By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
There was an intense crisis with the music. When Bob Evans heard Nino Rota's music, he felt it would sink the film, that it was too lugubrious and didn't have enough energy. He wanted Henry Mancini to rescue the film and to make it more hard-boiled. He didn't like these rather soft-edged ideas that Francis and Nino had come up with -- he wanted it to be more American and punchy. So there was a big struggle between Francis and Evans, during which Francis at one point said he would quit the film and take his name off it if that happened.
You mean the main theme music?
Yes . . . well, all the music.
My God, it's a trademark!
Well, nobody knew that at the time. Remember, someone at MGM wanted to cut "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. Frequently what happens in film is that people, especially distracted executives, will say, I hate -- pick one -- the music, camerawork, art direction, acting in your film. But if you actually get under the skin of that prejudice, you can discover the particular thing they really hate -- the pea under the mattress. It often comes down to one or two small things that spoil everything else. When I talked to Bob Evans, it turned out he hated the music for the horse's-head scene, where Woltz pulls the sheet back and the severed head of his half-million-dollar horse is revealed in the bed. Maybe because Woltz is the head of a studio and Evans was the head of a studio and it's a particularly striking, grisly scene -- the first violence in the film -- he felt the music should be appropriate to that.
I tried to listen to what Nino had written with Bob Evans' ears, and I thought he had a point. The music, as it was originally written, was a waltz and it played against the horror of the event. It was sweet carousel music. You were seeing those horrible images, but the music was counterpointing the horror of the visuals. Perhaps it needed to be crazier a little earlier.
So I tried something I had done on THX 1138-- layering the music, playing records backwards, turning them upside down, slowing them down -- a version of what I'd done when I was 11 years old.
Nino's music for the horse's-head scene had an A, B, A musical structure. That is to say, it had an opening statement, then a variation, and then a return to the opening statement. This structure allowed me to make a duplicate of the music, slip the sync of the second copy one whole musical statement, and then superimpose them together. The music started off A, as it was written, but then became A + B, simultaneously, and then B + A. You now heard, superimposed on each other, things that were supposed to be separate in time. So it starts off as the same piece of music, but then begins -- just as Woltz realizes that something is wrong -- to grate against itself. There is now a disorienting madness to the music that builds and builds to the moment when Woltz finally pulls the sheet back.
This happened in the shot where we're coming into the bedroom at night, or first thing at dawn?
Early morning. All is normal until he starts to stir and realizes that something is in bed with him -- that's when this madness, this second element, comes in. Really a replay of the opening statement but harmonically interweaving with the second . . . You know the way you feel when you're woken by something, and something is wrong, and you wonder, Is something wrong? What is wrong? Oh my God! No, it can't be! It's even worse than I thought! Aaarghhh!
We played this version for Evans, and he thought it was fantastic. He asked us to rewind it as he phoned up Charlie Bluhdorn, who was head of Gulf + Western, in New York. He took the telephone all the way up to the screen and said, "Listen to this, Charlie! Roll it!" holding the phone up to the screen as the music played. I can't imagine what it must have sounded like at the other end of the line, or what Bluhdorn thought, but Evans was very happy: He felt some corner had been turned.
(Photo by Richard Blanschar)
I was sitting at the mixing desk, with Dick Portman, who was the lead mixer, and the whole thing had made Dick very nervous. To do something like this with the music was . . . well, people didn't do this. It was certainly very risky if it hadn't worked out. So we were both sitting there, looking at this wonderful scene -- a big projection in black-and-white of the head of this fictional studio boss discovering a horse's head in his bed as the real head of Paramount stood holding the telephone receiver up against the screen, his shadow cast across it as the scene unwinds. It was one of those iconic moments that you can't believe as it's happening . . .
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