Interview Marvin Hamlisch
Hamlisch was born in New York City to Viennese Jewish parents, Lilly Schachter and Max Hamlisch. His father was an accordionist and bandleader. Hamlisch was a child prodigy and by age five he began mimicking music he heard on the radio on the piano. His first job was as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. Shortly after that he was hired by producer Sam Spiegel to play piano at Spiegel's parties. This connection led to his first film score, The Swimmer.
Later he wrote music for several Woody Allen early films, such as Take the Money and Run.Among his best known work during the 1970s were adaptations of Scott Joplin's ragtime music for the motion picture The Sting, including its theme song, 'The Entertainer'. He had great success with The Way We Were in 1974, winning two of his three 1974 Academy Awards. He also won four Grammy Awards in 1974, two for ' The Way We Were .' He co-wrote 'Nobody Does It Better' for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me with his then-girlfriend Carole Bayer Sager. (John Barry was unable to work in the United Kingdom due to tax reasons.) He also wrote the orchestral/disco score for the film, which was re-recorded for the album. The song went on to be nominated for an Oscar in 1977.
His latest work is The Informant!, a film by Steven Soderbergh starring Matt Damon.
You are one of the most versatile composers around, having written music for all kinds of media (theatre, movies, television, popsongs, ...), for which you virtually won every major award there is to win.
- Which type of media do you prefer writing for and why?
- Do the working methods differ?
I prefer them all. If you do 10 movies in a row – and there was a time when I did that – you feel a bit stale going from one movie to another that way they all bleed into each other. The ability to do a movie, then do a show, then come back to something else makes you more fresh. So in a way, each one of these helps the other.
As for working methods, film music requires composers to come in and pick up something to put it to the film. They usually use an element that comes in late in the process. In the show of course, he’s part of the creative team. Both of these types of work can be very, very rewarding and both have different challenges that are both very unique and enjoyable.
What was it like receiving your 8th Golden Globe nomination?
I am very grateful to the Hollywood Foreign Press and very thrilled for this nomination. It means a great deal to me. It is wonderful to return to scoring movies!
The Informant! marks your (one time?) return as a filmcomposer, after an absence of almost 13 years.
- How come you haven’t written a full movie score in all this time?
- And what brought you back? How did you get involved in this project and what (or who) decided you to write the score?
I got very busy with a lot of concerts, directing for many orchestras. I’ve been very lucky to work with some great directors in my lifetime. I just felt like it was time to do other things, and I got involved with some Broadway shows, and one thing lead to another.
Interestingly enough it’s because of Bananas that I got the score for The Informant! When Soderbergh was working on Che he brought some old DVDs with him to the shoot. One of them was Bananas, and he loved the recording. The excitement of it, the upness of it and the fun of it. He asked one of his people “Who did that score?” and someone said “Marvin Hamlisch” and I got a call from Soderbergh. It was such a great feeling to work with him, and it really started my juices flowing.
Your score is very upbeat, swings and emphasizes the comical aspect of the movie.
- How did you approach the project? What insipired you? What role did you want to give your music?
The score of The Informant! is not so much about notes as it is about choices. Because the character is bipolar, I came to believe the music would have to represent that part of him the world didn’t see, but that he inside of himself did. So therefore, as far as the score is concerned, without this theory of being a man in total control, he would respond to the FBI as though they were kind of silly. All of this stuff is really zany—but it’s all part of the brain of Mark Whitacre. The truth of the matter is, we’ve given the other part of this bipolar person a voice.
Is The Informant! a one time return or may we expect more new filmwork in the future?
Film scores will be in the future, but it has to do with being hired by directors.