Blumhouse.com: Bill, thanks for joining me today! Mondo has just released another vinyl reissue of Jay Chattaway’s MANIAC score. And I listened to an interview with him recently on the Talkin’ Trax podcast via the Damn Fine Network where he mentions how when you both first met, you had him over and played a bunch of your favorite soundtracks for him. It got me thinking, and I wanted to know what it was you referenced and tried to turn him onto? I just thought in general it’d be fun to talk about movie soundtracks!
William Lustig: Well, originally, MANIAC was going to be scored by Goblin. And the deal with Dario (Argento) didn’t happen for various reasons, so we were finishing up the movie and we had no one to score the film. Jay Chattaway, at that time, had never scored a film before. I was introduced to him as a prolific jazz arranger/producer, but he had never done a feature soundtrack. I can’t recall what it was that made us higher him! Maybe it was because he was willing to do it for the money we had available, which was all of $10,000. That included everything. Jay was hired and when he was, I played for him all the John Carpenter scores, Goblin – everything I could think of to try to open him up to the kind of music I was looking for. Well, what was interesting was after going through all that, Jay disregarded it all! And he really came up with a much more interesting score than anything I had presented to him. And I think it was a major reason for the success of MANIAC; that he created a score that gave Joe Spinell empathy, and it was something that was very unusual. I sat in on all the scoring sessions at a studio in Connecticut, I was quite amazed at what he had done. I wasn’t sure at first, but as we were getting into it, I could see that he came up with something very interesting.
BH.com: It’s amazing to me that not only did that MANIAC score start a long-standing working relationship between you and Jay Chattaway for several more films, but also the amount of times MANIAC has come out in multiple formats! My personal favorite is the CD shaped like Joe Spinell’s head! (Laughs)
WL: That was my favorite. I was shocked it worked and actually played! (Laughs)
BH.com: It was also the first Mondo vinyl release! In general, how important is movie music to you, not just as a filmmaker but as a movie watcher?
WL: Oh, very. It’s very important. The major influence, for me, music-wise was Ennio Morricone. I was and still am a huge Morricone fan. And what always interested me about the European genre films was how often the music in those films are in the forefront. Especially in certain sections of the movie. You would see that in Dario’s movies where he’d have these interludes where the music was front and center, versus, when I came to California and worked for CineTel, they looked upon music as secondary. They looked at it as an after-the-fact thing you add to the movie to maybe create or enhance emotion. I always looked at music as being integral to the movie. When I worked with Jay, I worked with him while we were shooting the movie. The mentality I found was that most studios would hire a composer after they finished the film. So, the way I saw European films and the way they treated music was always a huge influence on me.
BH.com: You mentioned Morricone before. What I love about him is how vast his library is. What are some of your personal favorites by him?
WL: My favorites of his scores are usually because of the directors he works with. Anything with Sergio Leone, of course, are my number one. Number two would be the Dario Argento movies. In fact, what’s funny is regarding THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, I think it was the first soundtrack LP I ever purchased. I remember it like it was yesterday! There was a record shop in New York called Colony Records. It’s no longer there, but Colony Records was one of the few places that imported LP’s. And I bought the Italian LP of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE at Colony Records for $20 bucks! And we’re talking about back in 1969!
BH.com: In the last year, I’ve been rediscovering a lot of the Morricone stuff. I saw THE GREAT SILENCE at the New Beverly, and thankfully that great score by reissued on vinyl. Just this weekend, I saw ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and was reminded how fantastic that score was.
WL: Oh, I love that one. Every time I see ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and there’s that scene where Claudia Cardinale arrives by train. There’s a cue that rises as the camera rises over the building; you don’t see her, she’s walking through the station and when the camera settles above the train station and she emerges into this town filled with people, it always gives me tingles! It’s sure fire. Every time I see it and hear that cue, it affects me.
BH.com: It’s movie magic, man!
WL: Yeah, it really is. It’s a great moment in terms of merging music with cinema. It’s just incredible with how beautiful it is. I agree, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is a masterpiece. I’ll tell you, some of his lesser known scores, I’ve used. For example, there was a score for a not-very-good George Kennedy revenge film called THE “HUMAN” FACTOR. And I remember I was working on an action film, and I had the soundtrack to that in my Walkman. And when I was doing action scenes, I would play the score in my headphones. I’d watch this scene that I’m shooting, while listening to Morricone’s score for THE “HUMAN” FACTOR. (Laughs)
BH.com: And if it worked with that score as you were watching it, then you knew it was going to work!
WL: I’m always thinking about music while I’m shooting. I always think of music cues. It’s intuitive to me.
BH.com: Do you keep up on modern soundtracks? Any composers these days that excite you?
WL: Honestly, I can’t think of a contemporary film with music that really stand out to me. It’s interesting, because I’ve heard so many compliments about the score to the MANIAC remake, and yet I listen to the score and it sounds so ordinary to me. It didn’t feel like it had its own voice. But other people have given it raves, so that’s good. But I like the guy who does all of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films, Cliff Martinez. Well, what scores have you heard lately that have affected you?
BH.com: I like Rehn’s guy Cliff Martinez. I love the stuff that Jeff Grace does. He scores a lot of the Glass Eye Pix movies and he did THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, I SELL THE DEAD, COLD IN JULY. Joe Bishara does interesting, scary things with his scores for INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING films. I like the BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW soundtrack a lot.
WL: You know which one I really liked? The score for IT FOLLOWS.
BH.com: Oh right, by Disasterpeace! That’s a great, great score.
WL: I thought that was really, really good. It was a movie where I thought the music worked so, so well.
BH.com: Bill, thank you so much for your time and for talking soundtracks with me! Myself and the rest of the Blumhouse.com crew really appreciate it!
The new MANIAC vinyl reissue is now available direct via Mondo!