Dynamic Duos – Film Directors and their Musical Muses

Sergio Leone with Ennio Morricone

A picture may paint a thousand words but without a sympathetic score and sound design behind it, films which have become an indelible part of popular culture for all of us would be all but non-existent. Since the emergence of “the talkie” in the 1930’s, some of the world’s greatest film directors have found a musical soul-mate who has shared their vision and added to it immeasurably. Some have used them on multiple occasions, becoming a unit which has combined to seep almost magically into all our lives. Here, we look at some of the most famous, and the less-heralded.

ENNIO MORRICONE & SERGIO LEONE

Having met at school when they were both only 8 years old, Morricone and Leone are one of the most accomplished partnerships in in the medium of film. Their work on Italian Westerns (never incur Maestro Morricone’s wrath by using the word ‘spaghetti’) has never been matched.

JOHN CARPENTER & HIMSELF

In no sense self-aggrandising, Carpenter started to compose scores for his own movies purely out of financial necessity. His bleak synth intonations have become almost as celebrated as his films – an early test screening of his seminal Halloween left producers unsure – the addition of the music convinced them they had a hit on their hands

DAVID CRONENBERG & HOWARD SHORE

It was crucial for Cronenberg to find a composer who could both match and temper his visuals which are often extremely visceral. Enter Howard Shore, who has worked with him since The Brood in 1979.

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN & WANG CHUNG

The most unlikely pairing on the list? Fresh from The Exorcist and The French Connection, Friedkin directly approached 80s innovators, Wang Chung, to score his gritty potboiler, To Live and Die in LA. He later re-employed singer and guitarist Jack Hues to work on his tree-related horror film, The Guardian.

SPIELBERG & LUCAS & JOHN WILLIAMS

Steven Spielberg; George Lucas…you don’t become the recipient of good luck like this, it’s through a genuinely shared vision

ALFRED HITCHCOCK & BERNARD HERRMANN

It would take quite a character to stand up to the notoriously prickly Hitchcock, but Herrmann was that man. Over seven films, Hitchcock pretty much left his composing partner to his own devices, such was their mutual trust, until a fall-out over the music to Torn Curtain signaled their professional parting.

DARIO ARGENTO & GOBLIN

Argento’s stylised colours, stunning backdrops, camerawork and startling brutality would require a musical accompaniment of a similarly multi-textured nature and Goblin be thy name. Claudio Simonetti’s twisting keyboards and Fabio Pignatelli’s heartbeat bass would permeate in a proggy soup of deliciousness

DARREN ARONOFSKY & CLINT MANSELL

It will never quite compute in our brains that Clint Mansell the hugely successful composer is the same Clint Mansell from the hugely average Pop Will Eat Itself. Six collaborations and counting between Mansell and the unpredictable director or Pi; Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler.

MICHAEL BAY & STEVE JABLONSKY

BOOM! Imagine being tasked with trying to get your scores to be heard above the two hours of explosions Michael Bay serves up to ravenous audiences? Steve Jablonsky is the man, a product of Hans Zimmer’s film score production line, himself the king of foghorn blasts on soundtracks.

MEL BROOKS & JOHN MORRIS

Mel’s movies, The Producers aside, are not necessarily referenced for their musical content, an injustice, especially considering both he and Brooks shared an Oscar-nomination for their work on Blazing Saddles. Check out his heartbreaking score to The Elephant Man, which Brooks produced incognito. All but two of Brooks films have Morris’ scores

TIM BURTON & DANNY ELFMAN

The gruesome twosome of partnerships, their shared love of the macabre and the tongue-in-cheek brought them together, Elfman having plied his trade in New Wave band Oingo Boingo

DAVID LEAN & MAURICE JARRE

Somehow, even in 2019, Maurice feels overshadowed by his son, Jean-Michel but the elder’s scores are the added texture which make David Lean’s films the yardstick for the cinematic experience. From Lawrence of Arabia onwards, the combination was never less than startling. Jarre was always willing to push thing as far as good be managed – not every composer willfully includes digeridoos and ondes Martinots in their armory.

SEAN S. CUNNINGHAM & HARRY MANFREDINI

Yet another horror coupling – by the time Manfredini and Cunningham were working together on 1980’s Friday 13th, composing for horror was seen less as a lowly job and more as a way to make an honest living. His “ki-ki-ma-ma” leitmotif is go-to material for film students looking to understand how important sound is in film to represent off-screen characters

BRIAN DePALMA & PINO DONAGGIO

DePalma is an acquired taste, a director who almost feels like he’s trying to make himself as present onscreen as his cast, but his muse, Pino Donaggio often tempers this blustering with swathes of strings and subtle piano melodies. English-speaking territories will be less aware than Italians of Donaggio’s pre-film career as the 80-million selling writer and performer of “Io Che Non Vivo” or, as Elvis and Dusty Springfield sang it, “You Don’t Have to Say you Love Me”

BLAKE EDWARDS & HENRY MANCINI

Imagine watching a Pink Panther film and NOT hearing that wonderfully droll theme? Unthinkable. Edwards and Mancini worked on far more than these comedies though, with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine & Roses and the stellar film-noir, Experiment in Terror also in their shared canon.

FEDERICO FELLINI & NINO ROTA

One of the world’s greatest visionaries, Fellini’s marriage of fantasy and gritty realism would need a composer of both immense talent and imagination but also an ego that could withstand largely existing in the shadows. Nino Rota’s work on everything from La Dolce Vita to 8 1/2 and especially Amarcord is simply staggering

TERENCE FISHER & JAMES BERNARD

James Bernard was somewhat eccentric but also a literally gentle man, tremendously English to the core. Despite his very mannered behaviour, he essentially became the sound of Hammer horror movies, with his magnificent, blousey themes intoning dread…but with a heart. Listen to the notes braying at you – “Draaa-cu-laaaaa!”

JOHN FORD & ALFRED NEWMAN

Never heard of Alfred Newman? Go and stand in the corner. Even before we get onto his themes for John Ford, you know Newman as the composer of the 20th Century Fox fanfare. He would often weave themes into his works which reflected the film’s roots, from the Welsh flavours of How Green was My Valley to ferocious horns of How the West was Won (another film score which spells out the film’s title sonicly)

LUCIO FULCI & FABIO FRIZZI

Fulci is the Godfather of Italian splatter film, gore upon grue upon outrageous set-pieces of a nature your grandmother wouldn’t approve of. Fabio Frizzi is your cuddly uncle, a classically trained musician who added humanity and synth majesty to Fulci’s visual nightmares

WERNER HERZOG & POPOL VUH

Herzog is best known for his work with the madman of European cinema, Klaus Kinski, an actor who you simply couldn’t invent, so over-the-top was he in every element of his life. The scores to the work were invariably composed by Popol Vuh, Florian Fricke’s ethereal prog-rock outfit, often producing music which had a religious quality to it.

ISHIRO HONDA & AKIRA IFUKUBE

Film from all corners of the world had partnerships which felt unbreakable. For example, Ishiro Honda and Akira Ifukube, working in a post-atomic Japan which gave birth to the monstrous Godzilla, the perfect metaphor for Man’s inability to use science for good

DAVID LYNCH & ANGELO BADALAMENTI

Deep within the madness of Lynch’s films is the anchor which stops his bizarre ships from careering into the rocks. Badalamenti can switch from angular jazz to tear-jerking themes at the drop of a hat, often employing elongated tones and silence to add drama.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN & HANS ZIMMER

Zimmer, for all his faults (and there are many), has revolutionised how the film score is perceived for a generation. His work with Nolan is dramatic to say the least, even putting revolving skyscrapers in the shade

SAM PECKINPAH & JERRY FIELDING

One of the most under-valued composers for film, Fielding was critically-acclaimed with three Oscar nominations but somehow hasn’t sunk into popular consciousness as easily. His work with Sam Peckinpah is the perfect match to the hard-edged director’s visions

ROBERT ZEMECKIS & ALAN SILVESTRI

Rather like the duo of Bay and Jablonsky, it’s difficult to imagine a director/composer combo more able to adapt to each other’s ever-shifting styles. From Back to the Future, to Forrest Gump, to Cast Away, they are happy to work with others but always seem to reconvene every few years.

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