A Moving Image of Elliot Goldenthal

Discovering the Role of Music in Film

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, to take it a little bit backwards with a question, when were you first aware, in your training or as a child, about music in a motion picture as an entity in and of itself, separate from the film?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: I’d have to say when I was a really little boy, four or five or something, these horror films from the 1930s would come on, like Frankenstein or Dracula, and the music would scare me completely. I remember folks saying to me that if you take the music off, it’s not frightening. You know, then the images just looks kind of silly, and they were right. I think that was my first childhood memory of how synchronization of music and drama work together. Then, of course, as a teenager there used to be a theater in Manhattan called the Thalia. Basically it was the only art theater. What was lovely about it was that you could see real cinema. Whether it was John Ford, Truffaut, Hitchcock, or whatever, you got to really learn about cinema. I became a cinema buff, and through that I was very excited about that very, very, very new art form.

Can you imagine being around for the very beginnings of opera within the first century of its development? Or anything else? I mean its very exciting that it’s such a new art form.

FRANK J. OTERI: So is that what you were initially driven to do? Were you thinking at time, even as a young person, that you wanted to write music for film?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I felt that I could contribute in that medium. It’s what seems comfortable to me and others.

FRANK J. OTERI: But in the early years when you were training as a composer, certainly you couldn’t just turn around and write music for film and expect…

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Well, sure you can.

FRANK J. OTERI: …So, were you working at that time?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Yeah, student films. Sure, I signed myself up at NYU. I put a note up on a bulletin board saying that I’ll do any score for free if they could pay for the musicians. I did maybe thirty or forty little five-minute films.


ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: …and then learning with students the lingo of film, about editing, etc. You make a director, in the meeting that you have with him, very comfortable because you’re approaching it from the film side and not the music side.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now you were doing this at the same time that you were studying composition formally and discovering the concert hall repertoire…


FRANK J. OTERI: … string quartets, and all these sorts of pieces. But there was a love for doing that as well. Did you see them as two separate worlds?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Oh, absolutely not. No. You have to use different muscles but you’re basically swimming in the same ocean. Every task has a set objective that you have to accomplish. Whether it’s an oboe concerto or whether it’s an opera or a ballet. They’re all so different in the way they’re approached. Think about Hindemith and his sonatas. You can see how practical he was in composing these sonatas. He took every instrument, very specifically, and wrote for it very effectively, as opposed to just writing music. Every task is different.

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