by Dan Goldwasser
Composer Elliot Goldenthal has scored a wide variety of films such as Alien 3, Interview with the Vampire, Batman Forever, Michael Collins, Heat and A Time To Kill. His most recent film, Titus, is a unique filmed version of the Shakespeare play, directed by Tony-winning director Julie Taymor. I had an opportunity to talk with Elliot when he was in Los Angeles for the Titus premiere.
You recently scored Titus, based on the Shakespeare tragedy. Have you worked with director Julie Taymor before?
Yes, we've worked together on about fourteen various projects on- and off-Broadway. This is the first feature film I scored for her, although we did a 50-minute film for American Playhouse called Fool's Fire.
You seem to have taken a rather unconventional approach to scoring this film. What prompted you to do so?
Anytime you put Shakespeare in a movie situation, it's bound to be unconventional because you're taking it out of its original element, which is theater. Most of the scoring in Shakespeare tends to be scene changes, so by the nature of it being a movie it's not the in the convention of its original intent. So once it's in a film it's up for grabs - if it has a Renaissance-type sound, then that would be the most conventional. I would say that it's non-conventional by the nature of it being a movie. For example, there are three big band pieces that work both as source cues, and as dramatic cues in the film. This score is a culmination of my style. It sums up the type of work I've been doing for the past ten years.
You were classically trained under John Corigliano and Aaron Copland. Did you foresee yourself as a film composer?
Oh sure! During the period when I was a student, I was working in all of the musical arenas, including theater and concert staging. He as well as Copland encouraged me to work within that arena because it was a healthy thing to do. There are different challenges and techniques to scoring both for films and the concert hall. There have been quite a few composers who have done it successfully - many more than you would think. Prokofkiev composed over thirty film scores, and of course Copland composed many scores himself.
I hear you are working on an opera, "Grendel". How is it coming?
I currently have about 20 minutes done, and it looks like it will be ready for 2003. These things take time, and in the opera world it takes about 2 or 3 years just to cast the principle singers. You can't just call them up - they tend to be booked for years.
You have integrated Catholic liturgical masses into many of your scores - what keeps prompting you to do so?
Well, I quite like the poetry in the masses, and I grew up listening to that stuff. My mother was Catholic, and when I ended up in church it sounded beautiful to me - the way the Latin sounded. It was very mysterious and also very beautiful. There are a lot of open vowels - it's a beautiful thing to sing. Of course in Titus it made sense to use Latin because we're dealing with Rome.
You have worked on almost every Neil Jordan film, yet you didn't score The End of the Affair. What happened there?
The End of the Affair happened simultaneously with Titus, and both Neil and Julie wanted to get their films out at the same time. Since I had started with Julie beforehand, it looked like I wouldn't have been able to work on Neil's film. While I was upset about that, I will definitely be working with him again in the future.
How did it feel to take over for Elfman on the Batman films?
I didn't see it that way. I just saw it as another film. If I had been working with Tim Burton, then I would feel like I was taking over from Elfman. But the fact that it was a new director, new Batman, new Batmobile and everything else, I felt like I was just working on a new project with another director. I didn't have any Elfman feelings at all.
Your score to Heat was a different type of score for you. How did you approach that film score?
In Heat, Michael Mann and I were going for an atmospheric situation. It was the first time I used what I like to call a "guitar orchestra" - where I use six or eight guitars, all playing with different tunings stacked up on top of each other in a musical way, and a mixed meter of percussion. It wasn't a type of score where you needed a big orchestral theme or you had to actually hit certain actions with music at specific times. It was much closer to the European mentality of film scoring.
Do you have a particular dream project?
Yeah - bring Fellini back from the dead, and let me work with him!
What are you currently working on?
Julie and I are working on a Broadway piece called "The Green Bird" - we're bringing it to the Cort Theater on Broadway in April 2000.
The score release to Titus is currently available on Sony Classical.
Special Thanks to Chasen & Co., James Barry, and David Koran