Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Movie Scores I Love II"

We are away at the moment.  I am filling with samples of my favorite movie scores.  Well, not “filling.”  No, yeah – filling.  Anyway, I hope you like them.

Once again, I did not find the YouTube clip I was looking for.  But this one’s pretty good.

I met the great film composer Jerry Goldsmith at the hotel we were staying at in Hawaii.  My friend Ken Levine who knew him was gracious enough to introduce me to him. 

I immediately blubbered – as I invariably do upon meeting someone I sincerely admire – that we have a cabin in Indiana, and when I heard his film score for Hoosiers, I believed he had quintessentially captured the terrain.  I did not say, “quintessentially captured the terrain”, but I am sure that what I did say was equally embarrassing.  

Goldsmith replied that he preferred his score for the film Rudy (which is also set in Indiana.)  I was immediately taken aback for two reasons.  One, artists rarely admit to favoring one achievement over another.  And two, I myself preferred Hoosiers.

I immediately “doubled down” on my blubbering… exiting his presence as rapidly as I could.

Anyway… try to be cool encountering a hero…

Here now is Hoosiers’ “climactic moment”, featuring a soundtrack the composer liked less than he liked Rudy. 

A disgraced basketball coach takes a small-town High School team to the Indiana State Championship game against a vaunted, big-city opponent.  (A tale, which for me, includes the added advantage of having actually happened.)

I feel uncomfortable admitting this, but while I was watching this, I started to cry.  It was not easy telling you that.  You might want to consider allotting me extra points for… feeling deep emotion for non-fictional strangers.

From Hoosiers “Jimmy Chitwood – Final Shot.”

(Note:  Crying is optional.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Movie Scores I Love"

We are going away for a few days, and, rather than scrambling to get a few posts ahead so there would be no “dead air” on Just Speaking, I thought I would instead present a handful of selections from my favorite movies scores. 

Also, it’s easier.

Although not as easy as I had hoped. 

To me, film scores are our classical music.  In not a few cases, they are more memorable than the movies they accompany, the soundtracks remaining happily stuck in our heads after the recollections of films they were composed for have long since dissolved and disappeared.

Perhaps – not “perhaps; it is – the most evocative demonstration of the integral significance of movie soundtracks took place during the 1982 Oscars presentation.  To explain how the musical underscoring enhances the movie, they showed a clip from the ultimate 1982 “Original Film Score” winner, Chariots of Fire. 

The clip showed a gaggle of English competitors preparing for the 1924 Olympics, running on the beach, backed by the now iconic Vangelis composition.

Immediately thereafter, they reran the same clip, this time with the musical accompaniment edited out.  What the audience then witnessed was a bunch of Englishmen in short pants padding noiselessly  in the sand.

It was truly hilarious.  And it successfully made the point.

Film scores are really important.  A great one can put you over the top.

I wanted you show you that Oscars Chariots of Fire film clip.  But after close to ten minutes of an all-out Internet “Search” – it was probably closer to five – I was unable to find it. 

That’s what I meant that doing this was “not as easy as I had hoped.”

I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but for me, doing Internet research is excruciating and exhausting.  Looking at the screen, trying to figure out the precise way to word my request so as to obtain the information I am looking for rapidly drains my body and depletes my spirit, I almost immediately lose patience, my nose itches and my feel fall asleep, none of which I enthusiastically I look forward to. 

I’d make a terrible research scientist. 

“Did you “Search”:  “Similar experiments throughout history”?

“I tried.”


Every day while I’m away, I shall present snippets from one of my favorite film scores.  I am sure there are more than six examples but these are the ones that popped immediately into my head.  There is a list of “Greatest Film Scores” I could have checked as a mind-jogging reminder.  But you know… it’s on the Internet.

I have always written – and studied for exams – with some kind of music playing.  A quiet surrounding feels oppressive to me.  I get stomachaches in libraries. 

Passing my office at any studio I ever worked, you’d hear enlivening music emanating from my office.  Especially film soundtracks.  At Universal, my incomparable secretary Astrid – she preferred that designation – would order stacks of soundtrack CDs from the studio library, and when she was challenged about why I required so many of them, she replied,

“They inspire him.”

She was right.

Check out this example, and you’ll understand.

From 1948, composed by Max Steiner, a demonstrative sampling from the invigorating film score of Don Juan.

An Unbidden Bonus:  I am also providing a magnificent sword fight.

You’re welcome and enjoy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

"Unanswered Questions"

I have been remiss in responding to “Readers’ Questions”. 

Although that is basically your fault.

How is it your fault?

Watch this.

On Redirecting Responsibility

Since the “Readers’ Questions” I receive are so few and far between, lacking an appropriate format for handling the virtual trickle that comes in, I simply forget about them and they consequently all go unanswered.

You see how that works?  Not enough “Readers’ Questions”, so I do not answer any of them.  Indisputable Conclusion:  It’s your fault.  

Maybe it isn’t. 

Anyway, the perceived consequence of my neglect is that it appears that I don’t care. About the questioner or about the story itself – leaving the impression that it was something to write about at the time and then I casually moved on.

In practical terms, however, how do you answer one question?  (Unless it’s a question that triggers an entire blog post.)  I guess I ought to save up the individual questions and publish a “compilation post” when there are enough.

Which is what I am attempting today. 

(Though I did not collect them.  I am responding to past questions that I remember, or to the stories that were left carelessly unresolved.)

Okay, so here we go.

“Random Responses To Scattered Inquiries and Unresolved Narratives”

Catchy title, don’t you think?

After three-and-a-half months, I got my car back – seriously damaged when my 1992 Lexus SC400 was crashed into on the dealership lot as I drove in for the installation of a replacement door handle – the unfathomable delay explained by a dawdling insurance company and the difficulty of locating the necessary parts to rehabilitate a twenty-four year old vehicle.

The returned car looks mostly great, although some of the new paint job is deteriorating and, when I put my foot on the brake – not always but sometimes – my car shakes – and it did not before – like a pulsating clothes dryer.  I have been told that, should this prove to be an “engine mount” problem, the requisite parts to correct the problem are no long available. 

I have now given up complaining, and when my car rocks, I rock along with it, hoping the unmoored engine doesn’t explode through the hood and fly through the windshield of my car into my face.  

But hey, I got my car back.


I know nothing about how things are today, but in my time, “getting letters” invariably meant trouble.  Some outside “Pressure Group” objecting to the show’s content or perspective – often without even seeing it – mounted substantial letter-writing campaigns, demanding that the show they object to be summarily cancelled. 

Fearing advertiser defection, due to the fear of consumer boycotts of their products – there is a lot of fear in this business – the networks responded with overseeing “Standards and Practices” departments, a P.R. gambit assuring the “Pressure Groups” that they were assiduously “on the case.” 

That was the arrangement.  The “Pressure Groups” threatened networks revenues via punishing boycotts of their sponsors’ products, leaving network “Standards and Practices” departments counting the “hells” and the “damns.”  God forbid, you say anything about… I’m afraid to mention it. 

I’ll get letters. 


No matter which way I proceed on my beach walk – left to grungier Venice or right to boring “Tapiocaland”, my invisible Mariachi Band remains omnipresent, arrayed along the horizon offering songs of spiritual uplift and philosophical comfort, their polished Mariachi boots never touching the surface of the Pacific.  My musical “support system” is ubiquitous.  Wherever I go, that’s where it is. 


The Internet outlet that said Whole Foods carried Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax Cereal was mistaken.  In my experience, they don’t.  Imagine, the Internet getting something wrong.  Could these possibly be the same crack reporters who gave us Ted Cruz’s dad consorted with Lee Harvey Oswald?

“We deal in conspiracy theories and cereal deceit.”

I don’t know.  What’s involved is probably further research.  And being in no way a problem solver but rather a problem discover – and the world needs both, one to uncover the difficulties, the other to do something about them – I will probably not bother.  

Although I really hate Rice Chex.


(For now, but I shall be more considerate of “Readers’ Questions” in the future, though I may have possibly made a similar promise in the past.)

Concerning a writer named Rob, whom, while responsible for Major Dad staffing, I replaced at the last minute with another writer and I neglected to connect with Rob directly about my decision…

Rob and I enjoyed an extended lunch together, discussing, among other things, his formidable resume, the current actitivities of mutual acquaintances, “talking comedy”, and I apologized.  Twenty-seven years late, but better than never.  I owe thanks to the readers for encouraging me to do what was necessary and correct. 

I invited Rob to weigh in with his perspective concerning our encounter. 

I hope he does.

Okay, that’s it.  I’m off to Toronto and New York. 

I encourage you to continue submitting your questions.  I shall make greater efforts to respond in a timelier fashion. 

If I can think of anything to say.

Which, on not infrequent occasions, I can’t.

You see?  That’s your fault as well.

Asking me questions I can’t answer.

I am tellin’ ya… 

You guys got a lot to answer for.

Postscript:  While I am being relatively thoughtful, a big thanks to Mike T. for explaining inflation in a matter I came this close to understanding.  I'm going to read it again.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"The Company Of Excellence"

“I love it when it’s good.” – Me.

Having championed this episode of the sitcom Lateline (co-created by John Markus and {now Senator} Al Franken), I find myself standing nervously outside a trailer, listening on headphones as a scene from it is being played out inside it.  The director calls, “Cut!’ and I contentedly exhale.  It had gone better than expected.

Much better.

The primary character in that scene is played by actor Peter Riegert (star of one of my favorite movies, Local Hero.)  As Riegert exits the trailer and descends the steps to the pavement, I smilingly approach him and say,

“Whenever something I’ve written turns out better than I imagined – the actor getting everything out of the material and then some – I am reminded of all of the other times when it didn’t.”

(Note:  Those were not my exact words, which I did not transcribe at the time, unaware that I would be quoting myself some seventeen or so years down the line.  Besides, when a perfectly-articulated pronouncement emerges spontaneously, you can no more reproduce it precisely than whoever makes them can reproduce a snowflake.  That’s why no two of them are ever alike.  Your entire concentration goes into the invention, and there is nothing left for remembering how you did it.)  


I realize, with no little embarrassment, that a lot of the time, I write about show business in negative terms, causing the reader to perhaps wonder why I ever went into it in the first place.  It would appear, judging by my recorded anecdotes, that I almost never enjoyed myself. 

I did.  Though I found it bordering on unbearably stressful. 

“But there were some things you liked about it, weren’t there?”

There were a lot of things I liked about it, Blue Italics Words Person. 

“Then how come you never write about them?”

I don’t know.  Maybe I think the “complainy” stories are more interesting.  Or maybe I think chronicling the travails I surmounted make me appear more heroic.  Or maybe it’s just the way I naturally see things.  Plus – and this is going to sound crazy – maybe I believe that if I dwell on the difficult parts of a business at which I succeeded and others didn’t, that those “others” will perhaps be less angry at me because it was terrible.

I told you it was going to sound crazy.


Show business wasn’t all terrible.  And one of my favorite parts of it was…

I loved it when it was good.

Like Peter Riegert’s performance in that trailer. 

And what I saw recently on television.

(And overly extended setup?  To me, it was exactly the right length.)

Mom may be the only current half-hour comedy I feel I could successfully contribute to.  Meaning nothing at all.  I’m just saying.  It is also recommendably worth watching.

Mom, involving two generations – and possibly three – of addicts, reaches occasionally for easy laughs and “below the belt” implications – arguably the easiest laugh of them all – but it rarely abandons its inherent “darkness” in favor of comforting punch lines.

It also has some gifted participants – spearheaded by Allison Janney, with Anna Faris, Mimi Kennedy and Jaime Pressly in admirable support. 

These skilful comedians get the most out of their dialogue, offering “colors” and nuances to often uneven material.  (In series television, not every episode can be a gem.  Even Seinfeld did “The Bizarro Episode”. “That was my favorite episode!”   Yeah, like I didn’t know that was coming.)

I switch to Mom for no explainable reason and I run into a performance that dazzles my impulses and warmens my heart.

The episode’s guest star is (Tony Award-winning) Linda Lavin.

I watch her performance in wonderment and awe.  (You could detect her co-workers responding in similar fashion.  They seem to be acting and taking notes at the same time.)

How to describe a post-graduate lesson in sitcomical artistry?

Pointed but recognizably human.  Briskly paced, yet impeccably patient.  A hardly groundbreaking line like,

“You know when it get easier being a mother?  When she’s dead.”

The woman totally “nailed it”.  I watched it over and over on ON DEMAND.  The delivery was exquisitely timed, and brilliantly matter-of-factly.  Not too angry; not too self-pitying, not too jokey, honoring the truthfulness of the “moment”.  My description is inadequate here.  All I can say is, like the perfect golf swing, it made precisely the right sound.    

And the inevitable “Heartfelt Moment”:  It was genuinely touching.  I’m thinking, “Look at me.  I am ‘tearing up’ at a  sitcom! That’s how unbelievable she was.  Elevating the clichéd “long-suffer mother” to “You just can’t take your eyes off her.”

And all of it on television.  Where you get it for nothing.

When I witness a consummate professional like Linda Lavin getting everything out of the material and then some, I am reminded of what drew me to that “fakakhta” business in the first place.
And I am reminded to tell you.

Those sparkling surprises made up for a lot of what I had to put up with along the way.

And sometimes I forget to remember them.