An Interview with Gergely Hubai by Doug Raynes © 2014
Gergely Hubai hails from Budapest and used to lecture on film at Eotvos Lorand University. He is active in writing about film music for various publications and record labels. His book “Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores, a Selected History” provides a wealth of information about the little-known subject of rejected film scores and has received much praise. I first met Gergely in Prague in 2008 during Tadlow Music’s recording sessions for Miklós Rózsa’s EL CID, having previously corresponded with him when he began researching material for the book, which was not published until 2012 – so one can see just how long it took to bring the project to fruition.
What prompted you to research and write about rejected film scores?
I think it’s the fact that there was no book or any sort of reliable material on the subject. It was always just hearsay where every sentence would contain the words “allegedly” or “reportedly” and neither of these phrases was backed up by credible sources. I feel that film music is still such an under researched subject that you can break new grounds without being forced to quoting people for the sake of quoting – and that also attracted me towards the subject matter.
You’ve identified far more rejected scores from recent decades than from Hollywood’s Golden Age. I wonder whether this because in the past, studios trusted and respected their contract composers to provide the best possible score, whereas nowadays the composer is chosen more often by the director of the film who may be less confident of what sort of score he or she wants?
Yes, you have it right. In the Hollywood Golden Age, most of the rejections we know come from outsiders who weren’t part of the studio system, but wanted to break in. These “greenhorn newcomers” like Igor Stravinsky or Arnold Scoenberg had absolutely no idea about studio politics and ended up in my book as a result. There were some struggles within the studios as well, but thanks to the powerful musical directors you don’t get to experience any of that unless you consult some cue sheets or assorted documents.
However, the other reasons there are more rejected scores is that we’re simply better informed. Now we have newsletters and publicists announcing every major composer’s signing up for a new picture. If that composer’s name doesn’t end up in the credits, it’s very likely that a rejection occurred – one that we wouldn’t know about if we weren’t living in a society saturated with so much information.
Were all the composers you contacted or interviewed, eager to discuss their rejected scores or were some reluctant to go into details?
I don’t really know because the most frequent answer was no answer at all, so I have no idea if they didn’t receive my request or received it, but decided not to talk. Those that did agree to talk however were always very kind and informative as far as their careers allowed to do so. Retired composers were obviously more outspoken than the active ones who still had something to lose if they didn’t pay attention to what they said. There was only one composer who took his time and wrote a very long letter condemning my work and how awful I was. He shall remain nameless.
How often do you think personality conflicts, i.e. between director and composer, affect whether a score is rejected?
Most of the time it has something to do with that – you very rarely come across a musical or creative reason for a score replacement. Very often it’s something minor like the director not liking a single instrument, other times it’s the studio interference that can ruin even the most valued collaborationship – Universal’s meddling with TORN CURTAIN managed to break up Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann of all people! So I’d say yes, there’s usually an element of personal conflict involved even if we can later attach musical labels to the clash.
It’s interesting to read about scores which were originally rejected but which have subsequently been reinstated. One of those is AGE OF CONSENT, the DVD of which now has Peter Sculthorpe’s original score. Do you not think though, that it would be a good idea in such cases for a DVD to include both scores; with one as an alternative as was done with BATTLE OF BRITAIN?
Yes, in fact I just completed work on the restoration of Twilight Time’s USED CARS where the rejected score was placed in the movie as an isolated score. This marks the first time you can see that film with Ernest Gold’s magnificent original score and I think it’s a good purchase because you can hear some new music as well. Of course my preference would be to see a combined soundtrack with the rejected score mixed into the film the way it should have been, but that again requires too much extra work, so I think isolated scores are the way to go now. I also own several other rejected scores matched to the visuals (AIR FORCE ONE and CHINATOWN are two of my proudest items), but those are unlikely to be put on any sort of commercial release.
Would you like to see more films reinstated with the original score? If so which ones?
Obviously I’d love to see this feature on Blu-rays, even if not fully reinstated scores, but isolated scores at least. The two I mentioned (AIR FORCE ONE and CHINATOWN) would be very interesting for fans, but unfortunately isolated scores are still not as common as they could / should be.
There have been quite a few alternative scores for US/UK versions of films. You’ve detailed the history of NIGHT AND THE CITY and THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET but others, which you mention in passing, such as ANOTHER MAN’S POISON, BETRAYED and HIS MAJESTY O’KEEFE have not been included. Any reason for that?
Yes. This was a very strange legal battle between British and American composers that lasted until a decade. Simply put, there were two different systems to pay the composers: the British composers accepted less money, but insisted on keeping more assorted rights, while the American composers got more money by signing away most of the rights to the studios. When the American studios were forced into British co-productions, they had to hire British composers due to quota reasons, but they weren’t interested in any of their legal machinations. That’s why in so many cases they simply kept the British score in the British prints (and enjoy the tax cuts), then got a brand new score for the rest of the world – a score they owned like they did with all their properties. This is a very simplified explanation, but it covers the gist of the matters.
With some exceptions, your book concentrates on American films. Have you done any research into rejected scores in Europe? Is it less common in Europe for scores to be rejected than America?
I didn’t have a focus on American films, it’s just that there are more American films and definitely more score replacements in Hollywood than anywhere else. With the exception of the British A-list movies, most European productions simply don’t have the budget for musical replacement on a feature-length scale. If there’s a problematic part of the score, they’d have one or two scenes replaced – or just opt for silence. I’d say most European score replacements were due to legal issues and quota laws – see a host of Italian/Spanish westerns or French/Italian co-productions for example, but even in those cases the replacement would go as far as “crediting” another composer. Since you’re a fan or Miklós Rózsa, you may have heard about Carlo Savina’s token credit on the Italian print of EL CID. This was very frequent in Italy/France/Spain in the 1960s.
One of the most unusual entries is that of Amfitheatrof’s MAJOR DUNDEE – a score which wasn’t rejected, yet became a rejected score many years later (the only such example I think?) when it was decided to replace the score with a new one by Christopher Callendo. I don’t know what you think about it but I found that replacement questionable because it smacks of film history revisionism.
As long as the original prints aren’t destroyed and the original version is still available in some format, I don’t this is a big issue – the new score is just an alternate way to look at the film. I included MAJOR DUNDEE because it’s just such an unlikely venture, obviously fuelled by a few dedicated Peckinpah fans who felt that a new score could improve a film that’s hardly in the cream of the crop within the director’s canon. So I think it’s okay as long as the original is available as well…
That said, it’s funny how things got out of hand. A few years ago, one of the popular film music message boards had a heated topic where an obviously passionate crusade against Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for THE UNFORGIVEN, claiming that a new music score should be done like with MAJOR DUNDEE. Things obviously got out of hand and by the end of the thread everyone was an idiot to and from. Needless to say, it will never be done, because nobody gives a hoot about THE UNFORGIVEN to warrant a re-scoring costing thousands of dollars.
One of the biggest names in film music is Elmer Bernstein but he seems to have the dubious honour of having more scores rejected than any other composer – with John Barry a close second! Have you any theory as to why that should be?
Usually it’s easier to find out things on a case by case basis, but there are certain very clear trends that come up with the two gentlemen you mention.
Elmer Bernstein in particular had most of his replacements in the last two decades of his career which coincided with his love affair with the Ondes Martenot (a weird electronic instrument you may recall from scores like HEAVY METAL or GHOSTBUSTERS). It seems not everybody was such a big fan of this instrument as most of his rejected scores featured it and the sound was frequently quoted as a reason directors went with something else.
In the case of John Barry, he too had most of his scores replaced in the later stage of his career, mostly due to his uncooperative nature. Based on the interviews with the filmmakers, Barry wasn’t interested in any kind of discussion or modification of his cues – you got what you got and some producers simply didn’t pick up what they got.
How far do you think a replacement score has actually made a great deal of difference to a film as regards audience appreciation and critical reaction. In other words…how many rejected scores would have ruined a film, if any?
Frankly I don’t think many people would notice this and obviously the most frequent reason for musical replacement is that you can not change anything else by that point. These are the what if questions we’ll never get to know because the audience didn’t see the film with the unused score and we have no idea how the box-office performance would have been affected by that. What a handful of fans think is completely moot in the framework of the bigger picture – though they more often than not side with the original composer who was “humiliated” by those dumb studio executives.
You’ve written a book about Miklós Rózsa. Is that likely to be published soon?
Not likely, as I made the grave mistake of writing it in Hungarian, hoping that some publisher would be interested in a three-time Academy Award winning composer who happens to hail from our small country. But no such luck… The book is essentially a guide through Rózsa’s 100 film scores from his early days at writing newsreel fanfares to his last score in 1981.
I don’t think the readers will find out any new information about BEN-HUR from my book, but I think I did some groundbreaking research on the other lesser scene Rózsa titles like his early British quota quickies or things like JACARE or THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET. If an English publisher showed interest in this, it could be reconfigured in a very short time, so let me know if you know anyone.