Will success spoil Danny Elfman?
While the Oscar-nomination announcements on Tuesday, February
10th were short on surprises, there were two earth-shattering revelations for
soundtrack aficionados: the nominations for Danny Elfman's Good Will Hunting
(Best Dramatic Score) and Men in Black (Best Musical or Comedy Score).
Despite being one of the most popular and influential film composers to work
in the past decade, Elfman has never received an Academy Award nomination, although
many would peg his scores for Batman, Edward Scissorhands and
Pee Wee's Big Adventure as worthy of the award itself.
No one was more surprised by the double-nomination than Elfman himself. "It's
making me bewildered," he explains. "It's a situation where I'm so
accustomed to being excluded from that club that that's become my happy, accepted
norm. It's like someone trying to get into a private club for many years, and
at some point being very content being that kind of outsider. So now it's challenging
my reality. I'm neither upset nor ecstatic; I'm bewildered.
"I wasn't even aware that the nominations were happening," he explains,
pointing out that he'd deliberately shut himself off from the process after
having been a member of the Academy's music board several years ago. "That's
how far removed I got. When Richard [Kraft, his agent] called me at six in the
morning, I couldn't figure out what he was talking about! I was like, 'What?'"
Being nominated not once but twice has Elfman really confused. "I suppose
if it was Men in Black I might have said, cynically, 'Oh, that's because the
movie did so well,'" Elfman admits. "But obviously that's not the
case. Good Will Hunting would have never been called that kind of hit in a million
years. I've worked on many, many popular movies, and I'm very glad for the sake
of my family and my children. I'm like that hermit in the woods with a beard
having somebody run up to them with an invitation and saying you're invited
to the ball." Or maybe Elfman feels like Carrie White being invited to
the high school prom, and he's afraid the Academy is going to drop a bucket
of pig's blood on him? "That's great!" Elfman laughs. "That's
exactly how I feel!"
For years, Elfman was seemingly anathema to the music-branch
members of the Academy. "There's obviously been some big shift somewhere,"
Elfman admits. The Academy rejection of Elfman had become highly focused and
personal; he alone among his generation of self-taught orchestral composers
had seemingly been singled out, with other composers like Hans Zimmer being
nominated and even winning the Oscar (for The Lion King). "The rumors
about me have been so viciouspeople claiming that Shirley Walker wrote
the score to Batman, that I had ten composers working with me on Mission:
Impossible. Maybe there's some contingent of people who just threw up there
hands and said, 'oh, what the hellmaybe he does do his own work.'"
One scenario is that younger, more open composers are moving
in, while older, conservative members are moving outbut Elfman isn't sure.
"A lot of the worst things I hear come from younger composers," Elfman
points out. "They're picking it up as if it's common knowledge, and it's
hard not to be disturbed by that. It's easier to think of some old farts stubbornly
clinging on to their misconceptions."
While Elfman has had his problems with the Academy, he's vocal
about the good the annual Oscar race does for films that are off the beaten
track. "I'm happy for the sake of Good Will Hunting," he points
out. "It's an underdog picture and I'm very happy to contribute in any
way to the success of that. I love it when a movie likes that takes off. I've
always been aware that the Academy has an ability to take a smaller film like
The Sweet Hereafter and really bring it into the public eye, and that's
a part of the Academy that I've always supported. Anything that gets people
to expand their viewing of film is great."
Now that Elfman has been invited, will he actually attend the ceremonies? "It
never occurred to me," he says. "I've generally shied away from that
kind of thing. Those types of things freak me out. The ceremonies I like to
go to are like little funky ones, like the [Academy of Science Fiction] Saturn
Whatever happens on Oscar night, Danny Elfman seems to be grudgingly accepting
the fact that Oscar nominators like him... they really, really like him. "I'm
skeptical and bewildered," the composer repeats, "but that doesn't
keep me from being flattered and honored."