The Film Composers Guide

film_composer_guide

Paperback: 339 pages
Publisher: Lone Eagle Pub Co; 1st edition (1991)
Publisher: Lone Eagle Pub Co; 2nd edition (February 1994)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0943728576
ISBN-13: 978-0943728575
Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches

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A current and comprehensive reference book about film and composers has long been overdue, and Smith’s thorough guide will be a treasure trove for film music aficionados as well as movie makers or researchers seeking to contact film composers or compile a list of certain composers’ credits. Amid several pages of advertisements (for music studios, consultants, agents, even 3 eager film composers – none of whom, incidentally, are listed in the guide), Smith’s guidebook is divided into 3 parts. The first lists currently active film composers, from Michael Abene to Carl Zittrer. Each listing includes the composer’s contact agency (usually their agent or else ASCAP or BMI) and phone number, and a filmography of feature films, TV movies or miniseries (episodic TV series are not included, as Smith is concentrating on film composition, although the lack of TV episode scores does leave a misleading gap in some composers’ listings). Films scored are listed by title, year of American release, distribution company and country of origin, where this data is known.

The listings are designed for film producers or studios to select data on potential composers, but there is plenty of data here for film music fans to sink their teeth into. It’s especially gratifying to see the inclusion of Smith’s second segment, ‘Notable Composers of the Past’, 51 pages of similar listings for deceased composers. Part 3 is an Index of Film Titles which provides composers’ names listed by film title for those movies listed in the directory. All of which provides an outstanding reference source for the study and appreciation of film composers.

Smith’s guide is international in scope, all segments including American as well as European and Asian composers, although all the listings are dependent upon what Smith and his colleagues have been able to track down, or what composers choose to send in to him and/or the publisher, and some of the listings for foreign composers are noticeably incomplete. Smith also includes a list of original score Academy Award nominees and winners for 1977-1989, and an index of composers’ agents and managers.

There are some omissions, of course, though these are minor and hopefully will be corrected in the book’s later editions. Most of the omissions have to do with foreign composers. A cursory comparison between Smith’s Guide and the filmographies included in the 1987 ‘Film Music Around the World’ edition of CinemaScore (no. 15) reveals the following discrepancies: Ingmar Bergman’s first composer, Erland von Koch, is not listed, though his more familiar later composer, Erich Nordgren, is. Swiss composer Jack Trommer is not listed, nor is Spain’s Anton Garcia Abril, whose 30 years of film composing gave Spanish film music nearly 150 of its best scores.

Other Spanish composers like Jose Nieto and Jose Garcia Leoz are missing. Czech composer Zdenek Liska, who died in Prague in 1983, is included in the active composers segment, and Smith lists 25 of Liska’s 158 film scores, neglecting even HOST AGE AT BELLA VISTA, for which Liska won Best Music Prize at the 1981 Festival of Czech and Slovak Films. Other Czech composers like Lubos Fiser are omitted.

Dutch composer Loek Dikker is included, but is only represented by 3 films instead of the 11 listed in the 1987 CinemaScore. Alessandro Cicognini’s section lists only 39 scores instead of the 112 listed in CS, Australia’s Bill Motzing is given only 5 of the 15 scores listed in CS, Simon Walker is given only 1 of 26 scores, and so on. Yet other foreign listings, such as that of Pierre Jansen, Mario Nascimbene, Christopher Komeda and others seem quite accurate. American composer Burt Shefter is listed but not one of his best scores, 1953’s THE TALL TEXAN. There are strange typos, such as the listing, under Stanley Myers, of NATURE OF THE BEAST which lists Myers as “co-composer with Stanley Myers” (a typo for Hans Zimmer, whose own listing accurately shows the correct collaboration) – ditto Paul Zaza’s listing for A CHRISTMAS STORY, which lists collaborator Carl Zittrer as “Paul” Zittrer. But these are forgivable omissions and simple typos which do not detract from the guide’s overall usefulness. Smith’s hasn’t promised perfection.

Thankfully, though, Smith seems to avoid the kind of inaccuracies that plagued his predecessor in this type of guide, James Limbacher whose ‘Film Music: From Violins 10 Video’ was so riddled with errors that its usefulness came into question. Smith’s compilation doesn’t approach the intricate detail, however, of Cliff McCarty’s ‘Film Composers’ in identifying ghost-writers and tracked library music re-used subsequently as partial or whole scores. Tracked scores are simply eliminated and composer’s involvement with any aspect but a complete or collaborative feature-length score (i.e., a theme song here, a documentary score there, are-used score here, an adaptation of someone else there) is simply left out. In this sense, the listings are not entirely accurate, as they don’t paint a complete picture of the composer’s film musical output. However, the line had to be drawn somewhere and, within the context of what he’s set out to do, Smith’s handiwork is indeed precious as gold.

The fact that ‘The Film Composers Guide’ will be published annually is a big plus, allowing Smith to constantly revise and correct omissions, and keep the project constantly up to date. Kind of a Screen World for the film music world, and an absolute delight.

Randall D. Larson

Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.11/No.41,1992

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