Music in movies honored at inaugural film series

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Film composer Elmer Bernstein, 1922-2004.

As word came in that film composer James Horner had died in a plane crash, a film series celebrating musical scores came to an end at the Granada Theater. The inaugural series remembers the late Elmer Bernstein, a Santa Barbara resident who composed music for films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Ghostbusters and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Songwriter and film composer Paul Williams curated this year’s inaugural series. His songs include “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie and “Evergreen” from A Star is Born. KCRW’s Kathryn Barnes sat down with Williams at the Granada to discuss the art of crafting music for film.

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Songwriter Paul Williams, this year’s guest curator of the Elmer Bernstein Memorial Film Series.

Most of the films Williams chose to screen were scored by Elmer Bernstein.

    • To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962

    • The Great Escape, 1963

      • Magnificent Seven, 1960

Paul Williams’ songs for film are lyrical, “where I want you to hear the words and thoughts.” The song he’s most proud of writing is the one sung by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie. 

Williams understands, however, the balancing act that goes into composing underscores like Bernstein’s.

“What you do with the music of a movie is translate what is appearing into the emotion you want the audience to feel,” says Williams. “If you’re aware of the score, there may be something wrong with it. You want to get swept up in the emotion of the score, without being distracted by it.”

Next year’s guest curator will be Jon Burlingame, who writes on the subject of music for films and TV. You can learn more about the Granada’s film series here.