An Interview with Georges Delerue by Matthias Büdinger
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.9/No.33/1990
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven
Georges Delerue recently has made a remarkable compositional transition from music of the “heart” to music of “crime” – to paraphrase the title of a picture he scored two years ago. He has changed his image and broadened his versatility with pictures such as PLATOON and SALVADOR which required harsher and more “neutral” scores rather than the soft and emotional style Delerue has been known for during the last thirty years.
The score he has just composed for Latin American director Bruno (GABRIELA) Barreto’s SHOW OF FORCE, which opens in April, 1990, belongs – as the title indicates – to the “crime” category; however this does not imply that there aren’t cues of lyrical beauty and poetic reflection in the music. In one scene, Delerue delicately scores solo flute and guitar in unison over a soft background of strings. Another moving cue features eloquent violin soli. In some cues there are just high strings playing sustained chords providing an almost Herrmannesque feeling of nostalgia and despair, whereas Delerue’s way of creating tension with tremolo string clusters really has become a cliché in film music.
Starring Amy Irving, Robert Duvall and Andy Garcia, SHOW OF FORCE is a kind of Puerto Rican ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, depicting the political situation in Puerto Rico during the red paranoia in the late ‘70s. In the words of production executive Tom Gray, it’s a film about “the alienation of America’s attitude toward Puerto Rico” and about “a woman in jeopardy”. Tom Gray wanted to show Puerto Rico as it really is, in opposition to the clichéd image of WEST SIDE STORY. The film delineates the “American way of life as a corruptible thing” and uncompromisingly stresses the “colonizing mentality” of America, according to Gray.
There were some disagreements between Delerue and director Bruno Barreto, forcing the composer to rewrite and rearrange certain cues. Delerue also had to write some rollicking marching band music as source music; the recording of this music aroused some unpleasant souvenirs of his own military time during World War II – and he narrated (and performed) for the orchestra an amusing episode of how he always got imprisoned.
Production Exec Tom Gray said of Delerue’s involvement in the film: “Bruno and I had decided early on that we wanted Georges to due the music, because we both had been great fans of his music. Just hearing it now is to watch the master. It’s just chilling. He has given this picture such soul. It has been really great to work with him; I’d love to work with him again. But I always want to find the right film for Georges.”
Note: Our conversation was held in French and took place on Dee 15, 1989. I have to thank Mrs. Gabriele Clermont Blum for her assistance in translating into German. I then faithfully translated the interview into English, with final draft editing by Randall D. Larson. – MB
Georges, how did you approach this film?
I have treated it more dramatically than I usually do. It’s nearer to the spirit of SALVADOR. As this film takes place in Puerto Rico, I wanted a little perfume to give it an idea of the country (but not using folk music). So there are rhythms in the South American style from time to time. To me, this film is interesting because it’s a departure. I like to write lyrical music, but not always. I like to write action music as well.
Nevertheless, you’ve written some very melancholy pieces of music for this film, for instance in the cue with the solo violin.
Yes. It’s not always automatically the same spirit for certain scenes. In some scenes you need moments of lyricism. This film is not only a picture about war but also about pure emotions. But the Main Title music immediately shows that we are in a dramatic and also a political film.
How much music have you written for the picture?
In reality, I’ve written 47 minutes of music, but we recorded alternates. The director, Bruno Barreto, didn’t agree to some things, and wanted me to arrange certain cues differently to have some options. For example, he wasn’t sure about the End Title music. I wrote extremely dynamic and sonorous music with lyrical elements. When we recorded this music, Bruno said, “This is maybe too much for the film. Let’s try some different things.” So we recorded additional music as alternatives for different scenes. We ended up recording an hour and four minutes of music.
Why wasn’t Bruno content with the End Title music?
He thought it was too lyrical and the orchestra was too big. So I wrote music with reduced elements for guitar, flute and oboe. Now, after having listened to the mixing, Bruno totally agrees to what I did in the beginning. I was sure that I was right with the grand orchestra version, because in the film there are many dramatic and sad things happening. If we had done less dynamic music in the end there would have been the risk of boredom.
Yesterday you recorded some percussion cues with various rhythmic patterns which lasted only a few seconds. But it took a long time to do it. Don’t you think that effort was exaggerated because in the actual film the audience won’t care about the rhythm?
This is part of the small details you have to observe when writing a film score. It’s not a question of art but of technique. It doesn’t need any inspiration. We just wanted to have a choice, so we recorded several alternatives.
What are your next assignments?
There are several projects. First there’s a film called JOE VERSUS VOLCANO – I don’t have to write much original music but I do have to conduct much classical music for the film: Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Smetana and Rossini. The director is John Patrick Shanley and it’s his debut. He wrote the book for MOONSTRUCK.
I’ll do a film called TRUE COLOR with Herbert Ross. I may do a film directed by Martin Sheen and starring Charlie Sheen – I’ll watch the film next Monday in Los Angeles. Another film I’ll do – I’ve forgotten the title, but it stars Natassja Kinski and is directed by Christopher Cleveland. I may also do a French film by Francis Girod with Daniel Auteuil – this film is about the memoirs of Lacenaire, a historical figure which appeared in Marcel Carne’s film, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS. He was a poet and a criminal and died on the guillotine.
That’s a lot to do! How many films will you score next year?
I think maybe four films.
You mean in January?! [Laughing].
[Laughing] No, because I’ve written for myself as well. I wrote a ‘Mouvement Concertant pour Orchestre’ for the Capitol in Toulouse. It’s composed but not yet orchestrated. The signature is different from my film scores; it’s more classical. The Toulouse Orchestra will perform the piece in the 1990/1991 season, but I won’t conduct myself. They’ll also go on tour trying to make my music known abroad, in Europe and also in America. It’s a very big orchestra, and it will be a big event.