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Film Music Great Elmer Berstein Dies

Legendary film music composer Elmer Bernstein has died at the age of 82:

    Bernstein, whose prolific career spanned seven decades and earned him 14 Academy Award nominations, an Oscar win and an Emmy Award, died in his sleep at his Ojai home Wednesday, said his publicist, Cathy Mouton. He was 82.

    Although he won an Oscar only once for the 1967 film “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — considered one of his weaker works — Bernstein was revered for experimenting with various techniques that bolstered the films.

    “It’s one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it — the traditional sense of stressing, underlining — or gives it added dramatic muscle,” director Martin Scorsese once said. “It’s entirely another to write music that graces a film. That’s what Elmer Bernstein does, and that, for me, is his greatest gift.”

    Among his more notable efforts were the scores for “Some Came Running,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “The Great Escape,” “Hawaii,” “The Great Santini,” “Cast a Giant Shadow,” “My Left Foot,” “A River Runs Through It,” “Devil in a Blue Dress” and “The Age of Innocence.” He also composed several works for symphony orchestras.

    In addition, he scored such movie classics as “The Ten Commandments,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Great Escape” and “True Grit.” Other credits included “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Airplane!,” “Stripes,” “Meatballs,” “Ghostbusters,” “Trading Places” and “The Rainmaker.”

    “Film music, properly done, should give the film a kind of emotional rail on which to ride,” Bernstein told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview. “Without even realizing that you’re listening to music that’s doing something to your emotions, you will have an emotional experience.”

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” presented Bernstein quite a challenge. For six weeks he could find no way to approach the story, which concerned racism and the Depression in a small Southern town.

    “Then I realized that the film was about these issues but seen through the eyes of children,” he once recalled. “The simple score was played by a small ensemble, at times employing single piano notes, much like a child picking out a tune.”

    For “The Man with the Golden Arm,” in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician, he discarded the studio orchestra for a jazz ensemble. For the landmark western “The Magnificent Seven,” Bernstein composed a galloping march that remained famous for years afterward in TV ads for Marlboro cigarettes.

    A piano prodigy who studied composing under Aaron Copland in New York, Bernstein moved to Hollywood in 1950 to work on his first movie score, for the football film “Saturday’s Hero.” After a few more routine assignments he made his mark with the moody music for the Joan Crawford thriller “Sudden Fear.”

    Although both hailed from New York, he was no relation to the legendary composer Leonard Bernstein.

    “That’s a common question,” Mouton said. “They were friends and fellow New Yorkers, but they were not related in any way.”

    A supporter of left-wing causes, Bernstein’s career was nearly destroyed by the Hollywood Red Hunt of the 1950s when he was summoned before a congressional subcommittee and told to identify communists in the film industry. He refused, saying he’d never attended a Communist party meeting.

    “I wasn’t important enough to be blacklisted, so I was put on a gray list,” he once said. [AP]

Here are some quotes from his very fine webiste:

    Los Angeles Jazz Society Honor (excerpts), October 28, 2001 | Arthur Hamilton
    “Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t escape from Elmer Bernstein. His music has stirred you, excited you, inspired you, amused you, and kept close company with you for the past fifty years. Kept close with you, your family, and your family’s family—no matter where you live in the world.”

    “How is he thought of by the other members of the music community? With deep respect and a lot of envy. Somehow, he has managed to stay on the cutting edge throughout his career. His innovative concept for ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ was a ground breaking, all-jazz score—and a Hollywood first. Previously, jazz was treated as a specialty item. He proved it could sustain mood for an entire film.”

    ——————————————————————————–

    Keynote Address at Elmer Bernstein’s ASCAP Honor (excerpts), April 24, 2001 | James Newton Howard
    “Really very little need be said about Elmer’s work other than this: He is one of the greatest film composers ever. What Elmer Bernstein has done is create a massive body of work, which includes many definitive examples of film compositional styles. It’s been like a how-to book for up-and-comers like me.”

    “Certainly, ‘effortless’ is one of the words which comes to mind when I consider Elmer’s work. With his scores, one never has the feeling that the music is working too hard. Somehow, he has always been able to achieve gigantic effect with the most gentle and graceful gestures. Never has that been put to better use than in his incomparable score to, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”

    ——————————————————————————–

    Martin Scorsese, 2001
    “An interviewer once asked me to discuss my collaboration with Elmer Bernstein, and precisely why I chose to work with him. My first thought was: How could I not work with Elmer, when I had the chance? Simply put, he’s the best there is—the very best.”

    ——————————————————————————–

    “Age of Innocence,” 1993 | Martin Scorsese with Jay Cocks
    “It’s one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it—the traditional sense of stressing, underlining—or gives it added dramatic muscle. It’s entirely another to write music that graces a film. That’s what Elmer Bernstein does, and that, for me, is his greatest gift. I don’t mean just talent, either; the music he writes is a gift to all of us. In ‘The Age of Innocence’ Elmer’s score had to adapt to the style and pace of the language, as well as meet all the additional and more usual dramatic requirement of composing for the screen. We had no lengthy discussions about this, but when we laid in the score the first time it flowed over the narration like a clear-running brook.”

    ——————————————————————————–

    “Men In War,” 1957 | James Powers, Hollywood Reporter

    “The music of ‘Men in War’ is the language of the sounds, the thoughts, the sights of men in battle. The stillness of the forest is ever-present, the rustle of a leaf is ear splitting, the pathos and suspense of imminent death pervades the very air, all brought to life through the magic of Mr. Bernstein’s skillful music. Album notes.

    “Elmer Bernstein contributes another notable score, not dissonant, now lyric, filling in the gaps where conversation would be impossible or unlikely.”

    ——————————————————————————–

    “The Babe,” 1991 | Arthur Hiller, Director
    “I’m so glad Elmer Bernstein didn’t become a concert pianist! We who worked with him on ‘The Babe’ are glad he chose composing for films instead. I love the music on this album, but I love it even more as it brings so many emotions to the film and enhances so many emotions that are there.”

His outstanding filmography is here:

    Saturday’s Hero, 1951

    Boots Malone, 1952

    Sudden Fear, 1952

    Battles of Chief Pontiac, 1953

    Cat Women of the Moon, 1953

    Dieppe Raid, 1953

    Never Wave at a WAC, 1953

    Robot Monster, 1953

    Make Haste to Live, 1954

    Miss Robin Crusoe, 1954

    Silent Raiders, 1954

    Bar Sinister, The, 1955

    Eternal Sea, The, 1955

    Man with the Golden Arm, The, 1955

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Storm Fear, 1955

    View from Pompey’s Head, The, 1955

    Ten Commandments, The, 1956

    Drango, 1957

    Fear Strikes Out, 1957

    Men in War, 1957

    Sweet Smell of Success, The, 1957

    Tin Star, The, 1957

    Anna Lucasta, 1958

    Buccaneer, The, 1958

    Desire Under the Elms, 1958

    God’s Little Acre, 1958

    Kings Go Forth, 1958

    Saddle the Wind, 1958

    Some Came Running, 1958

    Miracle, The, 1959

    From the Terrace, 1960

    Magnificent Seven, The, 1960

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Western Heritage Award

    Rat Race, The, 1960

    Story on Page One, The, 1960

    By Love Possessed, 1961

    Comancheros, The, 1961

    Summer and Smoke, 1961

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Young Doctors, The, 1961

    Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962

    Girl Named Tamiko, A, 1962

    To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Golden Globe Award® Winner

    Walk on the Wild Side, 1962

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Song
    “Walk on the Wild Side”

    Caretakers, The, 1963

    Great Escape, The, 1963

    Hud, 1963

    Kings of the Sun, 1963

    Rampage, 1963

    Baby the Rain Must Fall, 1964

    Carpetbaggers, The, 1964

    Love with the Proper Stranger, 1964

    World of Henry Orient, The, 1964

    Hallelujah Trail, The, 1965

    Western Heritage Award

    Reward, The, 1965

    Seven Women, 1965

    Sons of Katie Elder, The, 1965

    Cast a Giant Shadow, 1966

    Hawaii, 1966

    Academy Award®Nomination, Best Original Score

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Song
    “My Wishing Doll”

    Golden Globe Award® Winner

    Return of the Seven, 1966

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Silencers, The, 1966

    Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967

    Academy Award® Winner, Best Original Score

    Bridge at Remagen, The, 1968

    I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, 1968

    Scalphunters, The, 1968

    Guns of the Magnificent Seven, 1969

    Gypsy Moths, The, 1969

    Midas Run, The, 1969

    True Grit, 1969

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Song
    “True Grit”

    Where’s Jack?, 1969

    Cannon for Cordoba, 1970

    Liberation of L. B. Jones, The, 1970

    Walk in the Spring Rain, A, 1970

    Big Jake, 1971

    Doctors’ Wives, 1971

    See No Evil, 1971

    Amazing Mr. Blunden, The, 1972

    Magnificent Seven Ride!, The, 1972

    Cahill: United States Marshal, 1973

    Deadly Honeymoon, 1974

    Gold, 1974

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Song
    “Wherever Love Takes Me”

    McQ, 1974

    Trial of Billy Jack, The, 1974

    Mr. Quilp, 1975

    Report to the Commissioner, A, 1975

    From Noon Till Three, 1976

    Incredible Sarah, The, 1976

    Shootist, The, 1976

    Slap Shot, 1977

    Animal House, 1978

    Billy Jack Goes to Washington, 1978

    Blood Brothers, 1979

    Meatballs, 1979

    Zulu Dawn, 1979

    Trust Me, 1980

    Airplane!, 1980

    Blues Brothers, The, 1980

    Great Santini, The, 1980

    Saturn III,1980

    American Werewolf in London, An, 1981

    Chosen, The, 1981

    Going Ape!, 1981

    Heavy Metal, 1981

    Honky Tonk Freeway, 1981

    Stripes, 1981

    Five Days One Summer, 1982

    Genocide, 1982

    Class, 1983

    Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, 1983

    Trading Places, 1983

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Ghostbusters, 1984

    Marie Ward – Zwischen Galgen und Glorie, 1984

    Prince Jack, 1984

    Black Cauldron, The, 1985

    Spies Like Us, 1985

    Legal Eagles, 1986

    Three Amigos!, 1986

    Amazing Grace and Chuck, 1987

    Leonard Part 6,1987

    Da!, 1988

    Funny Farm, 1988

    Good Mother, The, 1988

    Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, A, 1988

    My Left Foot, 1989

    Slipstream, 1989

    Field, The, 1990

    Grifters, The, 1990

    Cape Fear, 1991

    Oscar, 1991

    Rage in Harlem, A, 1991

    Rambling Rose, 1991

    Babe, The, 1992

    Mad Dog and Glory, 1992

    Age of Innocence, The, 1993

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Cemetery Club, The, 1993

    Good Son, The, 1993

    Lost in Yonkers, 1993

    Devil in a Blue Dress, 1995

    Frankie Starlight, 1995

    Roommates, 1995

    Search and Destroy, 1995

    Bulletproof, 1996

    Buddy, 1997

    Hoodlum, 1997

    Rainmaker, The, 1997

    Twilight, 1998

    Bringing Out the Dead, 1999

    Deep End of the Ocean, The, 1999

    Wild Wild West, 1999

    Keeping the Faith, 2000

    Far From Heaven, 2002

    Academy Award® Nomination, Best Original Score

    Golden Globe® Nomination, Best Original Score

About Eric Olsen