In 1993, the documentary “” won critical love for its overview of Hollywood’s classic cinematographers. Matt Schrader’s tidy and informative “” lavishes similar adoration on moviedom’s great composers. And why not? Their contribution can be as substantial as that of cinematographers, or even actors, though more subtle — but not always.
Example No. 1: Bill Conti’s theme to “,” as brash and manipulative an accompaniment to a workout montage as ever there was. From there, the movie recounts the early days of Wurlitzer organs and musicians improvising to silent movies for live audiences, before segueing into a brief, basic lesson in director-composer collaborations.
The greats are here, either discussed or appearing on camera themselves: Max Steiner (whose orchestral flourishes enriched “”); Alex North (of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” whom the film credits with ushering jazz into scores); John Barry (whose James Bond theme would influence spy films in perpetuity); and giants on their own mountaintop, Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone. (What, no or ? But why quibble?) More recent innovators, like Trent Reznor (“The Social Network”), Danny Elfman (Tim Burton’s “Batman”) and Rachel Portman (“Race”), speak eloquently. John Williams (“Jaws,” “Star Wars”) casts a very long shadow.
Inordinate time is spent with Hans Zimmer, whose symphonic-synthesizer scores define the current action-spectacle template. But he rightly says film composers are “one of the last people on earth” who regularly employ orchestra musicians. “Without us,” he adds, “the orchestra might disappear,” which would be “such a loss to humanity.” And who can argue?