Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Power of Themes

Two real posts in one week. What do you know?

It's interesting to see the effect on an audience when they hear a beloved theme. The James Bond theme in a trailer always seem to elicit cheers. I still remember the enthusiastic audience reaction to just the finger-snapping theme in the trailer for for the Addams Family. The audience went wild. The STAR TREK, STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, SHAFT, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and Harry Potter are among the many other themes that have that same power. We have a strong, emotional reaction to theme music. It evokes not only memories of the show, but memories of who we were, and what we were doing, at the time we were watching those movies of TV shows. You can't buy that kind of instant audience reaction (which is why I am baffled by the decision of movie-makings NOT to use the themes for WILD WILD WEST and MIAMI VICE in the movie versions).

But there's an aspect to theme music I never thought of. I recently bought screenwriter Christopher Wood's self-published memoir JAMES BOND, THE SPY I LOVED (which you can order from www.twentyfirstscenturypublishers.com) and in the book he makes an interesting, almost throwaway observation relating to the emotional impact of a score on the screenwriter:

Now we have the credits and the delighted writer's name in happy proximity to a seemingly naked, somersaulting girl whilst Shirley Bassey belts out the theme song of the movie (MOONRAKER). I like this song and it is hardly surprising. There is a form of umbilical cord that binds any writer to the music from a film he has written. I only have to hear a few bars from the score of CONFESSIONS OF A POP PERFORMER and tears come to my eyes -- mind you, that score brought tears to a lot of people's eyes.


The theme to MOONRAKER is almost universally despised among Bond fans (right up there with OCTOPUSSY), and yet I can totally understand Woods' reaction. I have that same, emotional bond with themes to the shows I have been a part of. Who but the writer of the show would love, much less remember, the totally unmemorable themes to THE COSBY MYSTERIES, THE HIGHWAYMAN, or COBRA? It's not because the music is any good, it's because of the memories they evoke for me and the emotional investment I made in those shows. I have a ridiculously strong attachment to the themes from SPENSER FOR HIRE, BAYWATCH, DIAGNOSIS MURDER and SEAQUEST that have nothing to do with the quality of the music. They are on my iPOD and I listen to them more often than I care to admit.

Already the score of FAST TRACK has a hold on me -- and it's only been a few weeks since we completed the movie. The music will always remind me of my summer in Berlin, making the movie, and the fun I had. It will always remind me of my trip through Europe with my family. It will always remind me of my friends in Germany and the good times we have had together over the last year. Long after the movie is gone and forgotten, the music will still have this power over me and I'm glad.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hustle opening

Mad Men Opening Credits

Emmy is a Geek

I don't often post here -- okay, I never do. But I had to tonight. I just got back from a night in geek heaven: the Academy of Television Arts and Science's salute to TV Themes and Main Title Sequences. The sold-out event was held in the ATAS theatre and was hosted by Steven Bochco, Robert Vaughn, Lindsay Wagner, Maureen McCormack, William Daniels and Stacy Keach, to name a few, and included a terrific, and very funny, musical performance by John Schneider (yeah, the guy from DUKES OF HAZARD). The guests and honorees included Sherwood Schwartz, Vic Mizzy, Earle Hagen and Mike Post. Probably a hundred main title sequences were screened but the best parts of the show were my friend Jon Burlingame's short, and often hilarious, interviews with Mizzy, Post, and Bochco. Unfortunately, I had to leave early (over two hours into the event!), in the midst of a salute to Earle Hagen, because my 12-year-old daughter (by far the youngest person in attendance) was falling asleep in her chair. It was a wonderful event and I could have sat there watching those main title sequences, and listening to the anecdotes from those amazing composers, all night long. It was just as entertaining as the two "Celebrations of Television Music" that ATAS has sponsored at the Hollywood Bowl over the years and a lot more intimate. I also learned a surprising fact tonight -- the Emmys didn't start giving an award for best main title song & theme until 1993. Think of all the classic themes and composers that never got the acknowledgment they deserved.