1960 Film Scores: European Films

The previous article in the series about music in 1960 covered soundtracks for American films released that year. It was indeed a great year for music made for the movies, and not only in the US. On the other side of the pond a number of countries produced classic movies and soundtracks. We begin this review in The Eternal City and one of the most celebrated director/composer collaborations in the history of film-making.

Federico Fellini arrived in the city of Rome in 1939 and spent the early part of his career as a magazine writer and editor. As a young man he experienced the excitement of living in the city and mingling with Rome’s café society, a glittery bohemian world of post-war Italy. In 1958 he started filming a movie loosely based on that period, splitting it into multiple episodes. It took him 6 months to shoot the film and 18 more to edit it. The result was the masterpiece ‘La Dolce Vita’ (The Good Life).

Fellini said of his objective for the movie: “What I intended was to show the state of Rome’s soul, a way of being of a people. What it became was a scandalous report, a fresco of a street and society. It didn’t have to be Rome. It could have been Bangkok or a thousand other cities. I intended it as a report of Sodom and Gomorrah, a trip into anguish and despair.”

Harper’s Magazine wrote about the film in 1961: “All the episodes put together become a catalog of the ills that infest the society of cities. The quest for unusual erotic pleasures, the lack of a rational approach toward  personal problems, excessive boredom, extreme cruelty, extravagance and corruption, all resulting in both sexual promiscuity and sexual degeneration.” The last days of Rome, indeed.

La Dolce Vita – party scene

The film score was composed, of course, by Nino Rota who wrote the music to all of Fellini’s films from The White Sheik in 1952 to The Orchestra Rehearsal in 1979, the year of Rota’s death. His music added another dimension and lightness to the director’s often-difficult visuals. Fellini on the positive impact of Rota’s presence: “He arrived at the end, when the stress of shooting, editing and dubbing was at its height. But when he arrived stress vanished and everything became a party, the film entered a light, serene, fantastical phase, in an atmosphere in which it gained a new life.”

La Dolce Vita – Trevi fountain scene

Fellini’s original idea for the film score was to use period music, but together with Rota they started a new direction in their collaboration, mixing original music by Rota with adaptation of tunes such as Stormy Weather, Arrivederci Roma and Patricia. That last tune was played in the movie during a striptease scene, becoming a favorite in striptease joints in Europe after the film’s release. Another well-known tune, Moritat (Mack the Knife), was used by Fellini during the shooting of the orgy scene. He later talked about Rota’s contribution when he discovered that he was not able to obtain the rights to the song: “When it comes to the moment of making the actual music, of recording the soundtrack, I‘m confronted with this problem, of having to let go of the music I’ve chosen. This is when the truly angelic quality of Rota’s nature comes in, for instead of disagreeing, he’ll immediately say, ‘Oh, but the music you’ve chosen fits perfectly, I’ll let go of these (his motifs), I couldn’t possibly do anything better.’” A mellowed Fellini would then eat up anything Rota handed him.

Federico Fellini with Nino Rota

Fellini was worried about Rota’s tendency to forget their discussions about which music to use in each scene, so he brought a notebook of music notation and insisted on keeping it on top of Rota’s piano with careful labeling of each tune.

Nota summarized the effect of his compositions on listeners: “My music seems easy and quite a few people say that they have the impression of ‘knowing it already, but then, in the end, no one remembers a thing because the notes vanish before them.”

When the soundtrack album was released in 1961, a newspaper ad read: “Its score, full of splashing rhythms and haunting themes, is music of piercing emotion. Enjoy it at home tonight.” Here goes:

We stay with another great soundtrack by Nino Rota in 1960, this one from the film Rocco and His Brothers, directed by Luchino Visconti. This was the third time the two collaborated, after working together on the films Senso in 1954 and Le notti bianche (White Nights) in 1957. Far from the decadent life led by the characters in La Dolce Vita, Rocco and His Brothers tells the story of a poor Southern Italian family in their struggle to better their life in the Northern city of Milan. As the story unfolds, the family starts to disintegrate and the five brothers at the center of the film lose their core moral values.

Nino Rota opted to compose music inspired by Italian folk tunes to express the nostalgic mood of Southern immigrants living in north Italy. This was a socioeconomic phenomenon that took place in the aftermath of World War II, and the music depicts the yearning that many of them felt towards their origin and roots. The same concept would repeat years later when Rota composed the music for The Godfather.

The south of Italy is the setting of the next movie, a milestone release in Michelangelo Antonioni’s series of films known as “Lack of Communication Cinema”. L’Avventura (The Adventure) started the series that continued in the next few years with La Notte (The Night), L’Eclisse (The Eclipse) and Il Deserto Rosso (Red Desert), implementing unique visual and sound techniques. These movies utilize sparse dialogue, long camera shots and heavy use of diegetic sound (a sound that is part of the scene, for example a radio playing music or a band playing live).

Between 1948 and 1960 Antonioni worked almost exclusively with composer Giovanni Fusco, and they collaborated again on L’Avventura. The previous year Fusco wrote the wonderful music for Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima mon amour” and here he delivers the goods again. Antonioni famously tried to use composed music as less as possible in his films, making it a difficult task for Fusco to write music to the director’s liking. He said in an interview that Antonioni could tolerate music in his film only if it was strictly motivated by the situation.

Antonioni imposed farther restrictions on Fusco when working on L’Avventura, asking for “a tiny orchestra: a clarinet, a saxophone, and something sounding like a drum kit, in a style that should be jazz as the classical Greeks might have written a jazz score, if jazz existed in those days”. He was still merciless after the music was written, cutting it down to only 20 minutes used in the 140+ minutes movie.

One more from Italy, this one unique for having two separate film scores. 1960 marks the release of a milestone gothic movie by master of Italian horror Mario Bava. After working in the film industry since 1937 as a cinematographer and special effects artist, Bava had his solo directorial debut with ‘La maschera del demonio’, released to English-speaking audiences as ‘Black Sunday’.

Loosely based on a short story by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, the film shocked viewers in 1960 with its visuals of gore including a mask of spikes being hammered onto a face, people threading waist deep in corpses, undead bodies emerging from graves and nefarious carnal activities aplenty. All part of the genre’s standard repertoire in current times, but unseen before in 1960.

The original score was written by jazz musician and composer Roberto Nicolosi, who provided orchestral cues in the style of classical Romantic composers. A major portion of the movie was scoreless and left to the imagination of the sound editor to create the required atmosphere. Key dramatic scenes featured no music at all. The genre was in its infancy in Italy, an unchartered territory to film composers.

Nicolosi later collaborated with Mario Bava on another horror classic, Black Sabbath (1963), a film that inspired Ozzy Osbourne and Co. to a adopt the name for their band.

The film was distributed in the US by American International (AIP), mentioned in the sister article 1960 Film Scores: American Films.

Ads for the film in the US carried the warning “No one under the age of twelve will be admitted.” This was all that kids under the age of twelve needed to hear before flocking to the theaters to witness the forbidden film featuring the mesmerizing horror goddess Barbara Steele.

AIP found the score too sparse and too romantic for their primarily teen audience. They hired house composer Les Baxter to write an alternate score. Baxter, no stranger to horror movies, scored Roger Corman’s House of Usher in 1960. On Black Sunday he demonstrates his ability to write a dramatic score that works well with a horror movie but still stands on its own. Having the benefit of a full orchestra at his disposal, he made great use of all that is associated with horror movies scores – plucked violins, horn stabs, timpani rolls, atonal sounds. Yet Baxter manages to combine all these with beautiful romantic passages.

We cross the border to France and a number of excellent film and scores. The first is yet another classic of its genre, a milestone in French New Wave cinema.

Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film, ‘À bout de souffle’ (Breathless), featured the music of Martial Solal, who got his big break with this film. The jazz musician talked about the beginning of his career in film scoring: “At twenty-five, my main ambition was to become a good pianist. In 1958, a first opportunity arose with Jean-Pierre Melville who commissioned me to write a few minutes of music for Deux Hommes dans Manhattan (Two Men in Manhattan). With modesty and a certain recklessness, I simply thought of translating images with the sensitivity of a jazz musician. Until then, in my mind, the composers of film music formed a free-form circle, inaccessible.”

He later received a faithful call: “This guy called me: ‘Hello, my name is Jean-Luc Godard. Monsieur Melville told me about you… I want to offer a film, A Bout de Souffle. Would you accept writing the music?’ Godard organized a screening for me, with a quasi-montage cut. I was immediately under the spell, without realizing how much the film was revolutionizing the grammar of cinema.”

Godard was a brilliant film maker, but his ideas about the musical direction of his films were less developed. Solal: “”Godard had no ideas about the music, so fortunately I was completely free. He did once say, ‘Why don’t you just write it for one banjo player?’ I thought he was being funny, but you couldn’t be sure with him. Anyway, I brought a big band and 30 violins.”

The film’s cult status has been earning Solal royalties for years. “I tell people it’s like I won the Lotto. It was very fantastic luck for me.” Sadly, this was a once in a lifetime collaboration: “We never worked together again. I was sad, I asked myself questions, without being angry with him. Because, thanks to his film, I was immediately offered to work on new feature films. It was ‘the Breathless effect’. In a few weeks, I became an in-demand film composer.”

Here is a fine example of how the music enhances this classic scene from Breathless, the “New York Herald Tribune”, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg:

The story of Breathless was written by François Truffaut. After his fantastic directorial debut ‘Les 400 Coups’ (The 400 Blows) in 1959, he delivered yet another classic in 1960 with ‘Tirez sur le pianist’ (Shoot the Piano Player). This was the first time he collaborated with composer Georges Delerue, starting an amazing run of 11 films over a period of 23 years. Truffaut once declared: “From the moment Hitchcock started using Herrmann, something in his films was intensified.” The same can be said of Georges Delerue’s music. Truffaut’s films gained in intensity and moved up the emotional ladder a step with that music.

Truffaut was unhappy with the music in his first film The 400 Blows, written by Jean Constantin, and was looking for a different composer. He invited Delerue to a screening of the movie. The composer remembers the challenging task of writing the score for Shoot the Piano Player: “The projection began and the more the film advanced, the more anxious I was. I loved this film very much: Charles Aznavour was great, Marie Dubois so endearing, all characters perfectly in their place, only there was a big problem. The film was very musical but we could not hear any music: it had been shot without playback. We saw Aznavour playing the piano but we did not hear anything, same thing for the bassist and the drummer. All that was seen was the hands of Aznavour on the piano, and his movements of shoulders. He was supposed to play jazz. I was required during the editing to reconstruct a music only according to the rhythm of the movements. After ‘Shoot the Pianist’ I felt ready to face anything!”

Here is how the scene ended up in the final movie. I would say he did pretty well:

Another favorite French film from 1960 was Zazie dans le Métro (Zazie in the Metro), directed by Louis Malle. After two dramatic films in 1958 – Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) and Les amants (The Lovers), Malle turned to a lighter, endearing film based on the book of the same name by Raymond Queneau. Malle described the story: “A little girl who is outspoken comes to spend 48 hours in Paris and causes trouble wherever she goes.” He made the girl four years younger to avoid the topics of adolescence and sexual discovery: “I wanted to avoid any ‘Lolita’ references. Our Zazie is therefore a ten-year-old girl who says nonsense, who is absolutely outside the world of adults and who is never wrong in front of them.”

In a 1960 interview Malle said that he was fascinated with Queneau’s book and its unique use of literary language. In turn he used creative techniques to tell the story with visuals: “I tried to play in a comic way on the contraction of time and space, and it gives the film a curious rhythm. Many scenes are shot at eight and sometimes twelve frames per second, but you don’t notice it because the actors play in slow motion. It was easy for Philippe Noiret, a wonderful actor, but it was much harder for the little one who had never faced a camera. When it works, it seems like everything is running at normal speed, but in the background there are things going on that go three times faster than they should. It’s exhilarating, accelerated gravity.”

Summarizing his view of French New Cinema at the time of its peak, Malle commented, “Breathless, Pickpocket, Hiroshima mon amour certainly represent the movement of modern cinema. We are looking for a new representation of time and space.”

The film score was composed by Fiorenzo Carpi, known for his later work composing the score for the Italian TV mini-series ‘Le avventure di Pinocchio’ (The Adventures of Pinocchio). In both cases he manages to create a charming musical backdrop to the adventures unfolding on the screen.

We stay with French cinema, but make a drastic U-turn genre-wise to a classic horror film. As with its neighboring Italy, horror movies were a new thing in France in 1960, and Georges Franju’s ‘Les yeux sans visage’ (Eyes Without a Face) created a controversy on its release. Yet unlike ‘Black Sunday’, the film and its plot about a scientist who performs a face transplant on his daughter’s disfigured face, eliminates the typical gore of films in this genre and is known for its unique poetic style.

‘Eyes Without a Face’ is based on a novel by Jean Redon, which Franju had to tame quite a bit, being asked not to include too much blood (which would upset French censors), refrain from showing animals getting tortured (which would upset English censors) and leave out mad-scientist characters (which would upset German censors). Given that all three topics were covered extensively in the book, the film focus shifted from the scientist to his daughter.

The film features an early full-length score by legendary composer Maurice Jarre. Coming from a background of scoring to the theater and documentary films, Jarre was used to operate under tight budgets. The arrangements on ‘Eyes Without a Face’ are much smaller in scope then the sweeping orchestral compositions he would utilize later in his career on collaborations with David Lean and other Hollywood directors.

We cross the channel and reach the United Kingdom, with a number of interesting scores in 1960. The first is by one of my favorite composers for the movies – John Barry. That was the year Barry was assigned to write his first film score. Barry met pop idol Adam Faith on the set of the 1959 TV series Drumbeat, where he performed with the John Barry Seven. He continued working with Faith, collaborating on the #1 hit What Do You want, and followed him when Faith got his first film role in the teen pop melodrama Beat Girl. The forgettable film wouldn’t be mentioned here if it wasn’t for Barry’s score.

The producers asked John Barry to write music for Adam Faith to sing in the movie, and the offer soon expanded to a full score. It was recorded with a 22-piece orchestra including the John Barry Seven. The songs were performed by Adam Faith, and Shirley Anne Field. Due to the popularity of the movie, this became the first British soundtrack to be released on a 12” LP in Britain. Here is a track from the soundtrack, with the unmistakable twangy guitar of Vic Flick. Quentin Tarantino would be proud.

We seem to end each country with a horror film, so what about another classic of the genre, ‘Village of the Damned’? The film started as an MGM US production called ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, but was too much to stomach for the Catholic Legion of Decency. Aliens, especially the kind that are born to unsuspecting human mothers, went against Biblical teaching and the idea of virgin birth was a major no no. Three other films in this review were condemned by this puritan body: Breathless, L’Avventura and Never on Sunday, so Village of the Damned is in good company. As you can tell, Europeans had no problem digesting these movies, so it was natural for MGM to relocate the shooting to England.

Film score composer Ron Goodwin remembers the movie as “one of the very few low budget movies that MGM were producing at that time.” Goodwin, on one of his early full feature scores, creates with musical instruments what can be mistaken for sound effects, as with the glow-in-the-dark eyes that project the children’s telepathic abilities. The opening theme is a serene melody of harp and flute to illustrate the idyllic setting of the English country-side. However it quickly turns to a sinister mood as the alien children enter the plot.

We end this review with another Academy Award and something completely different once again, moving south to the warmth of the Mediterranean and the port of Piraeus in Greece. Jules Dassin directed the film ‘Never on Sunday’, a brilliant romantic comedy starring himself as an American scholar visiting Greece. He meets a beautiful and intelligent prostitute (Melina Mercouri) who teaches him a thing or two about enjoying life. Dassin said about the movie: “I was trying to criticize in comedy this awful tendency that Americans have to try to remake the world in their image, in their thinking, in their imposition of what we call the American way of life. Often half-baked, often without any real understanding of what different countries are about.” The film was a variation of the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ story, in particular George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

The music was written by legendary Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis, who also wrote the theme song for the movie, sang by Mercouri. “Ta Pedia tou Pirea” (The Children of Piraeus) features the sublime accompaniment of master bouzouki player Giorgos Zampetas. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1960, the first time a foreign-language picture won in that category. It was since covered by many popular orchestras and singers with notable versions by Don Costa, The Chordettes and Connie Francis.

Far from one who seeks the limelight, Hadjidakis was quoted saying: “I don’t care about fame. It imprisons me inside its own limitations, not mine.” True to his words, he did not show up to pick the Oscar he won, generating a funny comic relief by Bob Hope, the award presenter.

Manos Hadjidakis with an Oscar

The golden statuette was sent by mail, but was stolen somewhere in the Balkans. When he was asked to pose for a photo with the prize, Hadjidakis borrowed an Oscar from Katina Paxinou, who in 1943 won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Here is the scene from the movie with its star singing the song:


Categories: A Year in Music

Tagged as: ,

Leave a Reply