The Caped Crusaders Composers: Elliot Goldenthal - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Caped Crusaders Composers: Elliot Goldenthal

Chris Morley lifts the cowl on another Caped Crusader composer.

We come now to an awkward pre-Christopher Nolan juncture for Batman, as the late Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and Batman & Robin ushered in an untimely return to the camp spirit of the original Sixties television series (which we've already looked over here). The man who scored both movies was Elliot Goldenthal.



At the age of just 14 it was ballet, not Batman, that gave Goldenthal a first taste of performance at Brooklyn's John Dewey High School. His own ballet, Variations On Early Glimpses, eventual lead to a stint at the Manhattan School Of Music studying under John Corigliano for bachelor & masters degrees in music.

Shortly after achieving his final qualification, Goldenthal worked on his first film, the 1979 Andy Warhol produced Cocaine Cowboys was swiftly backed with the following year's Blank Generation alongside Richard Hell & The Voidoids.



The early Eighties would see Goldenthal finding love with director Julie Taymor, with whom he's worked on projects after a mutual friend told him "I know a person whose work is just as grotesque as yours!" And to this day they remain together, living & working out of a shared office space. Their first proper collaboration came with 1999's Titus, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. This was followed three years later with Frida, the 2002 depiction of the professional and private life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, as played on film by Salma Hayek.

In an interview with Fangoria, Goldenthal laid out his philosophy on composition; “it's very important to experiment”. And in the early days of his career he most certainly did, working from around ten o' clock in the evening until dawn, scoring films such as Pet Sematary, Alien 3, Michael Collins, and Heat, alongside works for concert hall, theater and dance, including the 1988 Tony Award-winning Juan DariĆ©n: A Carnival Mass.

All of this is a far cry from Gotham's Caped Crusader, but when director Tim Burton decided not to return to the fold, taking and his musical collaborator Danny Elfman with him, Joel Schumacher had to start again. Goldenthal's score for Demolition Man caught the director's ear and in-turn led to his work on Batman.

“ Joel Schumacher heard Demolition Man & the next day asked me to do it.”
Despite wanting to take the score in a new direction, Goldenthal was, nonetheless, complimentary on Burtman & Elfman's previous work while keen to stress that “our film has a different Batman, a different director, a different sort of story”, while the composer would add that “ he didn't want to feel he was doing a sequel”. In light of which Elliot's opinion that he could've been chosen as music maestro out of “ a sense of wanting somebody who hadn't done a Batman film” arguably could've been bang on, as he thought of it as “a very self- contained movie”.



However, their next attempt, following on from the comparative hit of Batman Forever, tanked! As Joel later told the Hollywood Reporter...
“All I’m going to say is I was a big boy. I chose to do it. I don’t think I did my best job. That really bothers me.”
Some have suggested, based on comments made for the DVD commentary on Batman & Robin, that Schumacher had actually intended to adapt the Year One comic for the big screen and had written a script before being strong-armed into making what came out in its place by Warner Brothers. However juicy the rumour, though, it proved to be just that.
“I remember a few journalists calling me and saying, ‘There’s a rumour that you felt you never got to make your Batman movie and that you had a secret script. And that you were going to shoot that.’ Well, that’s all fantasy.”
But the music at least provided something of a saving grace, said No Milk No Sugar in attempting to defend the whole sorry mess.
“Here’s the thing, if you take Elliot Goldenthal’s musical score and listen to it isolated without an accompanying picture the music is actually very well crafted and dark and brooding in places. It’s just that the film diminishes the music and takes away any impact I’m sure Goldenthal was trying to achieve. “
For Schumacher, though, Elliot's work was a key part of the whole enterprise.
"Sound is now an integral part of any film. For a movie like 'Batman & Robin'- which I can best describe as a 'living comic book'- there are extensive sets and costumes that need to be detailed with sound.

It's very much like a pop opera, with sound being used along with the dramatic action, music, lighting and set design to heighten the fantasy. Sound effects have become as essential to the story-telling process as the visuals; they help to amplify and heighten the reality we create on the screen."
Perhaps none more important is that of the Batmobile itself, built by the sound design team using 60 different, individual sounds including an 800-horsepower, street-legal Buick Grand National with turbocharger whine.



One of the sound design team on the film, John Stambler, explained,
"We were able to make some remarkable recordings that we used throughout the movie. The overheated environment of the bat cave, with 100% humidity in complete blackness got us the sounds of bats, but also the chance to trudge through ankle-deep bat guano, wall-to-wall cockroaches, tarantulas and snakes!"
There's a surprising origin for the sound of Bruce Wayne's cape swishing, too.
"We needed a large, 'swooshing' sound for Batman's cape. We had already made a number of recordings of bat wings that were very good. But we lacked a 'big' sound that would really give the idea of Batman rising into the air and moving off at high speed."
Enter an unlikely saviour - a water tower!
"It had been covered with a tarpaulin. During a windy rainstorm, the tarp came loose and ended up streaming off into the air held only a single tether.

We snuck under the tower with our microphone and a portable DAT recorder. What you hear in the movie is the sound of this enormous tarp flapping, whipping and snapping around in the gale-force wind. It had exactly the right power, 'crack' and 'woosh' that we needed!“
Next time out, we'll be blowing into Gotham with Graeme Revell.

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