Memories of Basil Poledouris
Basil Poledouris passed away in November 2006. For film music aficionados born or growing up during the eighties, one of the greatest composers. And for many other people. This man, with the same name of the great mouse detective, helped us to sail in life through family movies (Lassie, Free Willy, The Jungle Book) or forbidden pleasures, which only time allowed us to see (RoboCop, Flesh+Blood, On Deadly Ground). He walked with us for quite a time. And that is something difficult to forget, even though a decade has already gone. In fact, it does not seem to be so much if we look behind. The best proof that when we say a composer’s music will never leave us must be somehow true. Ten years, the blink of an eye. He remains here with us, for sure.
We remember him and, from AsturScore, we wish to pay tribute. If someone has forgotten, by any chance, we will help to remember. And, thus, we pay this humble tribute, remembering who he is for us and for our (his) friends, ten years later. Basil. Pole. The only composer that has a nickname for all of us. Because he is ours. We cannot think of anything better to say.
Ten years ago I encountered a man who changed my life, because he changed the way I view life itself. I thought I was embarking on a musical tribute to celebrate the amazing work of one the truly great film composers which, but the events that unfolded, served a higher purpose.
The plan was to coordinate a live performance of excerpts from Basil’s score to the film Conan in Ubeda during their film music festival. As the date of the performance approached, it became clear that Basil’s health might make him unable to attend. Just days before we flew from Los Angeles, Basil announced he was going to be with us. On the flight, he didn’t look well and I wondered to myself if this was a mistake. At the first rehearsal in Ubeda, Basil seemed a bit fidgety, uncomfortable, yet excited like something was brewing inside him. The music was sounding good, yet preparing it for the performance was clearly going to take some effective rehearsal time. And then Basil stood up and took the baton. All of a sudden, he filled with an energy and enthusiasm and exuberance that was unlike anything I had ever seen.
For the next five days, Basil was on! He was at every meal, every concert. We laughed, listened and contemplated our lives in music together and with the other composers and lovers of film music in attendance. All of us were truly in the moment, and despite the fragility of Basil’s health, he spent that week as a man embracing everything life could give.
When we returned to Los Angeles, Basil’s health declined and it wasn’t long before our dear friend had moved on. But that week in Ubeda was the best lesson on how to live I have ever seen and at challenging times in my own life, I often reflect on how Basil faced and embraced his existence during those few days expressing not only the art of music, but most importantly living his own life as art.
John Frizzell is an American film and television composer. He is well known for his collaborations with Mike Judge, such as Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Office Space and the series King of the Hill. His other film scores include I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Alien: Resurrection, Dante’s Peak (with James Newton-Howard), Thirteen Ghosts, Ghost Ship, Gods and Generals (with Randy Edelman), Stay Alive and The Reaping. He also composed more recently the thriller drama television series The Following.
I had the great honor of working as an orchestrator for Basil Poledouris on a handful of films, including Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, On Deadly Ground, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, Celtic Pride and Amanda to name a few. Basil, his engineer Tim Boyle, music editor Curtis Rousch, and legendary orchestrator Grieg McRitchie welcomed me into their circle in the mid 90’s!
Basil always seemed to get to the heart of a scene in such a transparent and meaningful way. Basil evoked the best from people because he treated those who worked for him in a way that made us feel appreciated and respected. I have memories of sleeping on the couch in my music studio waiting for the FAX machine to spew out the next 8 measures of score that needed to be orchestrated for the next day session. Once Basil’s sketch would come through I orchestrated that section, and then wait for the next 8 measures to come through! Often my work for him was very close to the final stretch of a project, immediately before the orchestra sessions.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of this team for a few years prior to my moving on to focus on my own film composing career. I loved observing the way he spoke about his family. It was clear that family was everything to him.
Lolita Ritmanis is a ten-time Emmy Award-nominated composer, having won this award in 2002 for her work on Batman Beyond. Lolita’s composition credits include: Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, Justice League, Batman: The Killing Joke, Teen Titans. Lolita’s concert works have been performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Lincoln Center, Fimucité International Film Festival, Krakow Film Music Festival. As an orchestrator Lolita worked for composers Michael Kamen, Basil Poledouris, Mark Snow and Shirley Walker (to name but a few).
When I reflect on Basil Poledouris and his music, I am thinking bold statements, strong emotions, and thematic clarity. Whether he wrote for solo piano (It’s My Party) or for large orchestra with choir and synths (The Hunt for Red October), you could always count on a firm hand guiding you through the narrative, making you feel genuine emotions in the process. Looking at photos of the composer, one can easily come to the conclusion that the man himself was robust and strong but of course, he had a tender, vulnerable side which others have written about very eloquently. From what I have heard, Basil not only cared about his family and friends but also about fans of his music, in a truly genuine way.
I’d like to point the reader to two scores which don’t usually show up at the top of the list of Poledouris’ accomplishments but which resonated with me, for different reasons: Poledouris had a deep passion for the sea and all maritime activities, which is what makes his score for Wind so special. It’s a story about competitive sailing, and you can practically feel the sea breeze in your face while listening to this music. I also admire the composer’s score for Serial Mom, one of the best comedy scores I have ever heard. It pays homage to the serial killer genre with some wonderfully playful, inspired writing.
I am glad to see that labels such as Varèse Sarabande and Intrada have recently been very active in releasing or re-releasing Poledouris’ music. Going forward, I would love to see the revival of the currently dormant basil-poledouris.com which used to contain some insightful blurbs about specific projects, written by the composer himself.
All about Edwin Wendler in www.edwinwendler.com
First I thought Basil Poledouris must be a 90-year-old immigrant classical composer who doesn’t speak English. Then I saw “Basil Poledouris, Emmy winner for Lonesome Dove” on TV—and he looked like a car mechanic in a tuxedo. Then I met the real Basil Poledouris and he was the most genuine, down-to-earth, warm-hearted man you could imagine: a California surfer and suburban dad with a beautiful family who also happened to be an extraordinarily gifted composer.
Because he was so accessible personally (he was the only Basil Poledouris in the phone book) and wrote “our” kind of movie music—symphonic and melodic—he became a rooting interest for movie music fans, writing the kind of scores we wished we could write ourselves. His triumphs (like reuniting with Paul Verhoeven) were our triumphs. Slights against him were slights against us. We spent hundreds of dollars on his rare, out-of-print CDs and were happy to do so: playing a copy of an obscurity like Cherry 2000 made it all worth it.
Basil was, in many ways, the last of his kind. His greatest strength as an artist was scoring masculine subjects, from Conan to RoboCop—warriors, gladiators, soldiers, cowboys—evoking the emotions that the male characters were forbidden by society to have. Our culture has moved on not only to a different kind of movie music sound, but a different way of thinking about men and their feelings. This made Basil even more our hero, fighting the good fight to keep something alive that we grew up loving and needing. His music and his entire tradition touched us deeply. Basil, we miss you and love you.
Lukas Kendall is the founder of Film Score Monthly, a magazine, record label and website about movie music.
Basil Poledouris – Embracing Dichotomy
Over a three year span, film music lost some of its greatest proponents, from Michael Kamen (2003) to Elmer Bernstein, David Raksin and Jerry Goldsmith (all 2004) and Shirley Walker and our focus here, Basil Poledouris in 2006.
Basil’s most enduring relationship was with John Milius. It is generally acknowledged that Conan the Barbarian was Basil’s magnum opus. As Milius said in his eulogy for Basil, ‘we were the brothers bear’. He did appear ursine, as in strong and he had a big heart and one could hear that in his music, especially for cues requiring delicate writing. But he did score muscular action so well. One could always count on him to turn out memorable themes in his scores. In the video documentary Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music, Basil told of when he was at his piano working out themes for Conan, he felt a presence walking behind him, some sense of a creature. Basil asked John Milius if he felt anything like that when he was writing the script and the response was ‘oh yeahhhh!’ but Milius didn’t go into details!
One of my personal favourites is Basil’s score for On Deadly Ground, which gave Basil a chance to add uniqueness to the action score with the use of Inuit throat singers. Another of my favourites is Quigley Down Under, where the music encapsulates perfectly the lead character, the locale and the time period – as all good scores should.
There are certain film scores that one holds up as the greatest in cinema history. I would easily cite Conan in the same breath as Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur, not in terms of subject matter but in terms of the gravitas lent to the respective films, by the thoroughly researched and rendered scores.
Dirk Wickenden is a saxophonist, film music journalist, adviser to the Michael Kamen Estate and programme notes author for the Royal College of Music’s Film Orchestra. His interviews and articles have appeared in Legend (the journal of the Goldsmith Film Music Society), Soundtrack: The Collector’s Quarterly and also Film Score Monthly Online. A number of his older printed articles have been archived at www.runmovies.eu. Additionally, Dirk’s short story collection Inside Outside My Head is available exclusively through Amazon.
My first encounter with Basil’s music was at a very tender age. As a little boy I had managed to sneak in the cinema and watch a few minutes of Conan the Barbarian until a cinema employee caught me and threw me out (since the film was rated AO and I was only 9), but those minutes were enough to be haunted by the music for the rest of my life. Basil has since then been my all-time favorite composer and Conan the Barbarian my favorite musical opus of all time.
For many years I tried to get in touch with Basil until one fine day he did get in touch with me himself after having heard from someone that I wanted to get to know him! That is how much he cared and how appreciative he was. In time, my favorite composer became a dear friend whom I will forever cherish and miss as much as family.
If Basil excelled at something more than music, that was his humanity, his kindness and genuine persona. Those who were blessed and lucky enough to have met him, been his friends, family or anyone close to him can confirm this. But if you never met him in person you still know Basil because his music was not only the voice of the films he scored but also the voice of his soul, kind and powerful, gentle and strong, noble and unique.
Basil you are always in our hearts. I love and miss you.
Godwin Borg was born in Malta in 1973. He has been active in music in various roles since the late 80s. In 2008 he founded Kronos Records, an independent music label specializing in Soundtracks, both vintage and contemporary ones. During the seven and a half years of activity Kronos Records has released over a hundred soundtracks on CD. In 2016 he launched Vulkan Records, which specializes in Metal music.
I met Basil Poledouris on Saturday April the 18th in 1998 in the Royal Albert Hall of London. John Barry conducted a concert that day and I knew beforehand that Basil would attend and that we would have the chance to talk, even if briefly. The day before, in Rare Discs, the shop of the twins Martin and Philip Masheter, I run into Richard Kraft, his agent, who was looking for a copy of Honor And Glory. As it happened to be, there was none in the shop, but I had brought one with me from Argentine.
During the interval, I went to the bar for a drink and run into Basil, in a tuxedo. I introduced myself. He was so kind… and even thanked me for the CD. We talked for some minutes and he asked which my favorite of his scores was. I replied immediately that Amerika. His face lit up and he told me I had a good taste.
At that moment his wife Bobbie and daughter Zoë approached us. Basil signed my Cherry 2000 ─Bobbie said that not even they had a copy of it─ and promised to send me back a dedicated copy Honor And Glory, which he did. We said goodbye and returned to our places in order to enjoy John’s concert second part.
Basil was a wonderful composer and an excellent person. Basil was one of the greatest! Fortunately his work will remain for a long time.
Raúl Martí is an executive producer in Howlin’ Wolf Records, where he has collaborated in the releases of Guillermo Guarechi’s Music on Hold and Edwin Wendler’s I Spit on Your Grave 3: Vengeance Is Mine.
I am a belated fan of soundtracks. While I listened to an occasional CD during my childhood, it was not until my teens (14) that I was seduced by film music. One of the first soundtracks I purchased was The Hunt for Red October, by Basil Poledouris. Its power always fascinated me, to the same degree I was upset with its brief album release.
From that point on, Poledouris became one of my favorite composers and I started to collect some of his previous works, especially Conan the Barbarian and RoboCop, and to get all his new additions. I am particularly fond of his collaborations with John Milius and Paul Verhoeven (curiously enough, both of them alternated Poledouris with another giant, Jerry Goldsmith).
Both Conan the Barbarian and John Williams’ Superman are the two scores which I hear more often. And they have not lost a bit of emotion. Another pillar for me as a fan is The Blue Lagoon, a score of masterful beauty and sensitivity. Poledouris was the composer for the open spaces and the epic. However, it was his intimate vein, full of tenderness and passion, but without sentimentalism, the one which seduced me.
Despite his great contributions to film music, unfortunately, he was underrated by the industry. I always thought it was not fair that the composer of The Big Wednesday, Amerika, Farewell to the King and Les Miserables was relegated to productions such as RoboCop 3, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, independently of the high quality of his work for these films.
Like many others, I lived his passing away as the loss of a relative, someone close who walked with me, and still does, in the important moments of my life.
Manuel Díaz Noda is a movie critic in the blog Adivinaquienvienealcine.com, apart from collaborating in TV (La Luna in Teidevisión Canal 6), radio (Radio Candelaria, Gente Radio) and the digital magazine Elblogferoz.com. Since 2007 he is part of the Festival Internacional de Música de Cine de Tenerife (FIMUCITÉ) and has also collaborated in their books: 2001, future’s music; Alien, a biomechanical symphony; The Williams-Spielberg Connection and Play It Again, Oscar.
We will always remember that July night in which the great Basil Poledouris had a revelation (he called it an epiphany). Id est: discovering during those unforgettable days in Úbeda that his music was appreciated, cherished and loved by thousands of people and fans from all over the world. Time has gone by and we still love his music. That it was written with soul and heart could have something to do with it.
In times like these, in which most film music has been depersonalized, in which style and imagination have been replaced by a lack of inspiration, by an standardized sound and zero surprise, in which composers are forced to repeat what works (or what is thought to work) and in which a composer is no longer an artist but an spare part, it is worth looking back and seeing how things were a few years ago.
The time in which maestros reigned and different generations coexisted. That was the time for Poledouris. He had it all: a clear style, a strong personality, a talent for the image… He was the king of the Epic genre in the eighties and nineties, with immense works such as Conan the Barbarian, Flesh+Blood and a whole lot of films covering all genres and styles. He was also one of the first to suffer the changes and the new trends…
Although destiny, considering the bitter and cruel illness he had to go through, saved a nice, fair and deserved surprise for him: that unforgettable, magical and unique night that will live in our memory forever, as his music will do.
Germán Barón Borrás teaches Audiovisual Media. He composes music for shorts, is partner in organizing the Film Music Festival City of Úbeda, and is fan and crazy about soundtracks since he noticed them at an early age.
The first time I saw the name Basil Poledouris was in Conan the Barbarian, in a rainy Sunday afternoon at the now gone Nuevo Hispania Cinema in Palma de Mallorca. The 600 seats were almost sold out, except for the third row (150 pesetas of that time). Eventually, I decided to come in. What could I do in such a gray day? In any case, I felt it would be something special. After the spectacular credits, the village attack came and, then, the rest of this epic story. Great part of the experience was due to the impressive music, proving to be one of my most magical days as part of an audience.
I crossed paths with both names again 25 years later. This time in the mystical and wonderful Úbeda. I could not even believe it. I was about to greet in person one of my idols. I knew I would feel that magic lived long ago. Basil Poledouris was to conduct that magical score, which had shaped so many new fans to film music. I would not change that for anything. Especially, after learning about what he had gone through to be able to attend.
The night of the concert arrived. Every attendee with restrained emotion and a pounding heart. Moments before we start to hear voices roaring in the patio of Santiago’s Hospital: “Basil, Basil, Basil.” The roar gets bigger and bigger until the man himself appears on stage. Wild cheering. An immense recognition in such a short and unrepeatable moment of our lives.
I wish to think that, when he left this world, this magical night crossed his thoughts. A night he gifted to all of us, who were lucky enough to meet, respect and love him. A moment which will live forever in our hearts.
EPIC and MAGIC. This is his legacy.
Juan Arbona Comellas is the president of the Asociación Balear Amigos de las Bandas Sonoras (ABABS). He has taken part in film music conferences, festivals and concerts in Valencia, Seville, Úbeda, Barcelona, Córdoba and London. He has collaborated in conferences with composers Enrique Escobar, José Sola y Joan Bibiloni. He has also delivered general conferences about movies and written in different media about film music composers.
My old man told me about one Basil Poledouris, who wrote Conan the Barbarian. He said something like “It´s true, my son, but remember that it is not Conan all that shines”…
For years I had as a bedside book an extraordinary work called Crucial Classics: How to Enjoy the Best Music in the World where one can read something like Composers of a single work. In this chapter, Kenneth McLeish, the author, mentioned a few musicians whose reputation came endorsed by only one opus. I remember Albinioni and his well-known adagio in G minor, to name one of the best known. Just one?, I asked myself. Unbelievable!
Well, this happens quite frequently in classical music and we can extrapolate it, with no fear and in a similar way, to film music. Distinguished names such as Bill Conti, Lee Holdridge or Basil Poledouris himself are part of this group of composers that for the neophyte (not for the dilettante) will be always associated to a particular work of them.
Just doing a rough check, we may find such iconic compositions as Les Misérables, assigned to Poledouris after Grabriel Yared’s score was rejected. Or the epic and lyrical Farewell to the King, paradigm of the sublime poledourian melody which, along The Blue Lagoon or Flesh+Blood, shows the capacity of the composer to connect with the viewer’s emotions. A single work? How can we forget the red voices of his militarized The Hunt for Red October or the intimate It’s My Party, perhaps his most subtle composition.
How can we forget…? I am now the one who, older and wiser, tells his old man “You see, now I can tell my children that Poledouris was and is much more than Conan.”
Antonio Pardo Larrosa is the author of Sotto Voce: Artículos, reseñas y otras chanzas y de El baúl de los genios and coauthor, with Antonio Piñera, of James Horner, el don de la inmortalidad. Usual collaborator of Sinfoníavirtual, Latecla 88, Scoremagacine, Bandasonora.org, Musicadecineblog.com and of the Melómano magazine, he is a member of the jury for the Premios de la Crítica Musical Cinematográfica. He has also collaborated in the essay Regreso al motel Bates.
Basil Poledouris. Or the composer who wrote from the bottom of his heart. The genius who injected feeling and emotion to his scores. Just listening to the adventures and misfortunes of three surfer friends through the years is a perfect example to picture him. Few first time composers may show off with such a master piece.
But there are several other examples. He gave emotion to Conan, showing us his love and grief for Valeria’s loss. He gave feelings to RoboCop, in describing his anger and frustration for losing his family. He gave beauty and hope to the jungles of Borneo, for the brave King who came to be from a coward soldier. He gave love, savagery, epic, beauty and drama to a tumultuous, violent and dirty period in Flesh+Blood. He added emotion and bravado to the story of failure and success of the America’s Cup. And he even lent emotion to the stone faced Steven Seagal in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, with its family theme, or in On Deadly Ground, with its nature theme.
Basil Poledouris is one-of-a kind. He wrote with his heart and his music soaked through the screen to stay with us (Conan the Barbarian is written in a universal language). Those who knew him well tell us about his gentleness and closeness, far from that image we have from those who work in Hollywood. He was well above of it. He was made of flesh and blood, and true feelings.
Thanks Pole. You moved me as no one. Farewell to My King!
Rubén Franco is the co-founder of the web AsturScore, created in August of 2010, and president of the Asturias Association of Film Music. He has written articles in BSOSpirit and also collaborated in the International Film Music Festival City of Úbeda and in the International Film Music Festival Province of Córdoba. He also took part in the conferences (and concerts) organized by Oviedo FilmMusic Live!.