By Neil S. Bulk
Released in 1987, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was the a victim of severe, last minute editing, reducing what was initially a 2+ hour film to just 89 minutes for its U.S. theatrical release. As a consequence of this tampering, Superman IV was also the only Christopher Reeve Superman film not to have a soundtrack album released. This was frustrating for music fans, as John Williams clearly had written new material for the film and Alexander Courage’s contributions were probably the best thing to come out of the movie. After two decades, all of that has been righted by the 2CD release of this full score as part of Film Score Monthly’s Superman: The Music (1978-1988) eight disc box set. For this final interview conducted with Mike Matessino, co-producer of the release, we have a lengthy discussion about the music of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and the career of composer Alexander Courage.
Neil S. Bulk: Mike, we’ve had two full discussions now about the Superman scores, and yet Superman IV may be the most fascinating of all to discuss. Let’s start right from the beginning of this project, when it was possible that it wasn’t going to be in this set. Why was that?
Mike Matessino: Because the movie was produced by Cannon and they owned the music, and their library was originally acquired by Sony. Warner Bros., as the distributor of the film and owner of the Superman property eventually acquired Superman IV back, but a few things needed to be ironed out with that before FSM was cleared to license the music.
NSB: Once that was cleared up, and I imagine that was pretty early on in the process, things could proceed with this score. You had a cue sheet that gave you an idea of additional music, so that was evidence that Alexander Courage had scored a long version, but were you aware that the tapes still existed? Was this ever a concern?
MM: We had absolutely no idea what existed at first. All of the elements were in limbo, many physically with Sony. No one had ever touched them or done any work with the film other than a straight transfer for DVD of the U.S. version of the film. The last thing I expected was the original multi-track tapes; we didn’t have them on any of the other three films so it was surprise to suddenly have them on this one.
NSB: And those were the first generation tapes, recorded in Germany and England?
MM: Right. These were the actual 24-track scoring masters on 2” tape with every recorded take. I was a little bit intimidated by working with them at first, especially after just having selected takes already mixed down on the previous scores. I never dreamed that this would end up being the biggest job of the bunch.
NSB: The biggest job for the shortest film. That makes a lot of sense. Can you explain the differences between having every recorded take and the selected takes?
MM: It means you have a lot more material to listen to, which means a lot of data to manage. Creatively it means you have the extra step of figuring out the accurate performance of each cue. Paperwork is sometimes helpful with this, because selected takes are often circled, but quite often I have to check cues against the film to determine exactly where edits were done, and so on. As Superman IV progressed, however, I took a bit more liberal approach since much of the music hadn’t been heard and the performance was shaky, mainly because the budget allowed for very few takes per cue, but having them all gave me the opportunity to create the best musical performances possible.
NSB: And you did this by not only combining takes, but also replacing individual instruments at times, right?
MM: Definitely. That’s one of the advantages of having the multi-track. If there’s a noise or a bum note you can take care of it right at the source without having to touch the tracks not affected by it. I fixed a lot of clams in one take by finding the same note played correctly in another, which is something they weren’t doing until all music editing started going digital. The disadvantage of multi-track is when you’re remixing something that has already been released because it’s very easy for it to go astray and end up sounding different form what listeners are used to and what the original artists intended. With Superman IV, however, the movie didn’t sound very good and there had never been a soundtrack release, so in a sense this freed me up in how I could approach it, which was basically to make it the best musical presentation possible.
NSB: That was my next question! Was there any sort of reference for mixing? Did you get any feedback from the original engineers? And didn’t you have an album to refer to, the original unreleased album master? That wasn’t a good reference?
MM: That was a very important component because it was the first music from the score I ever heard, the first anyone had heard in 19 years, and it was very illuminating to discover that an album had been planned and prepared but then aborted. The master for it certainly sounded better than the movie, but when I finally got to work with the multi-track it became obvious that the album was lackluster. Doug Schwartz, FSM’s mastering engineer, made CDRs of that album master and he was hoping we wouldn’t come back with a full score in that quality; he thought it had a very unappealing sound. The big revelation was, of course, the album versions of the three new themes, which we should discuss, but sonically that master was just a jumping-off point and nothing more. The English sessions were done at CTS, which was John Richards’s facility, same as for Superman II and III, and even though Dick Lewzey was the actual engineer, John very kindly gave me some guidance to mixing multi-track for that room at Wembley. But what I really did was study the Williams soundtracks that had been recorded by Armin Steiner, because that’s who was doing his scores at the time. So I used Spacecamp, The Witches of Eastwick and Empire of the Sun as models because I wanted it to sound like a John Williams score from the period. By coincidence, Ron Jones, who composed the animated series music heard on disc 7 of the set, uses Armin for his Family Guy scores, and I was able to attend sessions at Fox to watch him work.
NSB: The Superman IV album master confirmed, even beyond the cue sheet, that music had been recorded for a longer version of the movie. It was filled with music from cut scenes such as the still unseen Metro Club sequence, the tornado scene that wound up in the international and television versions of the movie and a cue only known as “Mutual Distrust,” for which there was no footage to reference. But the real surprise was the concert suites you mentioned. For years anyone who cared about this movie was under the impression that John Williams wrote two new themes for this movie, Lacy’s Theme and Nuclear Man’s Theme. You quickly realized that wasn’t the case, didn’t you?
MM: Track 2 on that aborted album master was “Jeremy’s Theme.” It was a complete surprise, and to just suddenly hear it, an unknown Williams piece from 1987 just coming out of nowhere like that was a very surreal moment.
NSB: And as it was a concert suite it would have never been on the cue sheet. There weren’t any notes included with the album master to refer to?
MM: Just a track listing and timings, and where the break was for the LP version. To look at the paperwork, as far as I knew it might have been something by Paul Fishman. I pretty much expected something deceptive like the track called “Love Theme” on the original Superman III album. Instead it was a classic Williams theme that was halfway between E.T. and Hook, musically as well as chronologically. It’s very similar to the “Childhood” theme from Hook, which was actually written in the mid-1980s when Williams and Leslie Bricusse were developing a musical Peter Pan. It also resembles “Jim’s New Life” from Empire of the Sun a bit, and you’ll even find the theme showing up in other Williams scores, such as the motive for the “Panama Hat” character at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and again much later when just playing it in a minor key turns it into the conspiracy theme for Attack of the Clones. It was startling to find out that an undiscovered piece from Superman IV was actually a fully developed theme made from a little phrase Williams used fairly often.
NSB: The use of the word “surreal” is accurate. The Superman IV album was a buried time capsule from 1987. Do you think Williams objected to that album not being released at the time?
MM: I don’t think he paid it any attention. He considered it Alexander Courage’s project and the album wasn’t one he was producing. He was finishing up The Witches of Eastwick and starting his eighth season with the Boston Pops. Superman IV came and went and was not successful, so at the time it might have been an advantage that it was aborted considering how the film was received. It’s not like he needed the royalties it would generate.
NSB: It also makes the discovery of the music 20 years later that much cooler.
MM: True, but if it had been successful we might have heard those themes at Williams concerts over the years.
NSB: So how soon after listening to the album did you get to start working on restoring this score?
MM: As I recall it was fairly soon. I remember that you were here and we went to see Williams at the Bowl over Labor Day weekend and the material was just starting to come in. There was a false alarm when some of the reels seemed to be missing, so I waited to find out about that before I jumped too far into it. So it was sometime in September 2006 that I started in earnest and it took at least a couple of months before it all started piecing itself together. It was a slow, but interesting and ultimately very satisfying process and probably by the beginning of 2007 we had the complete score together, not realizing, of course, that it would take all year to do the book and get all the approvals. It was very tough to have the score to listen to but not be able to talk about it.
NSB: When you were working on it, was there any sort of roadmap to let you know what you were listening to and that you were putting things together properly?
MM: The roadmap was a combination of the Warner Bros. music library cue sheet, Alexander Courage’s “London book,” found at his home, documentation from his collection at Eastman School of Music, and the paperwork in the 2-inch reels and on their boxes. By the time the score was coming together, I got a look at the deleted scenes being released on DVD and everything lined up and it was clear that it was all part of the version of the movie that Courage scored.
NSB: A lot of people have complained about the quality of those cut scenes. Not from a filmmaking point of view, but rather from the actual visual quality of those scenes. However, as you noted in your article, each of those scenes corresponds with scenes that had music composed for them. Aren’t the “scratches” that move across the screen “streamers” which are used to keep the conductor in sync with the picture?
MM: They don’t look like the streamers that would be actually on a print used at recording sessions, but they strike me as preliminary versions of them, perhaps from a music editor’s workprint. They look a bit like dissolve marks, but those wouldn’t go through entire scenes like these do. I do think those clips were generated for scoring purposes because in each case the footage matches the beginning and ending of a music cue. In other words, we didn’t get any scenes that didn’t have music composed for them and that’s probably why this footage existed. It was my understanding that the long version of the film and a lot of material was ordered destroyed in 1987.
NSB: Speaking of those cut scenes, any idea why all of them are temped and one of them has the actual music composed for it, the already mentioned “Mutual Distrust?”
MM: No idea at all. For some reason, that cue was available. It might have been because it was on the album, but so was “Tornado,” yet the workprint version of that scene uses music from the first film. But that’s another story because the finished scene was actually in the international version and could have been presented instead of the workprint version with unfinished effects shots.
NSB: Another cut scene, this one not available, is the “Metro Club” sequence, which was a nightclub scene with source music written for it. There’s a lot of music on this album that was for that scene. Do you know if it was a long sequence and how the music was to be used?
MM: Another huge lucky break on this project was getting Paul Fishman involved. He wrote the songs for the film, including the “Metro Club” material. He was head of the rock group Re-Flex and his father was the musical advisor for Cannon. Paul is still working in England and he was very pleased that we also wanted to include his material. Three or four of his songs were on the aborted 1987 album, so I sent him those and also other versions of his material that we got from Sony so that he could listen to it all. He didn’t think it sounded as good as it could so he did some searching and located his original multi-track master, and he remixed and remastered his music for us. He was also able to identify what pieces were intended for what scenes, including the “Metro Club”, which represented just 4 minutes of footage. More music exists because he provided the filmmakers with options for songs to lay in, but as the preview print doesn’t seem to exist we don’t know definitively what choices were made.
NSB: The number thrown around when describing the long version of Superman IV is 134 minutes, yet with all of this music and footage available it comes to about two hours of material. Does it seem like there could be another few minutes of cut material out there?
MM: I’m convinced that the film was not 134 minutes when it was previewed in Orange County sometime in late June 1987. Apart from the four minute disco sequence there are a few scripted scenes that we know were shot that were on the DVD, and also a few small bits like a couple of lines from Superman’s first conversation with Lex Luthor, but it’s unlikely that these accounted for more than a few minutes of film. The scene of Clark visiting his adopted parents’ graves was definitely cut out before the film was scored. There are photos of other moments in the fight with Nuclear Man I but the scene as shown on the DVD is the version that Courage scored. Footage was not added back in between the scoring and the preview. It’s likely that the 134 minute number came from a first rough cut and that the actual length of the preview version was perhaps 124. Reports have surfaced over the years that the long version was broadcast in syndication or in another country, and every time this occurs the claim is always followed by a convenient excuse... the tape cannot be found, it was loaned to someone and never returned, my dog ate it, etc. There have even been some intentionally bogus attempts to lead fans down a primrose path with this, and it’s really gotten old. If it is in fact out there, then any claim needs to be instantaneously backed up with the evidence. If it’s not, then fans shouldn’t waste one second paying attention to them.
NSB: I became jaded to the claims of people having the 134 minute version a long time ago. None of the major deleted scenes showed up anywhere until the DVD came out. Getting back to the music, what was the composing arrangement between Williams and Courage and the filmmakers?
MM: The arrangement was that Williams would supply the new themes and Courage would add them to the palate and arrange the score using as much Williams material as he wanted. Williams wrote the lead sheets for the new themes and indicated his own orchestration in eight lines, as he always does, which Courage then extended out to full orchestra parts. The best evidence I could piece together suggests that Williams viewed clips of the film with Courage while they were working on The Witches of Eastwick but it’s unclear exactly when Williams actually composed the new themes, but it was certainly before Courage left for England in early April of 1987. There were definitely other conversations between Williams and Courage during May while Williams was in Boston and Williams was sent some more scenes to view on tape when Courage wanted his input. It was an unusual arrangement, I guess, but these guys co-orchestrated Fiddler on the Roof together, worked side by side at Fox, and went all the way back to the ‘50s at Columbia. When you have that kind of history with someone you work with almost one mind, so the fact that Williams was not present and involved day-to-day on Superman IV doesn’t mean he wasn’t an influence, because Courage knew that his job was to do a new Superman score in Williams’s style.
NSB: Courage scored a lot of television in the ‘60s and ‘70s but had he ever been the composer on a feature film before this?
MM: He did do features in the late ‘50s before he went into television. The Left Handed Gun is probably the most well-known. He really enjoyed television and achieved great success there, but when things started changing in the late ‘70s he gradually shifted away from it and back to orchestrating features.
NSB: And he was offered Superman IV on Williams’s recommendation?
MM: Yes. They had worked together on Yes, Giorgio (in which Courage appears as the on-screen conductor of the Metropolitan Opera!) and that led to Courage doing several arrangements for the Boston Pops concerts and recordings, including his own Star Trek theme and the Fiddler on the Roof suite that Williams still plays in concert. I’m sure it was clear to Williams when Superman IV came up that Sandy was the ideal person to handle it.
NSB: You mentioned Alexander Courage’s “London book” earlier. Did he do all of the composing for this film while in London?
MM: Yes, he did. He went over there right after he finished doing some orchestration on Eastwick and he was there for almost two months with his family at a house in Chelsea. He went by himself to Germany but when those recording sessions didn’t work out he was able to just continue on at CTS. His children remember him working extremely hard on the project.
NSB: And it sounds like it. Did he also do the orchestrating on this score?
MM: There were two other orchestrators on it, but Courage really dictated what he wanted being as experienced as he was in the field. Obviously he also used the Spencer/Morton orchestrations from Williams’s original as a launching point when he was reusing cues and he tried to extend their approach into the new material. “Fresh Air” is a great example of that. It helped that he was also working on other Williams scores at the time because he knew what John would have wanted. You can detect some Goldsmith influence as well since Sandy also worked Supergirl not long before that, particularly in the use of synthesizers. So he really was the perfect choice for Superman IV.
NSB: Once all of the writing was completed, the plan was to go to Germany to record the score. What happened then?
MM: They contracted the Graunke Symphony, now the Munich Symphony, which had done The Wind and the Lion, but for some reason there were performance problems on Superman IV. Some of the simpler cues were fine but the complex action cues just weren’t coming together and the budget did not allow the time to record ten takes of everything and then cut it together later. So after a week it was decided that it would be more cost effective to just abort the sessions and go back to CTS and continue with the National Philharmonic in England.
NSB: Were there instances where you had a cue recorded with both orchestras?
MM: Just a few. I can tell you exactly which cues: “Fanfare,” “Main Title,” “Fresh Air,” “Tornado,” and “Statue of Liberty Fight.” In all instances the UK version was used. But there were also several other cues recorded only in Germany, which presented a problem because the orchestra, engineer, microphone placement and track layout were all different than the recordings made at CTS in England. It took a lot of finessing to get the two to work together cohesively. It wasn’t a problem in the film because it’s buried by dialogue and sound effects, but as a soundtrack presentation it was a challenge to make it flow seamlessly.
NSB: Once the recording of the score was finished, was Mr. Courage done with the film? Did he have any more input after that?
MM: He supervised the mixes and prepared the album but he came back to California as soon as that was done because he had to immediately start working with Jerry on Lionheart. I don’t think he went to the preview or had any involvement in the music editing that had to be done when the movie was cut down to about 90 minutes.
NSB: He finished recording the score in June of 1987, didn’t he? And the movie was released in the U.S. at the end of July, so the drastic re-cutting of the movie was done very late in the process, wasn’t it? Was the movie released internationally, before the U.S. release?
MM: No, all the international releases were later. I have spoken to several people who worked on the film and I still cannot pin down the exact date and theatre for that preview. However, (effects supervisor) Harrison Ellenshaw confirmed that it was at his insistence that the tornado and Red Square sequences were put back in for the international version.
NSB: And then somehow they wound up in the U. S. television version!
MM: That often happens in syndication for a variety of reasons.
NSB: It should be no surprise to Superman fans, since every one of the films has been shown longer on television. Once the decision was made to re-cut the movie, the first thing on-screen to change was the prologue. All of the other movies have a sequence prior to the titles, and this film was supposed to as well. The new album preserves the original sequence with the cosmonaut rescue occurring before the main titles. Any idea why the opening credits were moved up?
MM: I don’t know definitively but when it was discovered the film didn’t play well with an audience somebody might have thought that starting it off with the John Williams music would help it out somehow. In these situations there always seem to be decisions made out of desperation. MGM cut “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz after its first preview only to put it back in, so you can’t use logic in trying to figure out why these decisions are made.
NSB: For the main titles, was the music cut at all or were there any indications they had been changed once Clive Mantle’s (Nuclear Man I) scenes had been cut?
MM: The music fits the titles as we’ve always had them. It’s possible Clive Mantle wasn’t going to get main title credit, because if that’s negotiated then generally the name has to stay even if the role is cut from the film. Paul McGann has a very prominent credit in Empire of the Sun even though all but one of his scenes was cut, including all his dialogue. It’s also possible that temporary titles for Superman IV were shown at the preview and that the final titles weren’t generated until after the cuts were made.
NSB: And speaking of Clive Mantle, how does the Williams’s Nuclear Man theme fit that character?
MM: Oh, I thought you were going to ask about the temp track music for him, what I’ve come to refer to as “Mister Softee Meets the Teletubbies.” For the record, I believe that was taken from some British children’s show and I have no idea why that was selected for the temp track other than to make sure it was clear that the scenes were supposed to be funny. But to get back to your question, and not a moment too soon, the Nuclear Man theme is actually a stroke of genius because its character changes depending on how it’s orchestrated. With relentless percussion and confident brass it’s very threatening, but play it gently with flute or oboe or muted trumpets and it can be comedic. It struck me as being a combination of “Flight of the Valkyrie” and a minor mode version of the 1941 march, but in its quieter incarnations it reminds me of Home Alone.
NSB: Another new theme in the film is “Lacy’s Theme,” also called “Someone Like You.” Were lyrics written for it or planned at some point with that name?
MM: I saw no evidence of that and I even checked with Leslie Bricusse on it. I think the title came from the scene where we first hear the theme, when Lois tells Lacy that “he’d never be interested in somebody like you.”
NSB: It’s a lovely lyrical theme, though, and quite different from the love themes Williams was writing in his blockbuster phase.
MM: It definitely reflects the artistic change in Williams’s work that seems focused around that time. Part of it, I think, was the shift in the kind of projects he was doing because the Star Wars trilogy was completed and Steven Spielberg was moving on to serious dramas. In coming up with a theme for Lacy, Williams found himself reaching back to a bit of his ’60s comedy style, yet it also seems to prefigure things like Sabrina and Catch Me If You Can. It has a jazz feel to it with the saxophone solo, and maybe some of that influence stems from the fact that Williams was right in the middle of his Boston Pops residency and programming jazz arrangements regularly, many arranged by Courage. The amazing thing about Lacy’s theme is how it is a complete contrast to Lois’s theme, but the two work together perfectly. Courage found some great ways to have the two themes interact, particularly in the “Lacy’s Place” sequence.
NSB: We spoke about Jeremy’s theme earlier and your “discovery” of it. It turns up once or twice in the finished film, doesn’t it? What was the original plan for that?
MM: It’s heard during the scene where we first meet Jeremy at school, but without a frame of reference no one realized it was a theme playing. It’s heard a bit in “Headline” but again it could be dismissed as just the “dies irae” motive used as a countermelody to the Superman fanfare. And then there is the moment (which I’ve probably mentioned in every interview) at the end of “United Nations” where the themes for Superman, Lois, Lacy and Jeremy are all intertwined in the most amazing way. Again a listener might have picked out three of the themes (or maybe not because there is applause going on at that moment), but certainly in order to recognize the Jeremy music as a theme you needed the original ending sequence where he goes flying with Superman. That component, plus the way that all of the various themes are wrapped up––which was all changed around and partially dropped in the film––is a huge part of what makes the score feel like one for a very different movie.
NSB: In the final film both Lacy and Jeremy are forgotten about at the end, aren’t they?
MM: Pretty much. It would have been nice if they kept the taxi scene with Clark and Lacy. The Jeremy subplot was a very good idea but there was obviously not enough money to execute it in a way that would work. Without it, though, the whole theme that drew Chris Reeve to the project was undermined.
NSB: It was conceptually flawed from the outset though, wasn’t it? The idea of a person being in space.
MM: Definitely, but then so was the idea that reversing the Earth’s rotation would turn back time. It’s a matter of approaching an idea with Richard Donner’s mantra of verisimilitude. I think the comic book had Jeremy in a space suit, but with a decent effects budget they could have also had Superman create an oxygen bubble or maybe even just have him in the Russian spacecraft with the cosmonauts instead of the silly waving moment. There was obviously no opportunity to think things through on the project and the reason for making it ended up getting completely lost... except in the music. That’s my perspective.
NSB: And what do you think were the reasons that the score came out as good as it did?
MM: Alexander Courage applying his genius to a fantastic palate of John Williams’s themes. It’s that simple. Part of a composer’s job is to look at a film in very rough form and see the movie that’s really there and then provide music to help it become all it can be.
NSB: Is it fair to say, though, that even with all of the talent in the film, it is a B picture? The score is an A score all the way. It’s so much better than the film for which it was written.
MM: Cannon’s whole business plan was to make B pictures and sell a few of them as A pictures depending on the talent involved. Had they not had such a run of box office failures and business backfires at the time, the picture would have come out a lot better. But there was one crisis after another and Superman IV was a huge casualty. The details behind all of it are quite fascinating and make for a very long and convoluted story with a lot of questionable financial decisions and personality clashes. That’s another reason why it’s so amazing that the score came out so good, because the odds were against it. And it’s also interesting how when a movie isn’t liked there’s a tendency to also ignore the score. And here this one was sitting around in a vault for 20 years and it turned out to be a gem.
NSB: As with the other Superman sequels, the music in the final mix is not as robust as the first film. On top of that, so much footage was deleted from the movie that this CD release is really the first time in 20+ years that this music can be appreciated. What are some of the things we can listen for and get out of this score that was previously lost or buried?
MM: Broadly speaking what I got out of it, and what I hoped to convey in the presentation, is a sense of a completely different movie, not only the one that was originally edited but the one that the filmmakers originally set out to make, meaning one that recaptured the spirit and integrity of the original. With a little imagination and if you just give yourself over to the musical experience, this score starts to sound like it must go with the greatest Superman movie ever. Just about all the major themes from the original are in it and presented both respectfully and in interesting new ways, and the action music is very exciting. There are of course a lot of delightful specific moments to enjoy but it’s in the cumulative effect that I think the score truly resonates on a very unexpected level. It’s a testament to the power of music that it transcends the shortcomings of the film it was written for and becomes its own thing. That Alexander Courage did this project at the age of 67 makes it that much more powerful. It really was a crowning achievement of a great career.
NSB: The music’s reputation would have been helped had it been easier to hear in the final film and if a good chunk of it wasn’t cut when the movie was shortened and if the original album had been released.
MM: Definitely. But because all that happened I ended up with the good fortune of being the one to rescue this score and present it for the first time. That kind of opportunity is rare and I am very grateful for it. It was one of the most creatively satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on and I could hardly wait for it to come out so that everyone else could discover it too. We went from having nothing to having everything and it all came out better than I ever expected. And I know it’s a good score because I can play it and enjoy the heck out of it and pretty much forget that I worked on it.
Superman: The Music (1978-1988) was released on February 21, 2008. It promptly sold out and a second pressing was needed to satisfy the demand. The set’s high quality was praised by everyone who received it and as part of that praise, people were realizing just what Mike had realized: Alexander Courage’s score for Superman IV was fantastic! It truly was the crowning achievement in Mr. Courage’s long career. However, while the preceding interview was being prepared for publication, Mike received the news of Alexander Courage’s death on May 15, 2008. We both agreed to revisit our interview and include further reflection on Mr. Courage and his career.
NSB: Mike, were you in touch with Mr. Courage about the Superman IV release when you first started the project in 2006?
MM: I had hoped to involve Sandy Courage in the project, but I already knew from when I was working on Goodbye Mr. Chips that Sandy was in a facility in the Pacific Palisades since 2005. This was something that John Williams, Ian Fraser and Leslie Bricusse spoke about when we brought them together for the CD signing. They’d each been to see Sandy a couple of times at that point. They were all good friends from the Fox days. Bricusse and Fraser worked with Sandy and Lionel Newman on Doctor Dolittle while Williams was doing Valley of the Dolls with the Previns and other scores there. So even though the purpose that day was reuniting the Chips team I got a sense of the amazing fraternity of musicians that were at Fox at that time, which also included Goldsmith, Alex North, the orchestrators Herbie Spencer and Arthur Morton, and editors Kenny Wannberg and Kenny Hall. It was clear then that Sandy was an important part of that group, and it suddenly hit me that only a few years earlier he was still his old self and was with Jerry quite a bit during his last months. So when Superman IV came up I was put in touch with Sandy’s stepdaughter, Renata Pompelli, who told me that Sandy was permanently in hospice, diagnosed with a form of dementia and gradually losing physical mobility. However he did have periods of lucidity and eventually did comprehend that Superman IV was being restored and released and he was thrilled.
NSB: So did the family help you with the research materials you needed?
MM: Renata facilitated it. She explained to me that Sandy and her mother, Shirley, were both enjoying a comfortable retirement, entertaining in their Malibu home, and so on, into 2004. Then quite suddenly Shirley died of cancer and Sandy’s condition began its onset shortly after. So I was invited up to the house to help Renata find material related to Superman IV and here it was two years later and it literally looked like the occupants of the home had stepped out for lunch. The family was hit very suddenly with this drastic change, going from both parents being there and fine to both being gone within a year, Shirley deceased and Sandy moved to a care facility. It was a very awkward experience for me to suddenly find myself with his daughter looking through the man’s studio, his books, his music, his mementos, but that increased my determination to do something for his legacy and my realization that Superman IV really was a crowning achievement for him. The whole family went with him when he recorded it, so their recollections helped me piece together the chronology of events. We also found some photographs and the infamous “London book.” To elaborate on that a bit, Sandy kept a journal throughout his career in which he listed every film he worked on, the dates, and all the cues he wrote, etc. But whenever he worked in England there was a notation that said “See London Book.” It was in searching through his studio that I finally found it, and it contained a lot of information on Superman IV, which when combined with material he’d sent to his alma mater, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and the paperwork from the actual scoring reels, more or less completed the picture of how the project was done. Sandy was so thorough that his main journal ended on a date in late 2002 with two notations: “Call Jerry” and then: “Retire.” So that was basically how it went, and as I finished up the project I put the family in touch with the Film Music Society so that Sandy’s things could be catalogued and preserved for posterity. They were very thrilled with the biography of Sandy in the Superman book, because one had never been done, despite Sandy’s prominence as an orchestrator and the composer of the theme to Star Trek. The same was true for Ken Thorne; no biography had ever been put together. So as much as the release of all the music has brought Superman fans some closure, there was also a lot of personal closure for the Courage family and it also brings the big picture into focus, that these projects represent the legacy of talented people who have inspired generations.
NSB: Thank you for sharing that with the fans, Mike. I’m sure they would all like to extend condolences to the Courage family.
On Sunday, June 29, 2008, a memorial service for Alexander Courage was held at the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church. Members of his family and professional colleagues spoke at the ceremony. Also shown was a special photo tribute made by Mike and David C. Fein. After the service Mike and I decided to once again update our interview. In the process of adding to our discussion it was decided to reconstitute portions of our original interview ending within the following concluding segment. Mike began with some thoughts about creating the photo montage.
MM: I was honored when the family asked if I’d be interested in putting a photo montage together for the memorial service and I knew that Dave Fein, my colleague from the Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other projects, would want to work on it. He and I both remember clearly growing up in the ‘70s in New York and the race to get homework done by 5:00 p.m. because WPIX, channel 11, was showing Star Trek. For me, if that theme tune came on I just stopped what I was doing and ran to the TV. Dave and I both were thrilled to be able to give something back to the man whose music had that kind of power. The family selected a lot of photographs that encompassed Sandy’s youth in New Jersey, his years as a bandleader in the Army, and his career and family life. The richness of the latter seemed to leap out of the photos, so even though I never got to meet the man it was clear how loved he was and that his heart and passion for life were tremendous. So we created a montage and then I laid in music that Sandy had composed. It all came from his own scores for Star Trek and Lost in Space. I also used Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” which was his and Shirley’s favorite (and Sandy had also arranged it for Funny Face) and “La Vie En Rose,” which represented the many French songs that Sandy would play at parties for the guests to gather around and sing. It came out very well and once again it was a privilege to be able to offer something meaningful to the family and, as I said before, to give something back to someone whose work has inspired me.
NSB: It was a lovely ceremony and many were moved by your tribute. It was nice also to see Williams speak there, and so genuinely. It spoke volumes about the friendship of these two men.
MM: I was very glad that John made it. And yes, he spoke very candidly not only about working with Sandy but about him as a person. It was unfortunate, however, that Ian Fraser wasn’t able to make it, but he wrote some words which Ken Hall shared. As it turned out, Julie Andrews arrived in town that day and they had to start rehearsing for their “Gift of Music” concert, which they are going to do in Kentucky and then at the Hollywood Bowl in mid-July. The interesting connection there is that it was for Julie’s “Sound of Christmas” special in 1987 that Sandy finally got his Emmy along with Ian and also Angela Morley, who was an orchestrator on the original Superman. The year before that, all three of them worked on the Liberty Centennial weekend with Williams, which was when I saw him conduct live for the first time. I got to work with Julie when I did the Sound of Music documentary for Bob Wise in the mid-’90s, so I’m very much looking forward to this concert and I’m very grateful to have a tiny professional connection with these people.
NSB: In the time since we last discussed Superman IV, Iron Eagle was released as a Varèse Sarabande club selection. Like Superman IV, the movie was directed by Sidney J. Furie and you’ve edited and remixed that score and wrote the notes as well. What was it like to work on that score?
MM: It was the first Basil Poledouris score I worked on and I enjoyed it a lot. Sid Furie politely declined to discuss Superman IV but he was very much willing to talk about Iron Eagle. I think it’s a very fun, compelling and patriotic score and I enjoyed the research as well as the music. It turned out very well and I was very glad Bob Townson at Varèse asked me to do it. It’s too bad about Sid, though. He could probably shed some light on remaining issues about Superman IV. Sadly he’s probably the one person who won’t ever be able to appreciate how much of an impact the music has had and how well the fans have received it. He was just too close to it and it was a very painful time and he’s moved on.
NSB: So Mr. Furie didn’t participate at all with the Superman IV score release?
MM: He didn’t. He chose to not discuss it and despite my best efforts to accentuate the positive and give the story a happy ending through the music, he maintained his policy.
NSB: After the release of Iron Eagle, what future projects can we look forward to?
MM: As usual, the soundtrack labels keep a lid on the titles they have coming up but I have projects going for five different labels at the moment, making for a very busy and productive year. On top of that, Fox Home Entertainment has made a huge commitment to continue doing isolated scores, including presenting them in lossless audio on Blu-ray disc, and many will be exclusive to that format. They deserve a huge “Bravo!” for that effort as does Nick Redman for facilitating it and for continuing to mine the archives. Between that and the albums my plate is full and it runs the complete spectrum of vintage scores to fairly recent ones. Incidentally I work on the isolated scores at the Newman stage building at Fox and recently Williams was working downstairs from me at the sound mix for the new Indiana Jones film.
NSB: Did you get to talk to him at all?
MM: Just a wave hello, but he was with Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Michael Kahn. Security was very tight during the couple of weeks they were there mixing. It was like working at the Pentagon.
NSB: So you didn’t get to tell him how everyone wants expanded Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Star Wars prequel albums?
MM: We have to face facts here: when you say “everyone,” you mean a few thousand people. Unfortunately the entities who control the rights to these scores focus on products that sell in six figure quantities. Sad, but soundtracks don’t.
NSB: Hope springs eternal, Mike.
MM: It does. I still maintain that these things will happen eventually, but the titles you mentioned are parts of franchise properties and the situation has evolved over the last ten years in what the companies are willing to do with their brand name products. This is why Superman was such a coup for Film Score Monthly. But on the Lucasfilm properties the way things are now they would have to be done with the full involvement of the people who work on Williams’s new projects, and those people and the facilities they work in are very expensive. So it’s a matter of how to justify that cost, plus the cumulative expense of licensing, reuse, remastering, manufacturing and marketing, all for something that sells to a niche market. As big a noise as we were able to make in the soundtrack community with Superman, even to the point of crashing the Screen Archives server, we haven’t even sold 5000 copies yet. Compare that to 150,000 copies of Star Wars that sold in 1997. Looking just at the bottom line you can see why it might not be a priority to spend a lot of money on score releases when action figures have bigger sales. But again, all things in good time.
NSB: Do you know how the new Indiana Jones score did in terms of sales? And do you know anything about Concorde’s reissues of the earlier scores in the series?
MM: I don’t have information about the sales figures on Crystal Skull, and the latest I’ve heard about the Concorde reissues is that nothing definitive has been decided yet. It’s still within the realm of possibility that only straight reissues of existing albums will be released, but that is by no means carved in stone yet.
NSB: While that’s disappointing news about the franchise scores, we’ve had plenty of Williams releases this year. Obviously this Superman box, but also the reissues of The Accidental Tourist and Cinderella Liberty and the new Indiana Jones album. It’s a good time to be a Williams fan.
MM: The reissues are nice, since it gives the collectors the opportunity to get copies of things they missed. I think we’ll be seeing more of that because several albums have gone out of print, but unfortunately this won’t necessarily translate into expanded presentation. It will depend on the individual title and the entities involved. But on the plus side the soundtrack labels give us more in terms of liner notes than we’ve had previously. I enjoyed working on Accidental Tourist because I got to read the score while listening to it and it was fascinating. I also uncovered some details about the Bruce Broughton rejected score, and then passed all the information on to Jeff Eldridge, who did a terrific job with the notes. And of course after two and a half years it was nice to finally get a new Williams score.
NSB: And what did you think of the score to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
MM: I think it’s good, but it didn’t make as strong an emotional impact as I’d hoped it would, which I think is reflective of the fact that there was a lot about the movie that lacked focus and consistency. It was great that everyone got together to make another film, but the script needed some more work. It doesn’t seem to have affected the box office tally, though, which shows how powerful brand recognition is. Put up the golden arches and suddenly people are hungry. Williams’s score stands on its own as always, but as a sequel one can’t help but compare it to its predecessors, however unfair that might be since artists’ styles change in two decades. That’s part of life. But I can’t help feeling that he would have been more inspired by a better film.
NSB: I had a slightly stronger reaction to Indy IV than you. While I can appreciate his changing as an artist, I wish he had been able to write music as compelling and interesting as Superman IV.
MM: I think that speaks to how the zeitgeist of film music has changed. As flawed as Superman IV was as a film, look at what Courage came up with. I think it was because he was working in the late 1980s, using themes Williams wrote in the late 1970s. If it were attempted now, we’d get... well, we got it, didn’t we?... Superman Returns. Williams has simply stayed with the times, coming up with a score that is nice, serviceable, fills a need, but somehow lacks resonance and distinctiveness. And again I think it’s more reflective of the movies being made and the general approach to scoring right now, a lot of which falls into “droning wallpaper” territory, which, thank God, Williams has not succumbed to. This is why those of us who are involved with scores of the past are passionate about what we do and why we keep doing it.
NSB: And I know many people thank you and everyone else involved with these kinds of releases. I’d also like to thank you, Mike, for participating in all of these candid discussions about the Superman music for JWFan.
MM: It’s my pleasure, Neil. I hope we can come up with something big and do this again very soon.
On July 19, I received the following email and photo from Mike:
Hi Neil, The concert with Ian Fraser and Julie Andrews last night was fantastic. The first half of the program was devoted to the music of Richard Rodgers and the second half presented Ian Fraser’s stunning new work “Simeon’s Gift.” The inspiration came from one of Julie Andrews’s children’s books (she publishes as “Julie Edwards”), from which Ian composed and arranged a 50-minute orchestral and vocal cycle in which Julie serves as storyteller. It is a very inspirational piece all about the power of music and finding “the song inside yourself,” a magnum opus for Ian and a culmination of his 35-year association with Julie. A rehearsal for the concert took place last Thursday at Disney Hall, and I wanted to share something with you that maybe you’d like to add to our interview. As the rehearsal began I picked a seat at random in the auditorium and after a few moments I happened to glance at the donor plaque on the back of the seat in front of me. I kid you not... it read: “Shirley and Alexander Courage.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were letting me know they were there and saying hello. Who ever dreamed that Superman IV would ever lead to this? I think we did the right thing in postponing the final segment of our interview and I feel really good about the fact that we took the time to pay a proper tribute to Sandy Courage, one of John Williams’s closest friends and colleagues. Thank you for facilitating it and for all of the time and assistance you’ve provided. I think we’ve said it all now; let’s get the thing posted! - Mike
P.S. The attached photo was taken at Friday morning’s Bowl rehearsal.
(Click to enlarge)