shakespeare in Love"), who had scored Daldry's "Billy Elliot," and British composer Michael Nyman ("The Piano"). They were succeeded by Philip Glass, who has become more active in films lately with an Oscar nomination for "Kundun" and a Golden Globe for "The Truman Show." Said producer Scott Rudin: "We demo'ed the movie with Philip Glass' music and nothing else came close."

Nearly every composer in films has had at least one score replaced. Some of the most celebrated have had scores tossed, including Herrmann ("Torn Curtain"), Alex North ("2001: A Space Odyssey") and Sir William Walton ("The Battle of Britain").

Veteran film-music agent Richard Kraft, a partner in the Blue Focus Agency, commented: "Filmmakers change composers for reasons as varied as why people change wives: Sometimes it's a bad relationship, sometimes it's because you're heading in a different direction, and sometimes you're just fickle and can't be satisfied with anybody. Having a score thrown out is not the end of the world, or the end of a career. It happens to the best of them."

-- Jon Burlingame

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