Jan Chats with Andy Trudeau

Jan Chats with Andy Trudeau

(First Posted in 2004)

Jan
Welcome to FILMS FOR TWO®, Andy. Please tell us how you developed your interest in film scores and then how you began doing your annual Oscar broadcasts for National Public Radio (NPR)? How did all this come about?

Andy
I was a rock-n-roller in my college years. Then a couple of the groups that I cared a lot about went away, so I quickly transferred my allegiance. I became fascinated with film music. I got hooked on the whole history going back to the “Golden Age” in the 1930s & 40s.

I started working for a public radio station in Schenectady, NY. It was a new station, so they were a little more open to ideas then than I think they would be now. They actually let me do a weekly program on film music. This was in the mid ‘70s. I developed my passion when it was still manageable. You know, it was a time when you could be working at a minimum salary job, & still collect soundtracks, because there weren’t a lot of them & they didn’t come out that often.

I began to find my “heroes” & some scores that really excited me. I was hooked. I interviewed George Korngold who produced a whole series of classic film scores for RCA. George Korngold was the son of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the composer who created the music for Errol Flynn classics like THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) & THE SEA HAWK (1940). George also did albums devoted to the music of Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, & Dimitri Tiomkin among others.

I pity anyone who gets the bug now because there’s so much out there. There’s just so much soundtrack “product” rolling into the marketplace.

Jan
At what point did you move down to Washington, DC?

Andy
I left the local station in Schenectady in 1977, & moved to National Public Radio. And anybody who knew me at work quickly found out that this was one of my passions because I usually managed to work it into all my conversations. So it became one of the worst kept secrets at NPR: Andy’s crazy about film music.

One day in 1995, really out of the blue, Bob Malesky, the Senior Producer of WeSun [Weekend Edition Sunday] came to me and said: “What would you think about doing a segment on this year’s Oscar nominated film scores?” And I said: “I really want to do something where I can say, ‘Listen to this. Listen to this. Listen to this. Listen to this.’” And Bob said: “That’s exactly what we want to do too.”

So we started with this shared concept. I imagined it all in my mind. I invite you over. I sit you down on the couch. I’m standing in front of my CD player with my finger on the pause button saying: “Listen to this. This is what he does here. Listen to how he does that.”

That’s the concept we’ve transplanted into the studio. It drove some listeners crazy. It probably still does.

Jan
Well, we love it. We listen every year. You’re describing the segments perfectly. We like that it’s not scripted. It sounds very natural.

Andy
We have an outline. I know where Liane & I are going to begin. I know how much time is allocated to each segment, so I know how many seconds of soundtrack I can use. There are always one or two selections that I talk over with her, and then one that I will try to let breathe so people can hear it without me stammering.

Jan
And then the last thing you do is your prediction, well, actually you don’t predict the winner, you just state your preference.

Andy
That’s it. Thank you. I don’t pick winners. I select the one I think is the most musically substantial of each year’s five Oscar nominees. I think that if it’s good music, it will last.

I was looking back over the list of previous winners, & I realized how many of them have not lasted. It’s not ego speaking, but I really do feel that musically inferior scores often win. But that’s part of the problem with the Oscars. Sometimes the Oscar becomes a consolation prize (for prior achievements that went unrecognized at the time).

Jan
Right. And sometimes scores are nominated just because the movie is popular? The score is sort of carried along in the hoopla for a particular film, even if it isn’t that special musically?

Andy
Yes. I think that often happens.

Jan
What do you look for when you buy a soundtrack CD, & how is your experience of the music different for you when you hear it in the context of the film itself?

Andy
When I’m talking with Liane, I don’t reference the movie at all, and in most cases I haven’t even seen it yet. I know this is controversial, but the artifact I’m dealing with is the soundtrack. My WeSun segments don’t deal with the movie per se.

When the first show airs every year we do a disclaimer, and every year there are listeners who think I’m really crazy. But, ultimately I’m trying to answer this question: which of these five contemporary scores do I think I’m still going to listen to in five years?

Jan
So are you also a “movie person”?

Andy
Oh yes. I catch them all after the fact. But when people pull out soundtracks & play them they’re not saying: “Remember this scene.” They’re saying: “Listen to this music.”

Of course there are certain “classic scenes” in the memory that always have a soundtrack running underneath them. But for most contemporary films, odds are you’re not going to remember the scene. The music needs to catch your ear & convince you that it’s worthwhile in itself.

If you’re listening to a piece of music & I say: “This really works well in the scene. It’s pretty boring listening to it now, but it really works well under the scene.” Well, why should you listen to it? I want you to listen to something that’s really interesting to listen to, otherwise I’m wasting your time.

Jan
Okay, I understand. So tell us about some of your favorites.

Andy
Well, to start with, I’m a huge Jerry Goldsmith fan. There’s a whole separate cabinet in my collection just devoted to Jerry Goldsmith scores. When we did the1998 broadcasts, Jerry Goldsmith was on the list for LA CONFIDENTIAL. It really was the best score of 1997, but TITANIC won. I’m only human. I really thought LA CONFIDENTIAL was a tremendous score, & I’m still sorry that it didn’t win.

The first film score that made me stop what I was doing & go “Holy Cow!” was Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968). What an incredible contemporary score that is, just great stuff. Goldsmith also wrote the music forPATTON.

Then John Barry, I’m a big fan of his. He did the music for all the classic James Bond films (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, etc, etc).

I also love the one with Katherine Hepburn & Peter O’Toole: THE LION IN WINTER.

Jan
And more recent John Barry scores such as DANCES WITH WOLVES & OUT OF AFRICA? Yes? No?

Andy
Barry has his bag of tricks & he has adapted them to different sounds, but overall it’s remained a fairly static style. So I don’t feel that his later scores reached the level of expressiveness & imagination that the Barry scores of the 60s and 70s had. I like a few surprises…

The incredible thing about John Williams is that, especially in the last couple of years, that man has really taken on some different character to his scores. A.I. & CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, both scores have got very different types of influences playing on them which just shows that Williams’s mind is just as blinding now as it was 20 years ago.

Jan
You’re right, Andy. There is a problem with John Barry. As soon as one of his themes comes on, even in a throwaway movie, you recognize it instantly as “a John Barry score.” So that kind of dilutes the effectiveness of the ones that are really good. I definitely understand what you mean. There’s a lot more variation in John Williams’ career.

Andy
Williams is a more “organic” composer. He usually tries to evolve the music through, rather than sort of piece it together the way that Barry does.

Jan
So what are your favorite John William’s scores?

Andy
Oh, JAWS! JAWS is number one. If I did a list of the 10 best scores of all time, JAWS would definitely be on it. That’s just a tremendous score.

I’m not a big fan of STAR WARS. I’m of the school that says in a way the worst thing that ever happened to him was STAR WARS. Williams really writes well when there are some limitations on his pallet, but I don’t think he blends instruments well on a large scale.

JAWS has a chamber orchestra score. Williams comes out of a television school of writing. Goldsmith did too. When they did TV, they had to make 5 instruments sound like 25 instruments, & that challenged them to come up with imaginative ways of blending & scoring the instruments. And when they are working in small scale, you can hear those kinds of textures.

That’s something I really like about Thomas Newman’s music right now (e.g., AMERICAN BEAUTY & HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT). If you listen to his scores, there’s never such a wash of sound that you can’t pick out every instrument in that texture. It’s woven together so carefully that you can pick out all the elements. I look for a transparency to the sound: where are the colors, and where are the lines going? I think transparency is one mark of a good composer.

Jan
Who’s in the next generation for you? Who are the folks you’re expecting great things from?

Andy
I like David Arnold a lot. He did INDEPENDENCE DAY. He’s been reviving the Bond franchise since Pierce Brosnan took over as James Bond.

Danny Elfman is great, especially the first BATMAN (I didn’t like the other ones), & Tim Burton’s new PLANET OF THE APES (2001).

Someone who seems to have dropped out is Patrick Doyle. I thought a lot of him. He did some great scores for Kenneth Branagh. But I know he was very sick…

Jan
Did he do SENSE & SENSIBILITY, Patrick Doyle?

Andy
Yes, that’s a good one. 

Jan
I agree. I own it & I play it all the time.

Well, Andy, I guess I have to let you go now & wait with the rest of your fans for your next set of Oscar broadcasts. Thanks much!!!

We are proud to list ourselves among Andy’s many fans, and grateful to him for taking the time to chat with us.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/15/04 original updated on 2/1/05) – Special for Films for Two. Reposted with permission. 

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Julia Lasker
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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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