A Moving Image of Elliot Goldenthal

The Need for Orchestras

FRANK J. OTERI: The orchestra is a very large organization. Certainly with recorded sounds and with electronics people are creating film scores with many fewer people. Your breakthrough film score Drugstore Cowboy certainly doesn’t have a large orchestra. It works with electronics and does some really, really fascinating things. Is it necessary to have an orchestra to really flush out a film?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Obviously not. But on a movie like Interview with a Vampire or any of the Batmans I did, you need that orchestral tonnage. You need that, as Stravinsky called it, testicular weight. To give the audiences what they feel they deserve when they walk in. They want to hear that big orchestral sound that takes them for a ride. It really is sort of a carryover and a true extension of what people expect when they went to grand opera. It’s expectation. You see these giant cinematic images of heroism and it’s very, very difficult to provide what you need dramatically with a few instruments.

FRANK J. OTERI: There is something almost quaint and silly about seeing a silent film accompanied by an upright piano. Here you have this big chase scene (laughing) and they’re just kind of running up the scale and down the scale.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Every movie has its own, again, task. You have to say, what is this about? What do I have to accomplish here? What set of instruments? Whether it’s one instrument or no instruments or a large orchestra? What does it really feel like it needs? Sometimes it’s very, very mundane kind of reasons. It’s their studio. It’s a franchised movie. They need to make back a hundred million dollars so there’s a certain expectation that you need to fulfill for the audience at one point. Other times it’s an art house movie. It’s kind of unusual. You can really, really experiment. There’s not the crazy need to make back tons of money for the producers. The directors are less nervous and they tend to let you experiment more.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, a lot of people go to these heroic movies with big orchestra scores. They hear that and expect that, as you said. But that might be the only time a lot of people ever hear an orchestra. These are people who don’t go to symphony orchestra concerts. Yet the sound of the orchestra is still a part of their lives. There are lots of people who say the orchestra is this antiquated dinosaur that is not relevant to America and that it is not relevant to the 21st century. But clearly it is when it’s in these film scores that so many people see.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Clearly it is. And they are being exposed to very avant-garde things in the orchestra that if they heard [the same music] in the concert hall, they’d just think it was really weird and they’d walk out.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, or they wouldn’t be in the concert hall to begin with. The argument that I use all the time is the people who are open to many of these new ideas are people the concert hall, for some reason, is not attracting.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: That’s right. I couldn’t agree with you more and the orchestra is, indeed, part of their life.