BASIL POLEDOURIS interviews
Number of posts : 4010
Registration date : 2007-08-28
|Subject: BASIL POLEDOURIS interviews Thu 12 Jun - 1:47|| |
A Sprig of Basil: The Musical Mastery of Basil Poledouris
Interview by S. Mark Rhodes
Excerpted from FSM Vol. 9, No. 4
In his nearly 40-year career Basil Poledouris has worked in nearly every genre of film, from sports (For Love of the Game, Big Wednesday), science fiction (Starship Troopers), thrillers (Hunt for Red October) and comedy (Hot Shots!), to westerns (Lonesome Dove, for which he won an Emmy) and sword-and-sorcery (Conan the Barbarian). And despite his low-key demeanor, he has partnered successfully on a number of occasions with several of the most controversial filmmakers in Hollywood, most notably John Milius, Paul Verhoeven and John Waters. On the eve of a reissue of his first major work Big Wednesday, Basil sat down with FSM to talk about his life, work and legacy.
FSM: When you were growing up, did any film score capture your attention?
BP: I was basically studying to be a classical pianist. So, the literature I was exposed to was all classical. I was gifted with a teacher who taught me theory and harmony as part of my learning experience who believed that without knowing what music was it would be difficult to perform it. So she was insistent on understanding the ideas of what the composers were writing about. This was especially true with Beethoven and Chopin, mostly the romantic stuff.
The first soundtrack album that I heard, or even knew existed was The Robe (1953), by Alfred Newman. I basically wore it out! There was something about it that was so powerful. Of course I eventually saw the film, which reinforced the music. The other composer was Miklůs Růzsa, whose work was always important to me. There was some sheet music that was available for Ben-Hur that I was able to get that I thought was really tremendous. So those two were the composers who I really gravitated towards in my initial introduction to film music. The other element that influenced me early on had to do with my Greek Orthodox raising where I used to sit in church and just be enthralled with the choir. So, there are a lot of Gregorian modal ideas in my music that go back to that.
Finally, I shouldn't say this (laughs) but I bootlegged Peter Gunn. I recorded it because there was nothing available so we used to have these little wax recorders to record this show. It was exciting stuff. So in the beginning it was Růzsa, Newman and Mancini.
FSM: Was the realization that you would work as a film composer come gradually to you or did you have a moment of epiphany where you realized all at once that this is what you were going to do?
BP: I was in the School of Music in USC and switched my major to Cinema because I wasn't nuts about modern composition and the way it was being taught. I had decided at that point I didn't really want to be a concert pianist as a career. Something about stage fright that got to me. It seemed at the time that Cinema was a lot more pertinent for the mid- to late-'60s generation. I simply fell in love with film. It was Fellini's 8 1/2 that took me into film and caused me to look at film with some seriousness. At the time, you could use any music you wanted and I wanted some music that was close to the idea you wanted to convey as a director, which brought me back into writing music. Because I had decidedly quit music when I was about 20. But then scoring was what led me back to it. Then after working as a professional film editor for a while I came to the decision that I would rather score films than direct or edit them.
FSM: It is probably fair to say that your first score to make a broad impact was the soundtrack for Big Wednesday. What do you remember about the process of creating this piece? Did you listen to music while writing it?
BP: I remember everything (laughs). It is kind of a fluky thing. You go back over the piece for re-release and you think, 'Oh yeah, I remember what I was thinking that day.' It is kind of terrifying. Big Wednesday was the first one where I had an orchestra. In those days, we didn't have access to synthesizers, or at least quality synthesizers so there wasn't really such a thing as a 'mock up' -- it all had to be done on the piano. If you had to show a director or producer your idea you couldn't go out and hire an orchestra if you were just starting out, you had to play it on the piano and hope they had an imagination. Now I had studied to be a pianist, so it would be kind of scary if you hadn't. Of course, the result of this is that most of the composers were pianists. John Williams was for instance, a great pianist, and Henry Mancini was accomplished as well. So a lot of the guys of my generation had to rely on that.
It is an interesting thing that has happened with Big Wednesday. The movie was about surfing in Southern California in the '60s. I was a surfer, and certainly John (Milius, the director) was a surfer. So we had our own notions and ideas about our experiences. John wanted the score to be very grand. This would be a reflection of John's idea of surfing as the final expression of Westward expansion, which was of course a total Milius concept. So the score took on a kind of mythological proportion in a way. I guess in terms of influences I tended to listen to a lot of [Gustav] Mahler and still do for that matter. If you listen to it, I think some of that Mahler influence is apparent. Of course the writing wasn't near what Mahler did.
FSM: Yeah, it was interesting to have a surf film that wasn't propelled by pop music.
BP: It was there, but in the appropriate places during party scenes. And the surfers were this kind of ragtag group that had this sort of fierce individuality where you kind of confront nature on your own. And, a lot of it is in your head, I mean you can ride a six-inch wave like it is a 30-foot wave if you imagine it correctly. Obviously, John and I wanted to get the primal feel for the ocean as this kind of unbelievably powerful force.
FSM: Another score of yours that touched a similar mythological chord was the first Conan.
BP: Conan was a real watershed for that kind of film. Nobody took fantasy movies that seriously before this film. There was a lot of foreign stuff, and some Steve Reeves stuff, but it was usually not well done. I think the filmmakers tried to stay true to the spirit of the (Robert E.) Howard books. Conan was very much a real guy to Howard, and a lot like Tolkien, Howard created this world that was maybe not as complex, but just as powerful. And, I think the idea of man against nature in this film was so appealing because this man was not a victim and could master this hostile world.
The audience for the film cut across a lot of demographics. You had the bikers; I will never forget the 100 or so bikers who came to the premiere in Las Vegas. Of course there were the Robert E. Howard freaks. Women liked the movie since Arnold (Schwarzenegger) was very attractive in those days and there was the female warrior in the story, which was one of the first times a woman was portrayed in this way in a Hollywood film. And there was the casting of the extras and so on, which was very effective since a lot of them were bodybuilders so they looked the part. All of this lent realism to the film where people could believe there was a world where guys could walk around carrying hammers (laughs).
FSM: You have worked with a few directors on several occasions such as John Milius, John Waters and Paul Verhoeven. Is this a challenging process to collaborate on several occasions with the same filmmaker or is it a comfortable process?
BP: Well it is both. The hope is that they are doing projects different from the last they have done. The challenge is to get up to speed on what they are dong. The comfort zone is also there as well because you do develop shorthand with regard to your communication. With each of those people, except John Waters, I have a personal relationship with them all. There is a sense that you kind of march through time with them. I think that this kind of relationship is ideal because you can communicate more fully as part of the filmmaking process.
Number of posts : 4010
Registration date : 2007-08-28
|Subject: Re: BASIL POLEDOURIS interviews Thu 12 Jun - 3:56|| |
In the years before I made a living as a composer, I was a synthesist and techno guy for a number of film composers. One of the more prominent and interesting of the composers I worked with was Basil Poledouris. I met Basil through a friend who was his main orchestrator at the time. I did some orchestration work for Basil when the deadlines were too much for his orchestrator to handle.
Basil is best known for films such as Mickey Blue Eyes, Starship Troopers, Free Willy, Hunt for Red October, Lonesome Dove, RoboCop, Flesh & Blood, Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian , and Blue Lagoon.
He is a consummate classically trained musician who also was one of the first film composers to see the creative possibilities of electronic instruments and sounds. Still, he has made a name for himself though scores that are grand and highly romantic. He is also the only Hollywood composer I am aware of whose name has every vowel.
In 1999 I spent an afternoon with Basil at his Venice, California studio. It's a well laid out and efficient space. We talked about a number of musical topics from his unique and evolved perspective. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation.
J-Do most film makers understand the process of music?
B- I think music is abstract enough of an idea and enough of a commodity that as composers we basically make a lot of choices that the client, the producer or director, is unaware of, nor should they be. Iím not aware of a lot of things a director has to do - his or her internal mechanisms. But you get the job done. I think theyíre still dealing with dramatic concepts in dramatic film, and for me itís about realizing the directors or producers vision.
J- Do you think you banged your head against the wall when you were starting out?
B- I know I did, and I think a lot of that probably has to do with insecurity. Like making sure that I found the right way to approaching something. There are a lot of approaches to the same problem. I donít think thereís just one anymore.
Give ten film composers the same scene, youíre going to get ten different approaches, ten different kinds of scores. I always assumed their was just one way I could write, and that was either because of my limitations or insecurities or whatever, and I stuck to it. It was my style and, to a certain degree, people expected it. I was hired for it. But now itís different. Itís changed a lot for me and I think there are a lot of different kinds of movies.
J- Thereís so many interesting ways to make music.
B- Yeah, I suppose there always were. Itís just so much more accessible now. You can try out ideas without having so many limitations. You have the luxury of experimenting with electronic instruments, whereas before it was a gamble. It was only the gutsy that would push things.
J- Do you know why you get hired to do a film?
B- Itís generally because of a film Iíve done prior to it. It speaks to the new project and someone hears something in there- the most notable example in my career was Paul Verhoeven hearing Conan the Barbarian. He really wanted me to do "Flesh and Blood" because of that. Conan had that kind of medieval thing that he was looking for. Randal Kleiser hired me to do "Blue Lagoon" because of something he heard in "Big Wednesday." There was a kind of warmth and quality to it. I donít think any of us could define it. Thereís an emotional response to it. You might be able to analyze it intellectually, but in the end it is emotionally that kind of response you want people to have for your scores.
J- You were using electronics as early as anybody.
B- Yeah, absolutely. I always added the electronics as an orchestral color. But not until MIDI and the sophisticated sequencers came along that we have now was it possible to do a mock-up of the whole instrumental pallet. I think thatís changed my attitude about how I approach film scores a lot.
J- I know that the bar has certainly been raised with all this gear in terms of what directors expect to hear when they walk into a composers studio. Youíre exceptional in the fact that youíre such a good pianist that you can dazzle a director by playing and describing a score.
B- Used to be, thirty years ago
J- You know what I mean. Thereís lots of composers who donít really play piano very well, but are able to do their work from using their MIDI gear.
B- Do you see any pianos in here? We need to get rid of the preconceived notion about how we approach scores now. Thatís the difference. Before it was spot a movie, go away and write for a while, then meet with the director to play maybe a couple of main themes on piano, and no more. Six weeks later you show up on the scoring stage, and that would be the first time they ever had an idea of the score beyond the piano sketches. Now itís totally different.
It depends on the director. I think particularly that younger directors expect that process of working with the composer, and hearing almost a full realization in the electronic mock-up form of what the scoreís going to be. I donít mind that, though itís more time consuming for me. I know what itís going to sound like, but it takes time to sequence and review. Then it opens the door to change. Sometimes that change is very positive, but sometimes it isnít. Thatís where the collaboration comes into play. You talk about the possibilities. You explore the alternatives. Sometimes you end up where you started, but sometimes it goes in a different direction which can be very exciting.