Monday, January 04, 2010

Kicking a Dead Horse's Ass

So anyway, Intrada just announced the complete score to the John Wayne drama Hellfighters, composed by Leonard Rosenman. And after listening to the sound samples, combined with recent listenings of Robocop 2 and Star Trek IV, I'm starting to get a clearer picture of why I really don't care for the man's music (or the man for that matter - I'll elaborate further as the post stumbles on). Seeing as how he died almost two years ago, a lambasting of the man and his craft might seem in poor taste, but well...I don't really give a shit. This is what's on my mind at the moment and I'm running with it.

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat - Leonard Rosenman...was a complete and total fucking douchebag. There, I said it. Seriously he was - I can't stand reading anything he ever said because invariably he always comes off as a complete and total pretentious, elitist, snobby, prick! Read any of the countless interviews* he gave in his lifetime and you quickly get a sense that Leonard Rosenman liked nothing more than to talk about the awesomeness and wonderment that was Leonard Rosenman, and how Leonard Rosenman was God's gift to all things music. Other things he enjoyed seemed to be discussing how directors were wrong in their film making choices, and making disparaging remarks about his peers.

This in particular gets on my nerves - for instance, he once made a remark (something to the effect of) that he didn't understand all the hubbub over John Williams, particularly where Star Wars was concerned because he (the great Leonard Rosenman) could out-compose any "tune" Williams could write at anytime. He was also particularly harsh to (what was to him, at the time) the younger, up-and-coming generation of film composers, particularly James Horner and Basil Poledouris saying that they lacked any personal compositional voice or style. Whilst working on Robocop 2, he offered that Poledouris' score for the original was essentially rubbish, and went on to say that it "had no sense of the orchestra, no sense of drama; It was a lousy, dopey score, and just didn't work". I dunno - maybe we were listening to two different scores?! I've noticed that even the harshest of critics of the film usually still found the music to be quite fitting, if not truly brilliant. I guess I'm just not sure what Rosenman was (or wasn't) hearing.

As for his music...well, I really just don't care for most of it. I've been struggling quite a bit to put into words exactly what I think about it. And even now, I think the perfect idea - that one, all-encompassing, cohesive thought that best describes my ire - escapes me. But, fuck it, I'll try anyway. I don't claim to be any sort of aficionado of the man's body of work, but one thing that strikes me, listening to the small sampling that I have heard, is that Rosenman never developed as a composer...stylistically speaking. You find that most composers, over the course of their lifetime, change their approach to writing. Or at the very least they learn to embrace new ideas, styles, and whatnot and incorporate them into their own personal style. Take any sampling of Rosenman, be it The Cobweb from the 50's, Hellfighters from the 60's, The Lord of the Rings or one of the Apes films from the 70's, Star Trek or Robocop 2 from the 80's, and you'll no doubt hear that essentially, they're all the same.

To me, Rosenman's music is...well...a "high-brow" version of the absolute worst Junior High or High School level concert band music you can think of. It's musical string cheese. Everything I've heard of his, regardless of what it was written for, inevitabry (hehe) ends up sounding like it was made for a Danielle Steele movie-of-the-week. As I understand it, Rosenman considered himself a neo-Classicist, and there are brief moments where I suppose I can hear it. But generally, to my ear, his music always comes across as bad melodrama. If his music were personified, I'd see it as one of the nimwits from Monty Python's "Upperclass Twit of the Year" sketch. I'll admit, there are moments of really interesting stuff, almost brilliant at times. But those moments are fleeting, usually to be found as developmental material in between his major motives and ideas.

Take for instance Robocop 2. If nothing else, that particular score will be infamous for one thing - those shrill, blaring sopranos shrieking out "Roooo-bo COOOOOOP; Roooo-bo COOOOOOP!!!" as one of the major motivic ideas of the score. I mean, come on...REALLY?!?! That was his brilliant idea for a futuristic movie about a cyborg police officer, and he had the nerve to call Poledouris' work crap?! The "overture" to the film, as is presented on the CD (ironically, it's actually the end credits suite) starts of quite interestingly. It begins with a short brass fanfare, which is then followed by an absolutely spectacular driving rhythm in the low brass and percussion. But then this wretched, hokey, goofball of a main theme enters and ruins the whole thing. It's the kind of stupid thematic line that would make James Swearingen come in his pants! It might have been more effective if a freshman concert band had been playing it - complete with intonation problems (HA - that's an understatement), missed entrances, maybe even one kid in the brass section playing everything at a triple-Fortissimo! Interestingly does sound like, at various points in the piece, that the percussionist playing the suspended cymbal got lost...a lot. There's a middle section to it that's essentially a reworking of some of the underscore to various dramatic scenes from the film. And it's fantastic - chocked full of great harmonic devices, orchestral colors, counterpoint, you name it! But then that stupid main theme comes back for a reprise and fucks it all up.

Someone on the FSM discussion board once remarked that, when in high school band, they attempted a band arrangement of the "Main Titles" from Star Trek IV. Apparently they read through it a couple of times, and the band director absolutely hated it. Then someone in the band spoke up and said that they had been playing it at half tempo. So they gave it another go at the correct tempo, and when it was over...he still hated it, and tossed it. I don't hate the score for ST:IV (sorry for the Dr. Seuss moment there), there are a few things to really like about it, but overall the only real reason I own the CD is for completionist sake. I suppose if bouncy and hokey, regardless of the film it was written for, is your kind of music then I don't know...maybe Rosenman is your guy. For me though, I just can't bring myself to really like him. His shitty demeanor certainly doesn't/didn't help. I want to hear more of his work, if for no other reason than to better clarify and justify my disdain for it. Problem is...I don't want to actually pay for any of it! That would seem almost hypocritical some how.

*there's a series of several posts on FSM from a couple of years ago that chronicle the life of Rosenman through various snippets of interviews he gave. Search for his name and read them if you don't believe me - The Life of Leonard Rosenman, pts. I - V, I believe.


Herr Vogler said...

When I was at Truman we had a grand total of one (1) guest composer that I enjoyed being around. He and I were at dinner one night and were talking about my interest in film music. We talked about Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann (and how great they were). He eventually asked me who the composer was who wrote a particular score (the particular example escapes me now). I told him it was Leonard Rosenman and then he said the following: "I find his music to be cold." You know you're in a bad way if an "academic composer" (even though Charles' music was anything but academic) is saying your music is cold and ineffective.

the warrior bard said...

God damn it, I was posting this lengthy comment and then Panera's internet shat a brick. Let me summarize from memory...

Um... right.... Leonard Rosenman.

I always thought one was supposed to earn room to talk before one went around doing so out of one's ass. Rosenman's music is embarrassingly cheesy, yet he goes around tooting his own horn and alienating every other person in the industry? Hmm... sounds an awful lot like some people I suffered in Ohio. His demeanor reeks of jealousy. Plain and simple. Rosenman probably wanted to do Star Wars more than anyone will ever know. Thank the Force that he didn't, because it would have flopped, and there never would have been any other films, novels, comic books, or video games.

"Sure, I only have a couple of recognizable works, and they're pure shit, but I AM THE GREATEST FUCKER ALIVE."

Yeah, okay, Leo. Good luck with your posthumous career posterity. I'm sorry, but I've already forgotten you.

the warrior bard said...

Oh yeah. I was also going to say that this demeanor is extremely reminiscent of that fucking book we had to read for several weeks' worth of wasted master classes, the collection of bullshit writings by Morton Feldman.

Fuck Morton Feldman. He has no room to talk, no room to be the dickhole that he is. Period. Fuck him. FUCK him as a human being, not to mention a "composer."

I don't tolerate this sort of attitude from anyone. Anyone.

Mikey the Pikey said...

You know...the funny thing is, Rosenman considered himself to be an "academic" as well. Apparently he had a fairly extensive collection of concert works in his repertoire. I don't have to think all that hard on why none of them ever get performed.

It's odd - the guy did have a long, relatively productive career. One can only wonder what it was that some directors heard in him that made them actually want that cheeseball sound to accompany their films. Incidentally, since it was Hellfighters that got me in this whole mess - I thought I'd add that one Mr. Johnny Williams was originally set to score that picture, but had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict.

Also, the fact that the guy had something like 5 marriages kinda speaks to how much of a total dick he really was. Then again - he was also really good friends with James either, there was something redeeming in the guy's personality, or...

...Dean wasn't as much of the icon of all things "cool" that we idolize him to be. Wait, that can't be right! Can it?!?!

the warrior bard said...