Jump to: navigation, search

The Guardian (29/Dec/1971) - Henry Mancini



Henry Mancini

HENRY MANCINI has written some of the most romantic, the most dramatic, and the most amusing film music. On the day in question, however, Mr Mancini was not showing a glimmer of any of these facets, of his character, since he had fallen foul of an English hamburger the night before whilst working frenetically with the orchestra on Alfred Hitchcock's latest picture, "Frenzy." Mancini, who is a quiet Mid-Westerner, tall and elegant in a subdued fashion, was pacing up and down the suite of his Park Lane hotel, gently massaging his abdomen and speaking with little more force than a whisper.

He was quick to dispel the illusion that a film score is an original art form. To write one requires, it seems, more than a musical gift. A mind like a computer is equally necessary, for the whole problem, he explains is, using the restrictions and making it come out sounding like something. Knowing that you have to compose a piece of music which will indisputably convey passion or fear or hilarity, and which will last for precisely two minutes, three and a third seconds, is not merely a discipline, says Mancini, but a work rule.

His scores for "Days of Wine and Roses," and the haunting "Moon River" theme from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" both brought him Oscars in separate categories. Surprisingly, his inspiration for these pieces came not from reading Truman Capote's beguiling novel, but from watching the film, and watching it, as is always his wont, without taking a single note. Even reading the shooting script would, he says, be of no use to him, since in "Tiffany's" for example, it might have described the party scene in three lines, whereas in reality the director let it run for 25 minutes.

Therefore he likes to see the film nearly finished and completely edited: "If you are required to write a piece that lasts 31 minutes and afterwards they cut a minute, you can see that it will mess up your composition a little bit. Let them cut it before you write it" (He has. of course, lost bits on the cutting room floor, but never to the extent that made a mockery of the end product.)

It works like this. Mancini sits down on his own morning and afternoon throughout a week, watching the film. On the last showing he will have a confab with the director about where the music will go, and after that he will have a schedule, with all his slots calculated down to the last third of a second. Into this framework he will compose as many pieces as are needed and each is sufficient unto itself. He thinks that the film is somehow imprinted on him, and translated into music because he has subconsciously distilled its dramatic or romantic essence. "You really have to dig into it in order for it not to become just another background score with no meaning to it. If you get a particular performance it might throw you into a certain type of melodic strain or harmonic background that you couldn't get if you didn't get down into the character a bit." Sometimes, as with "Days of Wine and Roses," a theme will suggest itself to him from the first time he sees the film, and he will let it grow and develop with each subsequent viewing.

"Frenzy" is Mancini's first picture with Alfred Hitchcock and he has thought a lot about how to engender tension musically. "But it's funny," he says, "if this same film had been done 10 years ago it would have had twice as much music in it. The whole attitude is changing. If you have a good scene going on the screen, you let them play it. It has all got very, very sensitive, whereas before you could get away with just about anything. I enjoy doing 'scary' pictures immensely." (He has scored "Wait Until Dark," "Grip of Fear," "Shot in the Dark," and "The Pink Panther.")

"You want to know how I go about scaring people? Really it is a matter of colours. Of using the orchestra in various combinations to create tension. 'Frenzy' is a very low-key picture about a neck-tie murderer, and what I have done is to just cut off the orchestra round middle C. There is no high ; there are no violins nor high flutes: it is all from there down with ten cellos, ten violas, basses, horns, bassoon, and bass flutes ... none of the screeching, high, intense sounds that would be thought a little melodramatic today. It is very sparse ... there's not a lot going on, but what there is will, I trust, sound pretty spooky."

There is less music in films today, says Mancini, because directors and cameramen have learned so many new techniques in the past five years that there is much more on the screen to hold the eye. "In the old so-called classics you had two people stuck up there on the screen and the music was needed, it seemed, to give it another dimension. But with the way they cut nowadays, and the way they shoot, there is much more interest." Not more quality, he adds sombrely, but more interest

Classical music, Mr Mancini refers to as "the other." "It's fine. Sure, I like to listen to it, but I never wanted to write it. Take so-called contemporary symphonic music ... some real trash has been written there, perhaps a bigger ration than has been written for films. People who regard film composers as whores are merely snobs. Sometimes envious snobs. What it is, is not the point. It is how good it is."

How would he like his music to be remembered. "Often!" He gives his first laugh. "And I would like to be thought of as having done the right things more often than the wrong things. Nobody is perfect. I like to work a lot and when you accept a lot of pictures you cannot expect the standard of the films to be consistently high. I work fast and easily, and to order. The 'Frenzy' score took me three weeks. Sometimes it can take as much as five to write one."