LUKAS KENDALL / FILM SCORE MONTHLY
Since his first compilation albums from the 1950s – Backgrounds for Brando and Love Scenesfor Dot Records, in 1958 – Elmer Bernstein unofficially (and perhaps unconsciously) began preserving the fine work of his peers and idols.
During the 1960s, he started to re-record some of his own work, like The Ten Commandmentsfor United Artists Records, but his best-known albums were the classic 13 he produced & released between 1974-79 that made up the FIlm Music Collection. (A 14th album, the original score release of Jerry Fielding’s Scorpio, appeared on volume 11, and has since appeared on a 1991 Bay Cities compilation CD.)
The albums also spawned The Notebooks – composers talking shop in a series of newsletters that were published during the 1970s as an adjunct to the albums.
The original FMC run included re-recordings of Miklos Rozsa’s Thief of Bagdad (FMC-8), Madame Bovary (FMC-12) and Young Bess (FMC-5), and Alex North’s Death of a Salesmen and Viva Zapata (FMC-9).
Through the FMC run, Dimitri Tiomkin’s music for the Cinerama feature Search for Paradise - previously available on a mono RCA LP (and since reissued in Spain by RCA) – could finally be heard in stereo, coupled with The High and the Mighty (FMC-14). Tiomkin was also represented with Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Land of the Pharaohs (both on FMC-13, and one of the toughest in the series for collectors to acquire).
There was also Franz Waxman’s The Silver Chalice (FMC-3), Alfred Newman’s Wuthering Heights (FMC-6), and selections from Max Steiner’s Helen of Troy and A Summer Place (both FMC-1).
While Bernard Herrmann’s Ghost and Mrs. Muir (FMC-4) was a perfect choice, Bernstein also recorded Herrmann’s rejected music for Torn Curtain (FMC-10), making it possible to finally hear the music that kind of contributed to the breakup of Herrmann’s professional association with director Alfred Hitchcock. (Curtain was later re-recorded in a near-complete form by Joel McNeely in 1998 for Varese Sarabande, while 3 cues from the original aborted recording session – “Prelude,” “The Ship,” and “The Radiogram” – were released on a weak compilation album from MCA/Hip-O-Records in 1999, titled Alfred Hitchcock presents Signatures in Suspense.)
Bernstein also re-recorded his own score for To Kill A Mockingbird (FMC-7), plus some lesser-known works – The Miracle and Toccata for Toy Trains (both on FMC-2). The original mono recording for Toccata later appeared as the first and only release on Bernstein’s fledgeling Amber label, Music for Films by Charles and Ray Eames, Vol. 1.
A trio of titles, Thief of Bagdad, To Kill a Mockingbird, and, more interestingly Torn Curtain,were later reissued by Warner Bros. Records in 1978, and remained the easiest LPs in the series to find.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was later reissued by Varese Sarabande on LP, tape and CD. In 1985, Bernstein also used the Film Music Collection name to brand two albums featuring music from John Wayne films, recorded with the Utah Symphony Orchestra and produced by the late George Korngold; for obvious reasons, these digital recordings, released on LP, tape and CD, fall outside of the original 70s installments.
In 2006, the entire 13 album set was given new life in a deluxe boxed set by Film Score Monlthy, limited to 2000 copies. As Lukas Kendall explains on Page 2, the endeavor was a major production, and a bit of a dream project.
Mark R. Hasan: How big of a gamble is the FMC set for Film Score Monthly [FSM]?
Lukas Kendall: It was a gamble in that it’s the most expensive thing we’ve ever done, and just the manufacturing costs alone were very expensive — many, many times more expensive than a single disc release. Simply tying up any amount of cash in one project is a large gamble, but I was confident that it would sell.
MRH : When I spoke with Bernstein in 2000, he mentioned that he actually had six albums that were being cleaned up for release on his Amber label. How did FSM become involved with the project?
LK : I’ve been in touch with Elmer’s manager, Robert Urband, as well as Pat Russ, a great guy who orchestrated for Elmer, and while it was obviously very sad when Elmer passed away, after an appropriate period of time I contacted Robert and asked what was happening with the FMC materials. It was one of those things where they were weighing their options.
MRH : Was it their intention to release the albums one at a time, or did they have plans to assemble a boxed set?
LK : I don’t know. I think that Elmer certainly had some plans for the collection, but he was hampered by the same things that we came across, which was the fact that he was missing most of the masters.
The first five albums were recorded at one facility, but then they switched over to Olympic Sound Studios (except the North album, which was recorded at Anvil), and all of the masters for the later albums had gone missing, because Olympic had closed its doors at some point and told their artists, ‘Come and pick up your tapes,’ but people didn’t get word in time, so they threw out a great deal of the history of rock music — something that enrages many people to this day. A lot of Elmer’s masters were thrown out, and we had to make some of the discs from vinyl.
[Fortunately] there were three that we found from Warner Bros. Records for reissues, but I’m sure it was the same problem that Elmer was facing, so I don’t know if they had attempted to do at one time a boxed set; I always thought that a boxed set was something that made sense.
MRH : A couple of years ago I spoke with sound engineer Eric Tomlinson regarding William Walton’s Battle of Britain score. He found the master tapes at Anvil Studios, in Denham, sitting on the shelves before the studio was going to close and submit to the wrecker’s ball, and he was stunned at some of the extant material, such as Alex North’s rejected 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a temporary score that another composer had written for the same film.
LK : That must have been the Frank Cordell material. Well, it’s very sad. I’m not surprised, because I’ve sort of known about that. You hear about these things sometimes. In filmmaking, that happens.
MRH : The vinyl grade used for the FMC albums weren’t always the best. Was it a major challenge in bringing the LPs up to modern digital standards, and was it a costly endeavor?
LK : It is more costly. It’s one of the most frustrating things that happen when you’re working with vinyl, because not only is the quality not as good, but it’s more expensive too… We heard that the reputation for the FMC vinyl was quite bad, but we had the advantage of going through sealed copies of many LPs that Elmer still had in a house/studio in Santa Monica, where the tapes and records were stored, and I thought the [LP to CD] transfers were terrific.
There was only one album that really caused problems for the transfer, and that was the Alex North LP, and that was largely because it was a long LP — each side was twenty-six minutes — and a lot of it was very soft; it caused a lot of problems during the transfer, and we had to do it many times over from different copies. The others we were pleasantly surprised to find that they sounded pretty good.
I think that when people get the recordings, they’ll be able to tell which ones were from the vinyl — there’s no mistaking that — but it won’t be as obvious as you might think. It doesn’t dominate the experience, not at all.
MRH : Did Bernstein sell the distribution rights to three titles (The Thief of Bagdad, To Kill a Mockingbird, Torn Curtain) to Warner Bros. Records partly for the higher financial compensation, or was it an attempt to give the recordings broader distribution?
LK : I’m sure it was both. You know, I think I might have asked him about the collection once, years ago, and he was always a little bit short with people when they asked about the albums. I think they were a great frustration for him because he put a lot of his own money into them, and he was disappointed when he lost money — and he did lose money.
I know exactly how he feels, because this is sort of my life, where you break your back, you spend a ton of money to do something, and a few people think it’s wonderful, and the next thing they want to know is what else are you going to do? And then other people just sort of say, ‘Well, that was good,’ and just move on, and I don’t blame them at all, because that’s the nature of the marketplace. It is something that you have to emotionally prepare for when you do these albums: they don’t make a lot of money, you don’t get an award for them, and your life doesn’t change; your life goes on.
So he was a little frustrated, and to go back to your question, in 1978, by that time, he might have had enough of it, and wanted to just recoup his money, and he was grasping for any possibility of distribution or some white knight to come to the rescue. This is all speculation – Eve, his wife, might know – but for someone who had that long of a career, I think he was trying to wrap things up and get off the financial hook, and Warner Bros. helped. This is all speculation.
MRH : This may sound a bit naive, but how is it possible that composers wouldn’t retain high-quality sub-masters of a recording for their archives, particularly if they funded the production themselves?
LK : Well, that’s a little but of a loaded question. I don’t know. I’m sure Elmer was disappointed and a little bit embarrassed when asked a similar question. Again, I’m just guessing, but I do know how it happens, because you work with a facility with an intent and purpose and you learn to trust them.
Right now there’s a facility that I use here in Los Angeles, two of them in fact, and they’ve got my hard drives, they’ve got my backup tapes, they’ve got my archival elements; right now it’s all digital, but I don’t have any of them in my house — I trust the studio to take care of them. Over a career or decade, you sort of trust that you’re in good hands. So when someone screws you over, you get ambushed by what happens.
Don’t forget too that by the time the Film Music Collection was ending Elmer was back in vogue with all the comedies – Airplane and Ghostbusters and the like — so I’m sure he was very happily distracted by his composing career.
MRH : I understand that one of the reasons this set was made possible is because Bernstein retained the mail order rights – a very unusual type of distribution right.
LK : This is probably going into a type of legal technicality, but without getting deeply into it, we did have to review the contract between Elmer and Warner Bros. Records to find out exactly who owned the [three FMC albums], and he protected himself by saying that, even if Warner Bros. bailed on distributing those albums — which is what they did not long after they issued them — he could still sell them by mail order and make his money back. It was just a clause that he wisely put in there, and it’s fortunate that we found out about it
MRH : When I spoke with David Schecter at Monstrous Movie Music, he mentioned about ten years ago that someone actually recorded Bernstein’s early score for the exploitation quickie,Cat Women on the Moon, but nothing ever came of the recording, and I wonder, if in your experience, or even when you were researching Bernstein’s recordings, did you ever hear of peculiar examples of where someone actually went to the trouble of recording an entire score or suite, and for whatever reason, it never materialized?
LK : I’ve never heard that about Cat Women, but there was this Kings of the Sun album that Elmer recorded in 2003, and had never been released. It seems rare to me that someone would actually record a whole album and not release it, but these things do happen. It’s very personal to say, and very sad to say, but when you’re preoccupied with your health and your family and very important things like that, you’re not going to be worried about a record. I’m assuming that’s what happened with Elmer in the last year of his life.
MRH : If the FMC set does very well, do you think there’s a chance that some of Bernstein’s unreleased scores or rejected scores or even some of his more unique works for live theatre, for example, might have a chance of coming out on CD?
LK : I would hope so, and I think it is going to happen. It’s harder with that other material, because with the Film Music Collection, Elmer owned them, so we didn’t really need to get any other permission to do them; you have to pay the mechanical publishing royalties, but that’s a matter of paperwork, once the material is already on a record you don’t need anyone’s permission again, it’s a compulsory license.
All of these other things that you’re talking about are typically owned by others, and in the case of the theatre material, I don’t know who would own it, and it’s just as hard as a regular soundtrack might be, because then you have to have to get the studio involved and work things out. But at this stage, things are great, and I’m so grateful to the Bernstein Estate for providing and for working so hard to make this project a reality, and for being very inclusive.
MRH : Given the FMC boxed set is your biggest project to date, do you feel comfortable tackling not necessarily similar-sized projects, but something with a similar archival value, or another deluxe boxed set?
LK : I definitely want to do more boxed sets. I’m still waiting to see exactly what the reception will be for the Elmer set. They’re a little frustrating to collectors because they’re so expensive, and you don’t want to give the impression that you’re gouging people, because people have only a certain amount of money to spend, and if they have to spend $75-200, that’s a big investment.
I do like boxed sets because it’s something new and exciting for me, now that we have about 130 regular albums. I think it does offer the advantage of offering more material, and lets you be creative with the packaging and presentation; and then business-wise, it does help you save money, because you can amortize your costs. There are advantages to it, and I hope to do it again.
MRH : The way the Bernstein set is presented recalls the template that a small jazz reissue label called Mosaic Records uses. They essentially put out the most complete boxed sets of specific recording sessions, but while much of the music later on appeared on the major labels, what made the original limited sets so special were the incredible liner notes that were included in the booklets. They were often 20+ page booklets that contained a huge amount of archival material, rare stills, interviews, historical essays, and discographies — research material that’s too substantive and costly to reproduce by the major labels — so if FSM, for example, were to produce the occasional boxed set, in addition to the music, they would be offering a wealth of information that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
LK : I quite agree.
KQEK.com would like to thank Lukas Kendall for candidly discussing this speacial FSM project.
Elmer Bernstein’s Complete Film Music Collection is available through Screen Archives Entertainment
Elmer Bernstein’s The Notebooks is available from The Film Music Society
Read Dan Goldwasser’s 2000 interview with Bernstein at www.elmerbernstein.com
All images remain the property of their copyright holders
This interview © 2006 by Mark R. Hasan
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