Behind the Scenes!
Musique Fantastique originally began in the early 1970s as a personal index of film composers. I was just trying to learn about the composers whose work frequented the genres of sci-fi, horror, fantasy and monster movies that I loved. These were the days long before IMDB, before the Internet, before any comprehensive guidebook that listed movie credits. Even books like Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion only sporadically listed music credits and almost always gave very short shrift to genre films, which in these pre-STAR WARS days were still pretty much disdained by serious moviegoers, and few magazines, with the notable exception of Cinefantastique, bothered with music credits at all.
My godsend was the 3-volume Reference Guide to Fantastic Films, compiled and published by Walt Lee in 1972-74. This was an exhaustively comprehensive source guide for virtually every fantastic film (an all-encompassing designation intended to cover fantasy, horror, and science fiction [which was then often called sf – serious sf fans hated the term “sci-fi” back then]) with essential credits listings that always included the music composer). So I went through all three volumes and wrote down all the composers on 3×5 cards and when I was done I had a pretty thorough list of music credits, by composer, for fantastic films from the silent era through 1974. (I later had the chance to return the favor by contributing several segments to Walt Lee’s Fantastic Films book project, which was to expand the simple credits/synopsis format of the Reference Guide into an encyclopedia commentary on fantastic films, one volume per year; unfortunately this project was sadly never published.)
Back to my 3×5 cards. I typed these up into a draft bibliography and then began to realize the potential for a book-length filmography of practitioners of fantastic film music, which then spread, like an alien mold, into a book-length narrative historical commentary supporting both a filmography and discography of sf, fantasy & horror film music. Gleaning behind the scenes information was difficult in this early epoch of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I lived in the San Francisco bay area, far from the network of L.A.-area libraries and people, and opportunities to travel to Hollywood for research were few and far between with my work schedule. I’d been publishing fanzines like Fandom Unlimited and CineFan sporadically since the early 1970s and had begun to amass a large network of correspondents courtesy of the US Postal Service. A couple of these, notably David Kraft (rest his soul) and Ford A. Thaxton (who has no soul, and is proud of it!), connected me with composers like Les Baxter and Albert Glasser and my first, albeit at the time fairly naïve, interviews proceeded. I got to know William H. Rosar, whose scholarly 1983 Library of Congress Quarterly essay, “Music for Monsters,” opened my brain to details about the important and influential early days of Universal monster film music; Rosar’s essay and his generous assistance was instrumental in shaping the format and content of the book’s early chapters. Rosar also connected me with Fred Steiner, who in turn introduced me to Herman Stein, Paul Dunlap, Fred Katz, Ronald Stein, and others significant composers of the cinema fantastique. I became acquainted with Tony Thomas, whose book Music For the Movies was a treasure in an era where it was literally the only book available on its topic, and Preston Neal Jones, whose career article on Hans J. Salter in Cinefantastique was very helpful and who proved equally helpful in person, and served as a kind of model for a similar career story on James Bernard I would do for Cinefantastique later on when I began writing for them.
And so it went – a network of connections, the generous accommodation of composers, the growing availability of soundtrack records, and the recent birth of home video provided me with my research materials, augmented by phone interviews and a couple week-long excursions down to Hollywood. In 1981 I began publishing CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, which also opened doors here as well as in England, Europe, and Asia for information and resources to cover genre film music beyond the Atlantic. Where I could not view a movie or hear a certain score, I tried to make do with printed reviews in fanzines and music & movie magazines in attempts to be as comprehensive as possible in my analytical history. I hired a local Japanese translator who turned the interviews with Akira Ifukube and Masaru Sato on the back of two record albums into English text to illuminate their perspectives. And so on.
I was, and remain, a non-musician without an academic or practical musical background; my knowledge of music – which goes back to my adolescence and love of music bestowed upon me by my parents – is purely appreciative (the only instruments I can play with any ability are the air guitar and the table drum). Therefore I could not cover film music in musicological terms; nor did I really want to. That would limit my readers to those with a firm education in musical theory, technique, and so on. I would rather discuss what the music did in dramatic and cinematic terms than rely upon esoteric musicological terms that would be understood only by an elite few, much as I would hope they might find my commentary worthwhile despite my simpler method of writing. I would later be rightly criticized for having the audacity of trying, in a couple of places, to describe music in narrative phonetic terms, and I learned from that mistake.
I submitted my idea for the book to Scarecrow Press, who I knew from publishing such important reference books as Don Willis’ Horror and Science Fiction Films, a series that added the author’s critical commentary to a Walt Lee-like reference guide of genre movies. Scarecrow responded with a positive response and a contract, and I was off. I spent about a year compiling and composing the final draft, on a typewriter, completing it in the science fictionesque year of 1984. The book came out in thick hardback the following year.
Response to the book was encouraging and mostly well-regarded, although a few academic journals criticized the book for not being scholarly enough to their liking; some critics felt I tried to incorporate too much and that my definition of the genre of study was too broad – criticisms I have taken to heart and attempted to rectify in this Second Edition (despite maintaining its encyclopedic scope for the sake of comprehensiveness and in my earnest attempt to provide respectful acknowledgement of composers’ work no matter how obscure). But, in 1985, a time in which you could count books about film music on one hand, and books about music in fantastic films on a closed fist, many others felt that Musique Fantastique filled a niche and provided valuable details on the who, what, and how of the music that graced genre movies across a span of eight decades, and enabled further appreciation of the art and craft of motion picture music and its use in fantastic films.
Apparate ahead a quarter century: Sci-fi (the term now palatable), fantasy, and horror films were big business. Home video morphed into DVDs and Blu-Rays, and you could even watch movies online – a concept which had been completely alien to me in 1984. I’d traded my publishing empire for a family, and did my wordsmithing in my spare time, continuing to specialize in writing about music for fantastic films, although not exclusively. I began writing for Cinefantastique in 1983, writing those same “The Score” columns that had been helpful in finding quotes to include in Musique Fantastique. I did some of the first interviews with newcomers like James Horner, Basil Poledouris, and Danny Elfman for these columns, while also covering major vets like Jerry Goldsmith and Leonard Rosenman. Scarecrow published my book about Music for Hammer Films in 1996, and the following year, at the suggestion of composer Robert Folk and producer Ford Thaxton, I tried my hand at writing liner notes for a promotional album of Folk’s film music. Fifteen years and more than 130 albums later, after retiring from my “day” job, I’m now writing about film music for soundtrack albums full time.
Some of those album notes were for a CD label called Percepto, owned by a fellow Cinefantastique alumnus named Taylor White, and he began asking me about writing a new edition of Musique Fantastique. It was an idea I’d had myself from time to time, but his interest as a publisher made it feasible. A contract was signed and again I was off and smokin’ the keys, on a computer this time. I decided to dispense with the first editions’ filmography and discography, since Internet web sites now easily provided that information, and instead focus on commentary, revising the 1984 book and updating its coverage to the current day. The ability to see and hear film music through the proliferation of DVDs, Blu-rays, specialty soundtrack albums, and youtube, the access to composers through the Internet and social media (and their own uncelebrity-like accommodation of unsolicited inquiries), and the two-and-a-half decades of growing film music research and analysis in books, magazines, and web sites allowed access to film scores I had been unable to reach in 1984, and as I wrote I realized how much further I could expand the book’s coverage into foreign cinema, independent films, direct-to-video and online films and their music – subjects either outside my radar or nonexistent when I wrote the first edition. Soundtrack reviews, interviews, and album notes I’d written since the first edition quickly were adapted into the text of the new edition while dozens of new interviews were done for the 2nd Edition. Additionally, my writing had much improved since the relatively simplistic language of the first book; I felt I’d found my voice in talking about film music and its effects in a more appropriately dramatic and descriptive manner, sometimes borrowing techniques I’d honed in my fiction writing, that seemed to work well in discussing the impact of music in these films.
As my vision for Musique Fantastique II grew, so did the workload, complicated by caring for my mother’s rapid descent into full-fledged dementia and the resultant move of two households halfway up the state just as I was in the middle of trying to finish the book. Much to my publisher’s dismay, this caused delays, which resulted in the book’s appearance coming just as the era of electronic publishing beginning to have its effect on the nature of book publishing. The length of my final draft – 33 chapters, 1700 pages, 1.2 million words – necessitated that the tome be divided into four volumes (or “books”) which would be published separately but comprise a single work. Taylor commissioned renowned illustrator Bill Nelson to paint the gorgeous covers for each book, which were then beautifully designed by graphic artist Joe Sikoryak, and carefully proofread to make sure my necessary process of constantly building layer on layer of text as each book took shape didn’t leave any errant, redundant, or incomplete statements. To that end, I am also very much indebted to my daughter Kelsey, whose eagle eye and attention to detail in copyediting has been invaluable (although I admit I am not above using a word of my own making if it seems to make its point better than one of Webster’s).
With Musique Fantastique, Second Edition, Book 1 now at press and a mere three months from making its way down the literary birth canal into the hands of readers, I’ve designed this web site to serve firstly as a web of information about that book – where it came from, what it’s all about, and where to get it – and secondly as an ongoing resource for continuing data, blogging, discussion, correction, and commentary about the subject at hand as and after all the books are published. As I learned between the completion of my first draft in 2010 and now – they keep on making movies and they keep on having them scored, so it’s an ongoing process to cover the music being written for genre films, and it’s my intent to be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible even after the books have sold out.
Book 1 is being published both as a book with a limited print run and as an e-book suitable for digital book readers; the plan is for it to be followed shortly by Books 2, 3, and 4 (which I’m continuing to update, add-to, and make current up until they are fully ready for press). I am hopeful that they will follow the same double format as that of Book 1, if it’s successful, since while I embrace the accessibility and readership opportunities inherent in electronic publishing I am also a lover of physical books, the scent of ink on paper, the friendly, inviting feel of holding a real book in my hands, with pages that turn and crease and clunk when you put them down.
Your interest, your support, and your feedback on this website will enable this journey.
Randall D. Larson
April 2, 2012.