Thursday, August 19, 2004


Elmer Bernstein is probably not a name that's immediately familiar to many. He's not a "celebrity" film composer like John Williams or Danny Elfman, but to film junkies like myself Bernstein is a major figure. He's been attached to more great movies than any composer I can think of, and by "great" movies I don't just mean "important" movies, I mean movies that, whether considered high-, low-, or middlebrow by people who consider those things, helped define their era. Just check out this resume to get some sense of the scope of the man's work.

Bernstein wasn't a show off, few of his film scores stand on their own (although his score for The Man with the Golden Arm is widely acknowledged as great modern jazz), but his music does what I think film music is supposed to do: subtly and effectively underscore the story without announcing itself. Okay, with that many films to his credit he's bound to have phoned it in a few times (The Three Amigos; would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?) but his throwaways are more than balanced by masterpieces such as The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and the aforementioned Man with the Golden Arm, and the simply greats such as The Grifters, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Sweet Smell of Success.

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