The Unused Scores: The Journey of Natty Gann / The Scarlet Letter / Gangs of New York (Elmer Bernstein)

Today's project is a bit of a departure from my usual structure, though I'm happy to give the spotlight to a true veteran composer--Elmer Bernstein. Bernstein is an essential pillar in the history of Hollywood film scoring, and he had an illustrious career, spanning from the early 50's all the way into the early 2000's. Perhaps known best for his classics like "The Ten Commandments" and "The Magnificent Seven", to later hits like "Ghostbusters", Bernstein was a true chameleon, able to bring his voice and talent to almost any genre, receiving fourteen Oscar nominations in the process.

For the project at hand, I am featuring three different film scores into one page. This isn't a random pairing, however, as these three projects share the fact that they were all rejected from the film they were written for. Fortunately, in 2008, Varèse Sarabande records released an album entitled "The Unused Scores", featuring all three of Bernstein's full scores, previously unreleased, in one elegant package featuring a new painted cover, spread across four discs. After revisiting the collection recently, I decided it would be fun to present individual album covers for the three included films. This gives people the option to split up the larger collection, or provide covers for some who might have downloaded only some of the scores individually. A lot of these films didn't have a plethora of poster artwork to choose from, but I still wanted to provide options as is my style, so I ended up creating two alternate covers for each film, presenting a total of six

The Journey of Natty Gann

A 1985 film, directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan, and produced by Walt Disney Pictures, this family adventure tells the story of a young girl who travels across Depression-era America to reunite with her father. Bernstein composed and recorded a full score, and in fact then re-wrote several sequences two or even three times to try to accommodate requested changes to the picture. In the end, however, the studio ended up rejecting his music, and hiring a young James Horner (who at this point had scored about a dozen films, but wasn't yet the A-lister that he'd soon become). Bernstein's original music was an old-fashioned Western score, with a rousing theme, and ondes martenot (a favorite early synthetic instrument of his) for the quieter moments. Though it is an impressive addition to his Western collection, I can see how the music might have been too outdated and over-the-top for the film, and Horner's take provided less emphasis on the Western adventure angle, and focused more on the warmth of the human drama, setting the stage for his own signature sound for family films down the road. 

The official Horner album, which didn't see a release till 2009, featured a version of the central poster from the film's release. It was hard to find good quality of this original poster, and I wanted to provide different artwork to distinguish this version. So my first cover adapts artwork that was produced, I believe, years later for a home video release. The style is definitely more modern and suited to Disney releases of the time. I simply had to widen out the right side of the image to give better cushion. 

I ended up recreating the title logo from scratch, finding a font that wasn't 100% identical, but close enough. I also got to play around with converting the text into curves, to where I could stretch and manipulate the individual nodes to adjust to shapes of the 'J' and 'Y' to match the shapes of the original title. This was the first time I'd had need to try out this feature, and I was happy with the results.

For the second cover, I took a production still from the film, featuring the main characters following a railroad track. I thought the image captured the film well, and would fit nicely into a cover (which isn't often the case will still images). I just had to expand the top of the image, to better suit the title, and then tried to enhance the image quality--it's not as sharp as I'd like, but I think it still functions fine.

The Scarlet Letter

A loose adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, this 1995 romantic drama, directed by Roland Joffé, tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman shunned by her community after being caught committing adultery in the early American settlements. I haven't seen the film yet, but it is apparently a total trainwreck, considered to be one of the very worst Hollywood productions ever, and savaged by critics. Unfortunately, it also had quite a troubled history, musically. Bernstein was hired and composed a full score, truly epic in its proportions, that really addressed the period setting of the film with bagpipes, a haunting choir to address the issue of religious condemnation, as well as a stunning love theme for the romance at the center of the film. The music on its own is a monumental success, recalling Bernstein's masterpieces of old (and my favorite of these 3 scores)--but it was thrown out. Next, Ennio Morricone was brought in and apparently provided a demo of ideas for the film which featured a Mediterranean-vibed sampling of previous scores, which was also rejected. Finally, English composer John Barry came in with the third score (and apparently was the composer Demi Moore wanted all along). The final approved score is classic Barry, with a sensuous love theme, and handling of the "period" setting by taking a page out of his "Dances With Wolves" playbook--utterly predictable, but still quite effective. I'd nevertheless love to see a cut of the film incorporating Bernstein's original take on the concept.

The first cover uses the film's central poster (which was also adapted a little differently for the Barry album cover). I simply slid the bottom portion of the image up from the full image, recreated the title, and then took the eponymous scarlet 'A' from another poster and touched it up a bit. Clearly, this film overall, and the posters, are really trying to sell this as a sensuous experience.

For the second cover, I took what appears to be a publicity photo, which one could only guess that a majority of the film's run time is devoted to erotic embraces between Moore and Oldman. I found a few different versions of this photo, which I composited to try to get the best quality and tonal/contrast range, and then tried a few further enhancements. I wasn't quite sure how to handle the composition of the image, as its a very vertical design. I ended up expanding the red background a bit on either side, and then tried giving it an old parchment background. First I had it centered, with parchment on both sides, then I tried shifting it to just one side (an effect used on a lot of soundtrack covers of the time, as seen in the Barry cover above). I then experimented with different brushes to give the edge a rough texture, as if painted on the parchment. I don't normally play around with textured brushes, and I'm not 100% sold on the final look... it's functional, but perhaps just a clean torn paper edge might have worked better? 

Gangs of New York

A 2002 film, directed by Martin Scorsese, "Gangs of New York" tells the story of the war between various religious and racial groups fighting to establish supremacy in 1800's New York City. One of  Bernstein's final scores, before his death in 2004, this one is another large-scale score, tackling the subject like a period epic of old, once again featuring bagpipes, choir and lots of 'dies irae', accompanying the thunderous orchestral score. Scorsese was most known for his eclectic jukebox-style soundtracks, frequently preferring needle-drops of period songs rather than original scores. Clearly this score would have been an exception to that, and apparently the director wrestled with finding the tone of the film--in the end, they rejected Bernstein's material, opting again for the heavy use of songs, along with a few more low-key cues composed by last-minute replacement Howard Shore. 

The central posters for the film featured variants on a similar concept, the three leads' faces floating on some form on a tattered American flag. The first cover uses a version used for the video release, a bit more colorful and dynamic. I again composited a few different versions, one wider to preserve more cushion space around the actor's faces, and then a cropped, but higher resolution image that I had to match on to provide more detail to their faces. 

The second cover was fairly simple too, simply did some color tweaks, added the title and text, and slid the bottom half of the image up a little to tighten the composition and keep the city skyline below. 


Hope you enjoy this project. I enjoyed revisiting the work of a true titan of the industry, and am happy to add Bernstein to my library of featured composers. 

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