Georges Delerue

A Conversation with Georges Delerue by David Kraft / Transcribed and Edited by Daniel Mangodt
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.1/No.2/1982
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven

Georges Delerue’s score for A LITTLE SEX is his third recorded in the U.S. All were done at Evergreen Studios in Burbank, a rather new and increasingly popular recording studio that has been stressing its film scoring facilities in the motion picture trade papers. (In fact, Charles Fox is co-owner of the complex and had film scoring capabilities in mind when having it built). Delerue told me he plans to record at Evergreen whenever he scores a picture here. His current project, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, from Ray Bradbury’s story, will be done there.

The French composer is a charming man, surprisingly short in stature and always rather jovial. He kept stressing to me how great Hollywood musicians were and how much he enjoyed scoring A LITTLE SEX. After each musical cue was performed, Delerue would come into the control booth and watch and listen to the playback with director Bruce Paltrow and star Tim Matheson.

It should be pointed out that Georges Delerue speaks very little English, so he had a translator with him at all times to translate instructions to the musicians, to communicate with the recording engineer and director, and to help out with the following interview. Interestingly, “cult” independent filmmaker Jim McBride (DAVID HOLTZMAN’S DIARY, GLENN & RANDA) served as interpreter for the composer, whom he met during the time Delerue scored RICH AND FAMOUS. McBride is fluent in French and very familiar with film and music jargon, so he was deemed a perfect translator.

The recording sessions for A LITTLE SEX took four days: 1 day doing “source music”, composed by Delerue but supposedly emanating from sources such as a jukebox in a café, small bands, and so on; 1 day with just a few instruments, mainly one or two strings; plus two days with a full orchestra. (A large string section, including harp, plus accordion, percussion and a few horns perhaps 40 instruments in all.

It is a joy to watch Georges Delerue conduct his own music. He seems to get totally involved in every cue, lilting and swaying along with his flowing melodies. Rather than mechanically conducting the orchestra and seeming detached, Delerue “lives” his themes and his enthusiasm rubs off on the musicians. Often several members of the orchestra would crowd into the control booth to hear the playbacks a very rare occurrence with studio musicians, who are rather blasé about their work as they are scoring film and TV almost daily. They rarely become so involved as to want to hear what was performed.

About 35 minutes of music were actually composed for A LITTLE SEX, but director Bruce Paltrow has omitted a lot of the score from the picture. All the source music was eventually scrapped (from what I’ve learned since attending the recording sessions) since Paltrow felt it sounded like film music rather than source music! Delerue even re-scored a couple of scenes a month after the original sessions, as the movie was “sneak previewed” and cuts were made. One sequence was totally re-cut, thus making the score out-of-synchronization; so the composer wrote another theme. Another scene got no laughs from the audience (A LITTLE SEX is a comedy / drama) and Bruce Paltrow felt the score needed to play up the humor so Delerue wrote “funnier” music for the sequence.

This interview took place on December 16, 1981, after a full morning of scoring. My thanks to Daniel Mangodt for transcribing and translating Delerue’s responses from French. (The translations by Jim McBride were fine for the moment, but I felt a new version would be more appropriate LVDV).

In a previous interview we talked mainly about French films. So now I would like to have a shorter conversation about your recent popularity in scoring American pictures. I want to talk about each film individually, and how you became involved, with as much detail as possible, because our readers are familiar with your scores… Why do you think your work has been so popular in the United States during the past few years?
Because I think I was lucky enough to work on important films. Also, all the films by Truffaut were seen in the U.S., for instance JULES ET JIM and LA NUIT AMERICAINE (DAY FOR NIGHT). I had also worked on several American movies in Europe that were very successful, such as A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and JULIA. I have noticed that the American public likes my music very much, but I have no idea why. In fact I was very surprised when I arrived here for the first time in November or December 1980, to notice that I was very well known in the movie business.

What pictures have you scored in Los Angeles?
I recorded three scores at Evergreen Studios: ESCAPE ARTIST, RICH AND FAMOUS and A LITTLE SEX.

TRUE CONFESSIONS was done in Europe?
I recorded it in France and it was because of that film that I came to Los Angeles for the first time. Before that period I wouldn’t travel by plane.

I heard that. Have you gotten over your fear of flying now?
Yes, this is the seventh trip I’ve made this year. It’s not that I love flying now, but it doesn’t bother me any more. And I have really been enjoying working here.

What are the differences as far as the way of scoring films is concerned?
It’s not the technical aspect that is different; it’s the whole conception of music in film which is different. Movie people here attach a great deal of importance to music and they allow in the budget for the composer to explore a lot of possibilities. Music is not thought of as happens in France as something that comes after the picture has been completed and is therefore less important. Of course, there are exceptions, when I work for instance with Philippe de Broca, Jacques Rouffio or François Truffaut. They attach a great deal of importance to the music, but I have never had as many possibilities as here. So, it’s a great joy for me to be here. The studios are beautifully equipped and are really made for movies; and the musicians are extraordinary. The best places to work with film musicians are Los Angeles and London.

Is it because there seems to be more importance attributed to film music in America that you tend to write a lot more music than you for instance do for European pictures? For example, TRUE CONFESSIONS had a lot more music than LE DERNIER METRO or the Godard movies.
It’s because I had more means at my command.

And do you think the directors in the U.S. kind of expect and want more music, and the European directors say, “Not so much, not so much!”?
It’s not that. It’s really a question of money. France is one of the rare countries where music is never budgeted it’s always too expensive. I’ll give you an example, A LITTLE SEX. I worked with director Bruce Paltrow and the producer; they came to my house and listened to me playing the music on the piano. I wanted to have 3 recording sessions, but the producer and the director said, “No. You must be comfortable with your work and if you need more sessions, you will have them.” I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation, but since they trusted me completely, I decided on four sessions. So I was much more comfortable. For RICH AND FAMOUS I had the chance to have a pretty large orchestra, with a lot of strings, which was called for in the score, but I would never have had that opportunity in Europe.

Let’s talk specifically about the pictures you did in the U.S. First of all A LITTLE ROMANCE, which won you the Academy Award. How did you become involved with George Roy Hill?
It was very strange. I got a telephone call from a French producer, who represented George Roy Hill. He told me Hill would like me to write the music for his film. He was there for only four days. I was worried because I had a lot of work to do and I asked to see the picture first. If it had been an action movie with a lot of music, I would have refused. But since it was a film about emotions, I was delighted to accept the assignment. We understood each other very well, especially because Hill had been a composer; he had once been a student of Paul Hindemith.

Was it Hill’s idea to use Vivaldi’s music?
Yes, it was his idea. I tried to do something else for the end titles, but he didn’t want to use it, because he had been cutting the film to that particular music for so long, that he couldn’t get rid of it in his mind. That’s the problem when you work on a movie a long time, using temporary music.

Were you surprised that you were not only nominated but also won the Academy Award? Do you wish you could have been there to accept the Award? And how much did it mean to you?
Of course I would have liked to be there, but that was still in the period when I was afraid of flying. I remember I was staying in Paris, and at four o’clock in the morning the telephone woke me. Since my father was very ill, I was afraid something terrible might have happened, but it was a friend, who lives in Canada and who had seen the programme on television. He told me I had won.

How much does it mean to you to have won the Academy Award?
I was very, very happy. I got so many congratulations… For instance, Henry Mancini, who was also nominated that year, sent me a congratulatory telegram, which I appreciated very much.

Let’s talk about DAY OF THE DOLPHIN. How did you get involved with director Mike Nichols? You wrote a great score for that film.
That is another strange thing. Somebody called me from New York one evening; he wanted me to score this picture. I couldn’t do it, for two reasons: I had an awful lot of work on my hands, and the old story of not wanting to take an airplane… I had two concerts to conduct, so I really couldn’t leave Paris. I asked him if he could come to Paris and he agreed. He left on a Friday for the French capital when he had finished cutting the film, stayed on Saturday and Sunday to do the ‘spotting’ with me at ‘Le Club Treize’. I spent the whole day with my music editor. From 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mike Nichols and I discussed the places that had to be scored. He left me the black and white working print. I started working and three weeks later he came back to Paris and I conducted the music.

What scores have attracted Mike Nichols to have you as composer?
I have no idea. He knew my music very well. He liked LE ROI DE COEUR (KING OF HEARTS) and the films by Truffaut. But I really don’t know…

The scenes between the dolphins and George C. Scott inspired you to write a really beautiful theme.
I loved the film, and since it was an American picture I had the chance to do the movie with a large orchestra.

It was almost like a love theme between Scott and the dolphins…
That’s the way I understood it from the beginning.

Mike Nichols approved of bringing out that element in the film?
We were in complete agreement. Afterwards he wrote me a long letter to congratulate me. I also got a lot of good reviews.

Did Mike Nichols have something to do with A LITTLE SEX?
No, I said that this film had the same atmosphere, the same style as some of the pictures directed by Mike Nichols, such as THE GRADUATE.

Who made the decision to employ you for A LITTLE SEX? Were they after a romantic composer?
I don’t know. They offered me the film when I was here for RICH AND FAMOUS. I read the screenplay and thought it was O.K., but it wasn’t really that interesting and I said no. Then in August Brendan Cahill (director of music at Universal) came to Paris and asked me to see the cut version of the film. He couldn’t believe I had refused to score the movie. I saw A LITTLE SEX and I accepted immediately. The actors were terrific.

Jacqueline Bisset was one of the producers of RICH AND FAMOUS. Was it she who wanted you, or was it George Cukor?
GD: It was a variety of reasons, but Bill Hallin, the producer, was the one who really wanted to have me. We had a lot of problems, mainly because of the actors’ strike. It was the first time I came to Los Angeles. I stayed at the Beverly Wilshire and I found the screenplay of RICH AND FAMOUS in my mailbox. Then I met Bill Hallin. I had a big problem because during post-production I had already been signed to score a BBC serial, THE BORGIAS. I told him I could do it. I could stay 8 days in Los Angeles, write the score and then go back to Paris, and return for the actual recording. He didn’t really like that, but he wanted me so badly that he went along with it. I was very happy to meet Cukor and to work with him. Working for George Cukor is like a calling-card for a French composer. He is a kind of legend.

After doing that film, do you agree that there are some advantages to flying?
Certainly, I decided to take an airplane because I had so many problems in France. I realised that I wasn’t getting the chance to do the kind of things I really wanted to do within the limits of French cinema. When I saw the advantages of working in the U.S., I had to learn to like flying. They also told me that I would have a lot of problems working in the U.S. I wouldn’t be able to orchestrate my own music, for example. I have always done my own orchestrations and conducted the music. I was very afraid of these changes in my work habits, but then I realised it was not a problem. I was able to orchestrate and conduct my own scores. I was even allowed more freedom than I had expected.

Back to TRUE CONFESSIONS. The choral work is a traditional piece. What was the basis of the score?
Director Ulu Grosbard didn’t want exactly ‘descriptive’ music and I agreed. He wanted music as a counterpoint. The violence in the film had to be compensated by a liturgical kind of score. It had to take on the dimensions of a tragedy, not banal or commonplace.

Did you research the music?
No. The mass is source music. The choral music at the moment of discovery of the body in the bathroom is entirely mine.

Michael Ritchie wanted a very French-sounding score for AN ALMOST PERFECT AFFAIR (The film was set during the Cannes film festival). Could you tell something about the music?
It was very quickly decided. I met Michael Ritchie, saw the film and did the spotting. I usually play the music to the director at the piano before doing any orchestrating, but he had already left, trusting me completely. I recorded the score in London.

There are a few more obscure things that I want you to clear up… You conducted the score for PRINCE OF THE CITY…?
That was during the musicians’ strike in the U.S. A lot of productions came to Paris to record. In France there are really only three people who conduct orchestras for film scores. Paul Chihara, who is a former student of Nadia Boulanger, asked if I conducted from time to time. I like to conduct, for others as well. Chihara is a very good musician and we get along very well.

What other scores did you conduct for other composers?
HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR. But that was a long time ago. (Georges Delerue wrote the waltz only. Ed.) NUIT ET BROUILLARD by Alain Resnais. LES SORCIERES DE SALEM. Every time Hanns Eisler came to France, I conducted the orchestra.

How did you get involved with ALL NIGHT LONG?
I had written the music for a film by Jean-Claude Tramont in France, LE POINT DE MIRE. I knew him as a director, so it was natural that he called me.

Did you write any music for ALL NIGHT LONG? The credits read, “Cheryl’s Theme by Georges Delerue”.
No, I didn’t. I arranged a few things during the actual recording sessions, because Tramont wanted more strings.

Were there several composers involved?
Yes, Dave Grusin, for instance. But it’s a very complicated story. I didn’t even know all that much about it!

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