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Dialogue - Frank Griffith talks to Sir John Dankworth Print
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Dialogue - Frank Griffith talks to Sir John Dankworth
2. Initial involvement in scoring for films.
3. Working with Joseph Losey.
3. Defining the requirements of the score.
4. Potential for creative freedom.
5. Notes and References.

4. Potential for creative freedom.


FG - Yes, you've said that, after The Servant, the offers started coming in.   Once The Servant established you as a film composer, did that enable you to exercise more creative freedom as a composer, as someone who could do your own thing within the context of the movie?

JD - I think that if you are approached, rather than you approaching them, then you must have some sort of standing in their eyes, so you do get a certain amount of freedom in any movie, but any film composer has to remember that he is one of a team.   You've got to do what's best for the team rather than display your own music at the expense of everything else in the film.   But obviously, if they want to cut out a piece of music because they think that the scene doesn't need it, or to cut out a whole scene that's-got a bit of music that you love, you can't exercise any control over that.

FG - You have said that jazz composers work well in the film context because of their versatility and their ability to make last-minute adjustments.   Do you think that's maybe one of the reasons why so many jazz composers flourished in writing for films in Hollywood and London during the 1960s?

JD - Well, maybe.   It could be the fact that when you are hired to do a film as a jazz composer, you inevitably come to certain portions of the film where jazz just won't do; maybe it's just source music - you see a violin and cello and piano playing in a cafe, and you have to adapt.   There's always something there that isn't jazz, and that's a very good learning process for jazz composers, who were a bit more tunnel-visioned when they started.   In the same way you very quickly find that the technical requirements of writing for films are to work to a stopwatch.   People make that out to be some sort of mystique that only a few chosen people can ever understand, but, of course, we all know it's as easy as hell, isn't it?   Particularly in jazz, if you select a metronome speed and you've got cues of say 12.8 seconds and you fit it at 120 beats per minute, so you know that every bar line and so on.   People say: 'I wonder how you ever get those things together', and you pretend that's it very difficult because you don't want too many jazz composers coming in and being competitors.

FG - Are there any current plans to do any more film scores?

JD - At the moment, no.   I've not been considered for anything since Gangster No 1 [Dankworth's most recent score of 2001].

FG - If you were invited to score again, are there any particular directors or film figures that you would like to work with?

JD - Well, I can't say that there are, really, because I don't really want to do any more, unless they came out with a very strong case and said that they wouldn't go ahead without me, or flattered me enough to make me feel that the music was going to play a very big part in the film, and said that they wanted me ahead of anybody else.   Other than that, I must admit that I cast my mind back to the pleasures of doing it but also the headaches that are often caused by internal politics, where people involved in a film are manoeuvring and countering each other.   I felt I couldn't go through all that again.   I much prefer to be in as total control as possible of music, and there are lots of ways of doing that without having to go into the movies.

FG - If you look back at the scores that you've done, do you have a particular favourite, one that really stands out?

JD - I think that the one that hangs together the best is The Servant.   I thought it did the best service to the film and worked very well with it.   But I'm also quite proud of in isolation, so to speak.

FG - It has been said that since the 1970s many movie scores have been bitten by The Graduate bug, which is to say that they consist of popular songs specifically written for the movie or that they use existing popular songs.   Thus movie scores gradually started incorporating more popular music as opposed to original music.

JD - That's right, and it still applies a lot today when you see a list in the credits as long as your arm of 25 other pieces of music.   That's the one thing that displeased me about the way film music was going.   Maybe the reason why I like The Servant is because I don't think that there's one example of that in the film.   I had to write whatever had to be the music for the film.   I think that what it amounts to is that you get rather offended when they want to use a record of someone else.   You think, no doubt unreasonably, that you might be able to do something that would work better. 'next', at right, to read on.....

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