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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Errol Morris' Abu Ghraib doc: SOP: Standard Operating Procedure

doggieoscar8908-.jpgAn item about Danny Elfman getting an honorary doctorate reveals the title of Errol Morris‘ new documentary, on American torture practices: SOP: Standard Operating Procedure. (Elfman’s doing the ditty duties on this one; more on the degree below.)

Also Will Receive Honorary Doctorates
WINSTON-SALEM – Chancellor John Mauceri has announced that award-winning film composer Danny Elfman and best-selling author Rebecca Walker will speak at the North Carolina School of the Arts’ commencement ceremonies for college and high school graduates, respectively, on June 2 at NCSA’s Stevens Center.
“What an extraordinary day this will be for our School!” Chancellor Mauceri said. “Two great artists will celebrate NCSA – as we celebrate them – and elevate an already joyous occasion with their presence.”
Elfman, whose compositions range from TV’s “The Simpsons” and “Desperate Housewives” to feature films BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN, as well as purely orchestral works, will speak to the college graduates at the 1 p.m. ceremony. Walker, who at just 25 was named by Time magazine as one of the 50 most influential future leaders of America, will speak to the high school graduates at the 9 a.m. ceremony.
Elfman and Walker also will receive honorary doctorates at the ceremonies.
Elfman was invited to speak by Chancellor Mauceri, who recorded the composer’s “Serenada Schizophrena.” Elfman composed an overture for Chancellor Mauceri’s final concerts as director of The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra last September.
One of today’s most successful creators of movie music, Danny Elfman is also one of few who have managed to make the transition from rock musician to orchestral score composer.
The Grammy-winning, Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated writer has been toiling in the motion-picture arena since 1985, when director Tim Burton and star Paul Reubens — fascinated by Elfman’s playfully macabre music for the cult L.A. rock band Oingo Boingo — called him to write the music for PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.
The Elfman-Burton collaboration continued with the clever and quirky music for BEETLEJUICE (1988) and reached a high point with the massive, Gothic score for BATMAN (1989), which won a Grammy for the composer — and legions of fans, who felt that his Wagnerian approach gave the comics’ Dark Knight a new and entirely appropriate sound.
Since then, Elfman has scored nearly all of Burton’s alternately spooky, weird and otherworldly cinematic excursions, including the touching EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990), with its delicately lyrical choral passages; the funhouse-from-hell music for the mad Penguin and Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS (1992); the songs and score for the imaginative Halloween fable THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993); the ’50s-style sci-fi score for MARS ATTACKS! (1996); the intense and powerfully orchestrated SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999); and the percussion-driven PLANET OF THE APES (2001). Five of his eight Grammy nominations are for Burton films. The Elfman-Burton duo is responsible for the blockbuster CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, for which Elfman created not only the dazzling score, but wrote the songs and also sang the voices of all the Oompa Loompas. This was followed by the stop motion tale TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE. Elfman is currently writing the score to Peter Berg’s fall thriller, THE KINGDOM.
Elfman received his third Oscar nomination for his magical score for Tim Burton’s BIG FISH, which was also nominated for a Golden Globe. But the Burton scores demonstrate only one side of the Elfman persona – and constitute a fraction of his more than 40 scores (and contributions of themes or songs to a dozen more). His haunting music for the drama GOOD WILL HUNTING and his raucous sounds for the sci-fi comedy MEN IN BLACK won him dual Oscar nominations in 1997.
Elfman is equally proud of his small-combo score for the comedy MIDNIGHT RUN (1988), his music for Warren Beatty’s comic-strip adaptation DICK TRACY (1990), the romantic SOMMERSBY (1993), his ethereal BLACK BEAUTY (1994), the often dissonant score for DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1995), the urban funk of DEAD PRESIDENTS (1995) and the unsettling, eerie musical effects of A SIMPLE PLAN (1998). In addition to Burton, his other regular collaborators include Sam Raimi (DARKMAN, A SIMPLE PLAN, SPIDER-MAN, and SPIDER-MAN 2) and Gus Van Sant (TO DIE FOR, GOOD WILL HUNTING, the remake of PSYCHO).
An entirely different audience knows Danny Elfman for his classic television themes, including the famous, quirky and undeniably catchy “The Simpsons” and the creepy, atmospheric “Tales from the Crypt” (both 1989). His title theme for the current cultural phenomenon “Desperate Housewives” brilliantly sets the unique tone of the show.
Elfman remains in high demand for big action scores: Witness his success with the driving music for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996), which he followed with the big-screen adventure of PLANET OF THE APES; SPIDER-MAN and SPIDER-MAN 2; the landmark action-comedy scores for MEN IN BLACK and MEN IN BLACK 2; RED DRAGON, the Hannibal Lecter thriller from director Brett Ratner (whose THE FAMILY MAN also boasted music by Elfman); and THE HULK, directed by Ang Lee.
Elfman, 50, loved movies as a kid and grew up in Los Angeles appreciating the efforts of composers like Bernard Herrmann (for the Hitchcock suspense films and Ray Harryhausen fantasy flicks) and Max Steiner (for many Warner Bros. movies). His years with the popular troupe Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (in the ’70s), and later as the leader of Oingo Boingo (in the ’80s and ’90s), provided the theatrical training that would serve him so well as a film composer.

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“The Motion Picture Academy, at considerable expense and with great efficiency, runs all the nominated pictures at its own theater, showing each picture twice, once in the afternoon, once in the evening. A nominated picture is one in connection with which any kind of work is nominated for an award, not necessarily acting, directing, or writing; it may be a purely technical matter such as set-dressing or sound work. This running of pictures has the object of permitting the voters to look at films which they may happen to have missed or to have partly forgotten. It is an attempt to make them realize that pictures released early in the year, and since overlaid with several thicknesses of battered celluloid, are still in the running and that consideration of only those released a short time before the end of the year is not quite just.

“The effort is largely a waste. The people with votes don’t go to these showings. They send their relatives, friends, or servants. They have had enough of looking at pictures, and the voices of destiny are by no means inaudible in the Hollywood air. They have a brassy tone, but they are more than distinct.”All this is good democracy of a sort. We elect Congressmen and Presidents in much the same way, so why not actors, cameramen, writers, and all rest of the people who have to do with the making of pictures? If we permit noise, ballyhoo, and theater to influence us in the selection of the people who are to run the country, why should we object to the same methods in the selection of meritorious achievements in the film business? If we can huckster a President into the White House, why cannot we huckster the agonized Miss Joan Crawford or the hard and beautiful Miss Olivia de Havilland into possession of one of those golden statuettes which express the motion picture industry’s frantic desire to kiss itself on the back of its neck? The only answer I can think of is that the motion picture is an art. I say this with a very small voice. It is an inconsiderable statement and has a hard time not sounding a little ludicrous. Nevertheless it is a fact, not in the least diminished by the further facts that its ethos is so far pretty low and that its techniques are dominated by some pretty awful people.

“If you think most motion pictures are bad, which they are (including the foreign), find out from some initiate how they are made, and you will be astonished that any of them could be good. Making a fine motion picture is like painting “The Laughing Cavalier” in Macy’s basement, with a floorwalker to mix your colors for you. Of course most motion pictures are bad. Why wouldn’t they be?”
~ Raymond Chandler, “Oscar Night In Hollywood,” 1948

“Film festivals, for those who don’t know, are not exactly the glitzy red carpet affairs you see on TV. Those do happen, but they’re a tiny part of the festival. The main part of any film festival are the thousands of people with festival passes hanging on lanyards beneath their anoraks, carrying brochures for movies you have never and will never hear of, desperately scrabbling to sell whatever movie it is to buyers from all over the world. Every hotel bar, every cafe, every restaurant is filled to the brim with these people, talking loudly about non-existent deals. The Brits are the worst because most of the British film industry, with a few honourable exceptions, are scam artists and chancers who move around from company to company failing to get anything good made and trying to cast Danny Dyer in anything that moves. I’m seeing guys here who I first met twenty years ago and who are still wearing the same clothes, doing the same job (albeit for a different company) and spinning the same line of bullshit about how THIS movie has Al Pacino or Meryl Streep or George Clooney attached and, whilst that last one didn’t work out, THIS ONE is going to be HUGE. As the day goes on, they start drinking and it all gets ugly and, well, that’s why I’m the guy walking through the Tiergarten with a camera taking pictures of frozen lakes and pretending this isn’t happening.

“Berlin is cool, though and I’ve been lucky to be doing meetings with some people who want to actually get things done. We’ll see what comes of it.”
~ Julian Simpson