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On The Downbeat

On The Downbeat - Profiles:
* (April / May 2012) Jerry Goldsmith & The Films Of Michael Crichton

* (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012) Scoring The Films Of Ray Harryhausen
* (Sept ./ Oct.. 2011) Maurice Jarre

* (July 2011) Michael Kamen
* (May 2011) Basil Poledouris

PROFILE: July - 2011
MICHAEL KAMEN (1948 - 2003) - Film Music's Jack of All Trades 

Michael Kamen
     Few filmic artists of any discipline are talented, influential and downright hardworking    enough to, upon departure from life’s stage, leave behind a memorable contribution to the cinematic lexicon - something so popular and familiar, other artists continue to reference (and flat out rip off) years afterwards.  Dare say popular and familiar enough even with the general public so as to enter the realm of movie cliché.  When composer MICHAEL KAMEN prematurely passed at the age of 55 in November of 2003, he left behind not one but a handful of still such referenced milestones.  While the lay film fan may not recognize his name, they absolutely know his sound.
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Lethal poster
   Kamen's sound was that of the bluesy sax / guitar “conversation" which single-handedly created the voice of the modern noir anti-hero in LETHAL WEAPON - 1987.  His haunting collage of “pizzicato against a lush wall of strings and woodwinds” would become the life’s breath for a new generation of contemporary thriller, starting with THE DEAD ZONE (1983), continuing with SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (1987) and even rearing it’s neo-classical tonality in the darkest of James Bond entries LICENCE TO KILL (1989).  In the fantasy and adventure milieu he would emerge as TERRY GILLIAM’s favorite composer, penning the epic BRAZIL (1985) and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988) while giving similar classical gravitas to more commercial endeavors such as ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991), Disney’s 1993 version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, the animated classic THE IRON GIANT (1999) and one of the best of the comic book genre, BRYAN SINGER’s original X-MEN (2000).  And as for the archetypal action epic of the 1980s and 90s, well, … Kamen of course had no equal there.  The original DIE HARD trilogy, THE LAST BOY SCOUT, THE LAST ACTION HERO and even the adventure spoof HUDSON HAWK saw succinctly to that.  What even many film-music aficionados don’t realize however is that before his “second” career as a trend-setting cinema composer, Kamen had already excelled (and would continue to dabble the remainder of his life) in the pop world, composing acclaimed ballets as well as orchestrating and arranging for David Bowie, Aerosmith, Sting, Kate Bush, Jim Croce, Metallica, and most notably Pink Floyd on their legendary concept album THE WALL.    

* AUDIO CLIP *  LETHAL WEAPON (1987) - "Meet Martin Riggs" 

(analog source, some slight distortion)

                         Janis Ian
     Born in New York City in 1948, Kamen attended The High School of Music & Art (which would later merge with the “FAME” school - The High School of Performing Arts) then Julliard.  It was in high school while studying the oboe (an instrument which would feature prominently in many future scores) he met and became lifelong friends with future X-FILES composer MARK SNOW and singing-legend-in-the-making JANIS IAN.  He, Snow and another classmate would found THE NEW YORK ROCK & ROLL ENSEMBLE, a band fusing classical and rock, and with it launch themselves into the professional world.  They’d even back up Ian in a 1967 concert.   After composing a number of ballets and scores for short films, his first feature assignment was the 1976 SEAN CONNERY political thriller THE NEXT MAN.  In it Connery plays a Saudi Arabian ambassador attempting to broker peace with Palestine, and CORNELIA SHARPE is an international assassin hired to kill him but who falls for him instead.  Even though not yet 30 years old, Kamen would fashion a mature score, infusing what would become his signature “pizzicato against lush strings/woodwinds” (most notably on the track “Magic City”) with an autumnal sadness befitting Connery’s character who’s seen a life of violence and now wants only a modicum of peace.  A handful of minor films would follow, including the 1982 “B” cult movie fave VENOM with KLAUS KINSKI, OLIVER REED, NICHOL WILLIAMSON and SARAH MILES terrorized by a super serpent.  And while the film was dismissed by critics (LEONARD MALTIN quips “Half the big-name cast appears to be drunk; the other half looks as though it wishes it were”) it and THE NEXT MAN would lead to his “A” list breakthrough when legendary producing mogul DINO DE LAURENTISS hired him to score DAVID CRONENBERG’s 1983 film adaptation of STEPHEN KING’s THE DEAD ZONE starring CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, BROOKE ADAMS and MARTIN SHEEN.  In Kamen’s own words:

Walken-The Dead Zone

     “THE DEAD ZONE was my first ‘Hollywood’ picture. I think I was hired by accident.  Fate plays a major role in the story of the film, and my life.  It had been my favorite Stephen King novel.  I found the Christopher Walken character to be tragic and melancholic.  The 'Gift' of prescience, the result of a near fatal accident and prolonged coma proves to be the sad undoing of an innocent man.  His lost years, lost love and lost experiences provoked a profound emotional response from me.

    I was living in London, working with Pink Floyd when the call came in.  I wrote the score in ten days, pounding on a piano through the night with the windows wide open.  Very early one morning a distraught looking neighbor in a nightgown rang my doorbell.  She was trembling as she said, ‘Please, please stop playing the piano … You’re scaring me and my family to death, we’re having nightmares, we can’t sleep … Please stop!'  I knew then I must have been doing something right‘”  

                 Excerpted from liner notes: THE DEAD ZONE: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
                                                               1994 Milan Records - 7313835694-2    

* AUDIO CLIP *  THE DEAD ZONE (1983) - "Opening Titles"

     While certainly initially inspired by a theme from the second movement of JEAN SIBELIUS' “Symphony Nr. 2 in D”, THE DEAD ZONE was pure Kamen, it’s delicately haunting yet bold motifs (often with a bass line of gently pounded timpani) the perfect emotional underpinning for director Cronenberg’s interpretation of  “Stephen King’s Greek tragedy if painted by Norman Rockwell”.  When Christopher Walken’s Johnny Smith can’t cry, Kamen’s music does so for him.  So memorable was Kamen’s score in fact, it would influence the sound of thrillers for the next 20 years, most notably Howard Shore’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. 

    Avoiding being typecast, Kamen would follow up next with his first Terry Gilliam collaboration BRAZIL in 1985.  Kamen’s personal wit (a perfect match for Gilliam’s Pieter Bruegel-inspired visual humor) would cut loose in a score beginning as an adaptation of Barosso/Russell’s song standard “Aquarela do Brasil” and evolving into an epic orchestral adventure mash-up of James Bondian proportions.  Doing a musical “180” he would that same year, with guitarist ERIC CLAPTON, create a jazz/blues fusion sound for director Martin Campbell’s (CASINO ROYALE, THE MASK OF ZORRO) acclaimed BBC mini-series EDGE OF DARKNESS.  Written by TROY KENNEDY MARTIN (KELLY'S HEROES, the original THE ITALIAN JOB, RED HEAT) DARKNESS was a multi-layered character piece cum thriller about a cop (JURASSIC PARK’s Bob Peck) searching for the truth behind his activist daughter’s death, then stumbling across a stolen shipment of plutonium in the hands of an eco-terrorists group.  He and Clapton would receive a BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television) Award for EDGE OF DARKNESS; and director RICHARD DONNER & action producer JOEL SILVER would ask Kamen to expand on that sound for their in-the-works extravaganza  LETHAL WEAPON.  Adding saxophone legend DAVID SANBORN into the mix the trio of Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn would collaborate on three more WEAPON scores between 1987 - 1998.  But their collaborations wouldn’t be limited to the MEL GIBSON / DANNY GLOVER buddy flicks.  In 1988 Kamen would work with Clapton on the MICKEY ROURKE / Christopher Walken boxing drama HOMEBOY, then in 1990 release the critically acclaimed “Concerto For Saxophone and Orchestra” featuring Sanborn … along with a nifty guest appearance by Clapton on one track.

John McClane - die-hard photo
     Kamen would become the “King of the Action Film Score” during this era, most of them along the lines of the original DIE HARD trilogy and THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991) for producer Silver.  While managing to infuse them with wit (DIE HARD slyly integrates classic Christmas melodies) and creativity (he’d collaborate with keyboardist HERBIE HANCOCK on ACTION JACKSON - 1988, blues vocalist DR. JOHN on HUDSON HAWK - 1991, and rock guitarist BUCKETHEAD on THE LAST ACTION HERO - 1993) he began to tire of the genre.  He’d never truly abandon the action mileu, but his return visits would only be for a project which struck his personal fancy - ROBIN HOOD because as he’d say “I’d been writing music for that character in my head since I was kid”, LICENCE TO KILL because “scoring a Bond film is a once in a lifetime opportunity” and X-MEN because of it’s potent indictment of bigotry and intolerance). 

* AUDIO CLIP *  X-MEN (2000) - excerpt "THE X-JET"  

     Entering the final phase of his career his most personal works would include DON JUAN DEMARCO - 1994 (one of his personal favorites),  the HBO mini-series FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, as well as the existential drama WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (both in 1998);  Brad Bird’s animated adventure THE IRON GIANT - 1999,  BAND OF BROTHERS - 2001 and his final film score - to Kevin Costner’s western OPEN RANGE in 2003.  AGAINST THE ROPES as well as FIRST DAUGHTER and BOO, ZINO & THE SNURKS (all 2004), were filmed before but released after OPEN RANGE. 

Band of Brothers

     In 1996, he’d compose another of what would be his personal favorite scores, MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS, for the film starring Richard Dreyfus as a frustrated composer who’s artistic passion is reignited while teaching the joy’s of music to children.  And he’d be so moved by the film’s message, he would go on to found THE MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS FOUNDATION, dedicated to supporting music education by getting new and refurbished instruments into the hands of children who couldn’t otherwise afford to purchase them.  One year later he would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; then weakened after a six year battle with the disease, die of a heart attack on November 18, 2003.  He’d leave behind his beloved wife SANDRA KEENAN-KAMEN and two daughters, SASHA and ZOE - the three to whom he had dedicated every album/CD he ever released.  Well, sort of.  The one notable exception was his soundtrack to the 2001 HBO mini-series BAND OF BROTHERS, which he not only dedicated to “Sandra, Sasha and Zoe” but also to his uncle - his father’s twin brother, CAPT. PAUL KAMEN, who was killed at Remagen three days before the end of the war in Europe.

                                                          CEJ - July 2011

                                                     link to THE MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS FOUNDATION

Mr Holland's Opus Foundation
     MICHAEL KAMEN filmography:

2007 Ultrasordine (short)

2004 First Daughter
2004 Boo, Zino & the Snurks
2004 Against the Ropes
2003 Open Range
2001 Band of Brothers (TV mini-series)
2001 Mr. Dreyfuss Goes to Washington (TV documentary)
2000 X-Men
2000 Frequency
2000 Metallica: S&M (TV special documentary)
1999 The Iron Giant
1998 What Dreams May Come
1998 Jerry Seinfeld: 'I'm Telling You for the Last Time' (TV special)
1998 Lethal Weapon 4
1998 From the Earth to the Moon (TV mini-series)
1997 The Winter Guest
1997 Event Horizon
1997 Remember Me?
1997 The Heart Surgeon (TV movie)
1997 Inventing the Abbotts
1996 101 Dalmatians
1996 Jack
1995 Mr. Holland's Opus
1995 Stonewall
1995 The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies (TV documentary)
1995 Die Hard: With a Vengeance
1995 Circle of Friends
1994 Don Juan DeMarco
1993 The Three Musketeers
1992-1993 Tales from the Crypt (TV series)
– Death of Some Salesmen (1993)
– Split Personality (1992)
– Showdown (1992)
– The New Arrival (1992)
1993 Wilder Napalm
1993 Last Action Hero
1993 Splitting Heirs
1992 Blue Ice
1992 Lethal Weapon 3
1992 Shining Through
1992 Two-Fisted Tales (TV movie) (segment "Showdown")
1991 The Last Boy Scout
1991 Let Him Have It
1991 Company Business
1991 Hudson Hawk
1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
1991 Nothing But Trouble
1991 Michael Kamen: Concert for Saxophone (video documentary)
1990 Die Hard 2
1990 The Krays
1990 Cold Dog Soup
1989 Lethal Weapon 2
1989 Licence to Kill
1989 Renegades
1989 Road House
1989 Rooftops
1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
1988 The Raggedy Rawney
1988 Homeboy
1988 Die Hard
1988 Crusoe
1988 For Queen & Country
1988 Action Jackson
1987 Suspect
1987 Someone to Watch Over Me
1987 Rita, Sue and Bob Too!
1987 Adventures in Babysitting
1987 Lethal Weapon
1986 Shoot for the Sun (TV movie)
1986 Shanghai Surprise
1986 Mona Lisa
1986 Amazing Stories (TV series)
– Mirror, Mirror (1986)
1986 Highlander
1985 Edge of Darkness (TV mini-series)
1985 Brazil
1983 The Dead Zone
1983 Angelo My Love
1981 Venom
1981 Polyester
1980 S+H+E: Security Hazards Expert
1979 Boardwalk
1977 Stunts
1977 Between the Lines
1976 Liza's Pioneer Diary (TV movie)
1976 The Next Man
1976 Rodin mis en vie (short)

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