Listening to movies, 1994
By Frank Karlin
DANNY ELFMAN, who has been associated with director Tim Burton
on many films, including Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward
Scissorhands (1990), and Batman Returns (1992), had grown up interested
in modern symphonic music and the classic film scores. "The composers I loved
growing up were Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Ravel, and Bartok. My knowledge
of classical music is very much limited to these composers. The fact is, I may
very well be quoting Mahler and Wagner, but (laughs) through Herrmann or Korngold
or Rozsa or Franz Waxman. It's second-hand knowledge; my knowledge of film music
is considerably better than my knowledge of classical music. "By the time I
was 15, I could listen to movies and say, 'That's a Goldsmith score, that's
a Korngold score, that's an Alfred Newman score."
That's around the time he began playing music. "Somewhere in
high school I picked up violin, because I knew I was graduating, and I just
wanted to take a small instrument up, and take it with me. And I literally flipped
a coin between the flute and the fiddle, and it was a fiddle. I could go home
and I could pick up anything really quick, but I wasn't learning to read music.
I was memorizing everything. i ended up getting hired into a troupe called the
Grand Magic Circus that my brother was performing with, as a conga drummer.
And I toured France and Belgium, even though I'd only been playing for three
months. It was very avant-garde, and they did not care about technique.
"I was 18, and I spent a year in West Africa. And my brother,
Richard, came back and started what became The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingothe
predessor to Oingo Boingo, the rock band. It was really musical street-theater.
What I started doing was picking up all kinds of instruments. Suddenly, in 1978,
I was in a rock band.
"Tim [Burton] and Paul [Reubens, aka "Pee Wee Herman"] came to
me. Tim was a fan of the bandhe used to come to Oingo Boingo concerts.
And Paul Reubens heard a film I did back in '78, for my brother, called Forbidden
Zone. Although it wasn't a legitimate score, it was a strange little film
score for an extremely low-budget movie.
"I don't know why they wanted to call me in. I think they were
really just interviewing nontraditional composers, and my name came up. And
in meeting them, we kind of hit it off. But I still wasn't convinced that I
had any right to do it. When I found out they were interested in me, that's
where I started to get cold feet. My manager came in and said, 'Look, try it.
What have you got to lose?' Well, ruining this young Mr. Burton's first film,
how about that? I wrestled with it, and I finally decided, what the hell. I'll
give it a whack, and if I fail dismally, at least I'll know that I tried."
The Tim Burton-Danny Elfman teaming has been very successful,
and they do have an affinity for each other's vision, the most important factor
in a meaningful collaboration. One of the most interesting films they have worked
on together is Edward Scissorhands, in which the tone of the film and
the texture of the score augment each other perfectly.