February 7, 2011
In The Tracks of Georges Delerue
French Composer celebrated in new documentary at American Cinematheque by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—Nearly 300 film-music enthusiasts turned out Saturday for the American premiere of In the Tracks of Georges Delerue, a documentary about the Oscar-winning French composer, at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theater.
The 73-minute film — third in a series of composer documentaries by French filmmaker Pascale Cuenot — was followed by a 40-minute panel discussion that featured the writer-director and four of Delerue's friends and colleagues. The celebrated composer of such films as Jules et Jim, Contempt, King of Hearts and Agnes of God died in 1992.
Delerue's widow Colette introduced the film by saying that "Georges would be very proud and happy" about the occasion, that he was "full of passion for music and life" and that, nearly two decades after his passing, "Georges is still with us today."
Cuenot's film features extensive footage of the composer at work — composing at his desk, playing the piano, conferring with directors (including Francois Truffaut) and conducting recording sessions and concerts. The Paris-based Traffic Quintet is seen performing excerpts from Delerue's 1948 string quartet.
Directors Bruce Beresford (Black Robe), Oliver Stone (Platoon), Bertrand Blier (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs), Alain Corneau (Police Python 357), Pierre Schoendoerffer (Dien Bien Phu) and Agnes Varda (Documenteur) are interviewed, as are composers Alexandre Desplat and Frederic Talgorn, harpist Gayle Levant, music supervisor Budd Carr and record producer Stephane Lerouge. French actress Fanny Ardant, who appeared in several films with Delerue scores, narrated.
Truffaut (for whom Delerue scored 11 films including Shoot the Piano Player and The Last Metro) is captured in archival footage noting "there's something warm in everything (Georges) does," while Desplat remarks that "even when (the music is) light-hearted, there is always a hint of melancholy" in Delerue's music. Clips from numerous Delerue films including Day for Night, Salvador and Dien Bien Phu are included.
After the film, panel moderator Dan Carlin — Delerue's music editor/supervisor on numerous films including Steel Magnolias, now chairman of the film-scoring department at Berklee College of Music — referred to the composer as "a magnet for talented, warm, decent people of character" and explained that "the composer is a storyteller as well... Georges understood about the heart of a story."
Delerue's agent Richard Kraft added that "he was the happiest of composers... joyful about what he was doing." He regaled the crowd with the story of his discovery of Delerue's Our Mother's House music in The Color Purple (it had apparently been in the temp score for the Steven Spielberg film), noting that, the night before the 1985 Academy Awards (when Quincy Jones' score for Color Purple was up against Delerue's Agnes of God for original-score honors), Delerue had received "a huge settlement" — and, a week later, Spielberg offered Delerue an episode of Amazing Stories to score.
French-born, American-based composer Talgorn (Moliere) said he had met Delerue in Paris and talked about his "jubilation" in music — "he was so passionate about what he was doing," Talgorn said, adding that Delerue always did his own orchestrations — "he didn't have a factory of 16 orchestrators," he said, evoking laughter from the audience.
Levant, who played harp for Delerue's sessions from the time the composer moved to the U.S. in 1985, spoke of the immense respect L.A. musicians felt for him. He usually conducted without the aid of a click track or streamers on the film, both commonplace aids for film conductors. "You knew you were in the presence of a giant," she said, yet he was "so humble, so gracious. His sense of melody so touched my heart; I could relate to every note he wrote," she added.
Delerue scored more than 300 films, TV projects and short subjects over a 40-year career in Paris and Los Angeles. He won an Oscar for A Little Romance, an Emmy for Our World, and contributed music to such famous films as Hiroshima Mon Amour, A Man for All Seasons, Anne of the Thousand Days and Julia.
Saturday's event was sponsored by the the Society of Composers & Lyricists, ASCAP, the French Film & TV Office and the French-language network TV5MONDE. Martin Marquet, longtime friend of the Delerue family, was the organizer and host.
©2011 Jon Burlingame