CS Score Reviews Ludwig Göransson’s Tenet and Elmer Bernstein’s Wild Wild West
Hey there, film score lovers! This week on CS Score we dive into Ludwig Göransson’s score to Christopher Nolan’s action extravaganza Tenet and take a look at Varèse Sarabande’s deluxe edition for Elmer Bernstein’s Wild Wild West. As a special bonus, we sat down with music editor David Klotz to discuss his Emmy-nominated work on Stranger Things and American Horror Story. Let’s do this.
Hey guys, we got a new soundtrack to review — and it’s a doozy! Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is a hard hitting, albeit often confusing time travel spectacle that emphasizes spellbinding action sequences and enormous set pieces over anything resembling character development. The film is certainly entertaining as a visual spectacle — indeed, it truly is one of the better action pics in recent memory — but also leaves a lot to be desired in terms of providing an emotional connection for audiences, though such quibbles might subside after another screening or two.
As such, the music to the film likewise offers up an impressive array of propulsive electronic beats but lacks a true soul. As written by Academy Award winner Ludwig Göransson, who steps in to replace Nolan’s longtime collaborator Hans Zimmer, the music moves between kick ass action rhythms in tracks like “Rainy Night in Tallini” and “Freeport” to quieter (but still propulsive and often dramatic) underscore in tracks such as “Windmills” and “Betrayal.”
Think the “Mombasa” track in Zimmer’s Inception albeit dialed up to about 15. Göransson even employs the same foghorn sound used in that score in tracks like “747” in which the film’s protagonists crash a giant plane in order to create a diversion.
Keep in mind, none of this is a bad thing. If you’re into electronic soundtracks in the vein of Zimmer’s Dunkirk, Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy or Mark Mothersbaugh’s synth-heavy Thor: Ragnarok, you’ll get a kick out of Göransson’s style. Though, fans seeking the lush themes and driving beats of the composer’s Oscar-winning score for Black Panther may come away disappointed at the rather one-note nature of his work here.
At any rate, Tenet offers a unique listening experience as Göransson utilizes everything from drums, synths and even human breathing to mostly successful results. Indeed, the FX heavy style works rather well in the film where it often stands as its own character driving the action beats, but can be a bit jarring when separated from Nolan’s images, particularly in tracks such as “Trucks in Place” and “Retrieving the Case” in which Göransson mixes his sounds in such a way that all but disorients the listener — which is, of course, the point as the music as heard in the film emphasizes the confusion inherit during moments in which characters move forwards and backwards through time.
When compared to other scores in Nolan’s oeuvre, Tenet, with all of its bombast and eerie ambience, falls short of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises and Inception mainly due to its lack of a clear theme and strong ideas. In fact, you might describe Tenet as Inception without that powerful piano theme or Johnny Marr’s impressive guitar work. That said, Göransson’s score still offers an exciting bit of electronic musical engineering that will surely entertain modern soundtrack enthusiasts and all but overwhelm traditional film score lovers.
WILD WILD WEST
Ah, the western. Hollywood has long produced films revolving around the Old West that in turn led to some of the finest movie soundtracks ever produced — Max Steiner’s The Searchers, John Barry’s Dances with Wolves, John Williams’ The Missouri Breaks, Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, and Ennio Morricone’s The Good The Bad and The Ugly, to name a few. This cowboy flick met an abrupt end in the 1970s though numerous directors and producers have tried to rekindle interest with films like Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma. Except, for every Unforgiven or Maverick, we get disasters like Barry Sonnenfeld’s Wild Wild West.
Released in 1999 during the peak of Will Smith’s successful box office streak, Wild Wild West tried to replicate the successful formula used in Sonnenfeld’s Men In Black two years prior; and even paired Smith with another straight-faced counterpart in Kevin Kline. Unfortunately, where MIB generated over $589 million worldwide, resulting in two sequels, an animated series and a quasi-reboot with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, Wild Wild West, based on the TV series of the same name, flatlined at cinemas with a dismal $222 million worldwide take against a $170 million production budget. Critics tore the film to shreds with only 17% rewarding it a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes, while audiences offered only a C+ grade in exit polls.
One positive takeaway from this colossal disaster was Elmer Bernstein’s wildly entertaining score. Infusing western rock with his more classical style, Bernstein managed to capture the weird nature of Sonnenfeld’s film whilst providing a genuinely thrilling standalone listening experience. And while the work doesn’t come close to his own Magnificent Seven or even Ghostbusters for that matter, it still serves up enough pizzazz to merit mention alongside some of his more memorable works.
The original 1999 score album featured 10 tracks comprised of 30 minutes of music, which meant fans of Bernstein’s work had to sit through the laborious 106-minute film in order to hear the music in its entirety (unless they were savvy enough to find bootlegs). Thankfully, Varèse Sarabande’s has produced a brand-new deluxe edition that features 47 tracks and 76 minutes of music, including all new music by Peter Bernstein and alternate cues not heard in the final film.
As the press release notes, Bernstein, who had spent a majority of the 1990s working on serious works such as The Age of Innocence and The Rainmaker, was drawn to Sonnenfeld’s comedy mainly due to his love for Men In Black. “When I got a chance to work with Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith, I thought, cool, I’d like to do this. And when I met Barry, I really liked him and we had a great relationship,” Bernstein said.
Even now, the score feels oddly refreshing, particularly in the wake of the largely electronic-fused landscape. Listen to the tracks “Tin Man/Four of a Kind” and marvel at its powerful blasts of orchestra and bombastic themes, or “Last Fight,” which offers a wonderful blend of comedy and action/adventure and try not to smile. This is a classic film score reworked for an overblown 90’s comedy, and a fine argument against those who believe such scores could never work in modern motion pictures — even if the cheesier “hip” aspects sometimes get in the way.
Highlights of the album include “The End (Rise the Spider),” which features a rendition of the central love theme as well as fun reiteration of the main theme that itself is very reminiscent to Bernstein’s aforementioned Magnificent Seven as well as his score for The Great Escape; “Waltz First Mansion,” which, obviously, wraps the love theme in a waltz-inspired melody; “Polka,” a fun, classic bit of bouncy Western music; “Reeling,” which features everything from trumpets, fiddles, and toe tapping to great effect; and “Tank to Catch,” one of the grand action cues on the album.
All told, Bernstein’s Wild Wild West is a wonderful throwback to the classic motion pictures of yesteryear when Hollywood was entranced with the Old West and a must have for film score collectors.
INTERVIEW WITH MUSIC EDITOR DAVID KLOTZ
David Klotz has won six Emmy Awards and has an additional 12 Emmy nominations including the 2 he received this year for his work on FX’s American Horror Story: 1984 and Netflix’s Stranger Things. Klotz’s won three Emmy Awards in sound editing for HBO’s Game of Thrones; two for Netflix’s Stranger Things; and one for FX’s American Horror Story. Klotz is the music editor on Netflix’s The Politician, and on returning hit shows such as Fox’s 9-1-1 and FX’s Pose. Other credits include Fox’s Glee; Marvel’s feature film, Iron Man; The WB’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer; and many more. Klotz is also a producer and songwriter. He produced and arranged a cover of the 1984 classic hit The NeverEnding Story on Season 3 of Stranger Things.
ComingSoon.net: You’ve won a number of Emmy’s throughout your career and now you’re nominated for two more. Are you still shocked when you receive these nominations for your work or do you just kind of yawn and toss the trophies in a bag?
David Klotz: You know, if I did yawn, I would never say that I do, but that’s not true. I’m so like, thrilled and surprised every time. I’m grateful that I’ve landed on a bunch of shows through my career that people like and that are good and yeah. It’s just amazing that the attention we all get to the work we put in.
CS: What’s it like to stand on stage holding one of those trophies in front of your peers? Is it a mixture of joy, shock, or fear?
Klotz: It’s kind of terrifying, although it’s not that bad for me personally, because for the Emmy’s, as a music editor, I’m nominated as part of the sound team, the sound editing team. So, I’m just sort of up there with three or four other guys. And usually, the sound supervisor gets the duties of having to speak in front of the crowd. So, I can just relax, have a few cocktails, a good time and just collect my Emmy and just go to the parties.
CS: Can you talk specifically about what a music editor’s overall role is with the production of a TV show or a film?
Klotz: Sure, yeah. I mean, it varies from project to project, depending on the sort of needs of the film or the TV show. But generally speaking, as a music editor on some of the TV shows that I work on, you know, I’m part of the music team where the composer will write the music and in a broad sense, I’m responsible for making it fit into the show. And that’s needed because after a composer writes the music, the picture is constantly changing, so I’m often re-cutting the score and trying to still keep it musical and still keep the integrity of what the composer had in mind as the show moves forward. I’m also sort of working day-to-day with the director, producers and the picture department, trying to make sure that the music works in the best way that can tell the story. And sometimes, that involves like, looking for something else that maybe the composer did in the past that didn’t work. Often on Game of Thrones, we would be at our sound mix, and the producers would say, you know, David, this isn’t working right now. Is there something else we can try? So, a lot of the times I’m going through a cue that Ramin [Djawadi] wrote, our composer that he wrote from three or four seasons ago and pulling it in and playing with it. On Stranger Things, sometimes I’ll sit with the Duffer brothers and we will pull apart the music and pull elements from other cues and it’s a very creative job, where I’m always working sort of up until the last minute, as we’re finishing the show, to try and make the music help tell the story better.
CS: Have you ever had an issue where you’ve had to chop up a composer’s score in a way that resulted in a creative conflict?
Klotz: Yeah, that happens often. And some composers, I mean, I’ve had them call me and say, hey, I don’t like what you guys did there. I mean, even on Stranger Things, when the Duffer brothers, they asked me to try something with one of the music cues. An hour later, our composer, Kyle Dixon came in and I played him an edit that I did of something he wrote and I could just see his face just look completely shocked and terrified at what I did to his music. And you know, it’s good to get that sort of feedback, too, because then I’m like, well, you know what? Let me try again and see if I could make it better. So yeah, there’s that, too. And I feel like for me, I feel like I try to make sure composers have confidence in me that I’m not going to do anything that’s going to wreck their creative vision. So I keep that in mind all the time and I think that’s why I work a lot with the same composers that like to work with me because they know at the end of the day I’m going to call them before I hit the nuclear option and really blow up what we’ve done.
CS: How was the process of working on American Horror Story different from Stranger Things?
Klotz: Yeah, every show’s a little bit different. American Horror Story, I work with a composer named Mac Quayle, and he’s been on that show for a while writing music. He likes to start early. He’ll start writing a bunch of suites and things and send them to the picture editors ahead of time. So, the picture editors are actually pulling those into their Avids while they’re cutting the show. And then, sometimes they become the cue for the final and my job is basically just to sort of clean up kind of what they’ve — they’ll pull it in and be like, “This works, everyone loves it, but there’s a lot of like, bad edits and things.” And so sometimes, I’m just sort of cleaning things up. Other times, Mac has to write a specific cue for a scene that hasn’t been done yet. And then, other times on American Horror Story, they will send me a scene and say, “Hey, we need music for this. What can you do?” So, then I’ll go through Mac’s score library and find things and cut together a music cue that we need and send that to editorial, and that’s usually what gets approved and stays that way all the way through to the end of the show.
CS: During this process, what is the communication like with the sound editor? Because obviously they’re working on other things, right?
Klotz: Yes, that comes towards the end of the show when we do our sound mix. Now leading up to that, usually we’ll have some back and forth. You know, they’ll call me with a question and say, “Hey, there’s this scene. There’s some music in the background.” And we talk about how we’re going to handle things. So, we have some communication while working, and then, by the time we get to the stage, you know, I’ve brought in my music, they brought in their sound effects and dialogue. And that’s when things really come together, because we’re mixing it all together on a dub stage with our mixers. And that’s where there’s more of a creative back and forth because we’ll find that for, in American Horror Story for instance, for this big sound design moment, where maybe there’s killers massacring a bunch of people and there’s just a lot of sound design. And at the same time, the music’s blaring at 100 percent. So, we sort of find ways where we can make them work together. Sometimes that will involve like, hey, let’s take the music out up to this section. Or maybe the sound should drop out and this should be a music moment. So, we do a lot of sort of push and pull, and things change when we all work together. And then the producers will come in and want to re-work it, too.
CS: Is there a scene or a moment in Stranger Things season four that you’re particularly proud of in terms of arranging the sound and all that stuff, where everything came together the way you originally envisioned it?
Klotz: Yeah. I mean, the episode that we’re nominated for in Stranger Things was really, really heavy with sound design and music. The whole sort of final act of the show was — it’s going to be a bit of a spoiler here if you haven’t seen it — you know, there’s a big monster chase.
Klotz: And there’s a monster attack chase and there’s a battle in the mall, the Battle of Starcourt in the beginning of the episode. And there was a lot of music and a lot of sound design. I think everyone went in with 100 percent of like, their greatest work and we had to find ways to sort of showcase each moment. For me, the proudest moment I have in that episode is The NeverEnding Story song sequence.
CS: That was brilliant.
Klotz: That was such a fun, fun thing that sort of came up as a surprise because I had no idea that they had shot that on the set when I started working on it. Because they just filmed the kids scene a capella. The kids learned the song and they sang it on the set. And then, they called me to figure out how we could cut the original NeverEnding Story song by Limahl to cut it to them so they’d be singing along to the original track. But the kids were singing it and every time they’d cut to a different shot, they were singing at a different tempo, sometimes a different key. So, we struggled. And when we finally figured out a way, I sort of cut like a demo for the picture editor to match, so that we could keep them all in the same tempo. And then, when we figured that out, we realized that they were singing at a much faster pace than the original track. So, when I tried to line that up with them or speed it up, it just sounded ridiculous, so that’s when we decided we would re-record it, and I was part of that process. I actually re-recorded the backing tracks. And created the sort of backing tracks to them singing. And that was fun. That was like, probably the most rewarding moment for me, seeing that come together in the last episode.
CS: How long does that process take for you to do that?
Klotz: Well, because it wasn’t something I had planned for, it took a few months, but mostly it was sort of like, what are we going to do about this? How are we going to fix this? A lot of it was like, what are we going to do? But when we sort of finally landed on a plan, it was a good few weeks of recording, and then we mixed it on the stage with our re-recording mixer, Mark Paterson did a great job of making it sound nice and full and yeah. That was a fun moment.
CS: So, delving into you just a little bit more, how did you get into music editing for films and TV? And what drew you to that career?
Klotz: You know, it was interesting. It was a sort of accidental career because I studied film in college, and I had no idea that this was even a job. So, I moved to Los Angeles a long time ago. And I was trying to figure out, yeah, I got a job working at a music department, at a film studio. And that was fun because I thought that music supervision might’ve been my career because that’s sort of the obvious job that sounds appealing to someone right out of college. But as I was doing that, I started working at the studio, I saw you know, a lot of other departments and what people did. I watched what composers did and scoring mixers and recording engineers and music editors. And I had the fortunate chance to sit behind a lot of music editors and watch what they did. And I thought like, yeah, I could do that. That seems pretty cool.
CS: Just like that, huh?
Klotz: Yeah, but also music supervision turned out to be sort of a dud for me because there’s just a lot of paperwork trying to get things cleared and a lot of talking to publishers and lawyers and getting the rights to things. And it felt like you had to be good at schmoozing on the phone with record labels. And that just wasn’t for me. I prefer sitting in a dark room and playing with music all day long.
CS: Do you feel like you’ve gotten to the point where you feel like your job is easy?
Klotz: You know, no, it’s not. I mean, especially the Never Ending Story sequence, for example, was really, really challenging, because I knew what — so you know, that for me, I think even the most experienced music editor would’ve found that difficult. And so, I do enjoy always being challenged by things. And also, that’s what makes the job fun, because I look at something like that and I’m like, how are we going to make this work when the kids are singing out of time and out of key and all that kind of stuff? So yeah, looking back at my first gigs early on, trying to think of something. You know, I worked on the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And you know, lucky for me at the time, I was working for a music editor who is like a mentor for me at the time. So, when challenges presented itself, I was able to talk to him and be like, how do you deal with something like this? In the last season of Buffy, we had one musical number. I know they did a musical episode in season six, but in season seven, there was one scene where they had a musical, so as a first-time music editor, that was for me, like challenging. But yeah, some of it is a walk in the park now, after doing this for a long time.
CS: Do you have any future projects that you’re excited to talk about or that you’re working on right now? Are you going to remix any more classic 80s songs for season four of Stranger Things?
Klotz: Yeah, I don’t know yet. We shall see. Stranger Things is starting, so I think they’re started shooting next month. So, I look forward to getting back into that. This summer, I’ve been working on a Ryan Murphy film called The Prom. It’s a musical feature for Netflix. And that’s something I’m really excited about. It’s also been very challenging — it’s got many musical numbers. That’s going to be very cool. So yeah, that’s what I’m working on. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for me in 2021.
CS: All right. Well, we really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. This was a great interview. Really insightful. And congratulations on your Emmy nominations.
Klotz: Thank you.