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Dialogue - Frank Griffith talks to Sir John Dankworth Print
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Dialogue - Frank Griffith talks to Sir John Dankworth
2. Initial involvement in scoring for films.
3. Working with Joseph Losey.
3. Defining the requirements of the score.
4. Potential for creative freedom.
5. Notes and References.

3. Working with Joseph Losey.

  • z_criminal.jpg 1960 saw Dankworth's first collaboration with Joseph Losey, on the prison drama The Criminal.   The soundtrack features Dankworth's song Thieving Boy, sung by Cleo Laine with lyrics by the screenplay writer Alun Owen.   Throughout the film this song, with its forlorn lyrics, serves as a highly effective and atmospheric accompaniment to the story.   Two years later, Dankworth and Losey worked together on The Servant, their greatest collaboration.   Writing in Jazzwise, Selwyn Harris (2004:20) describes Dankworth's score as playing a key part, thus:
  • '...conspiring in the film's dark emotional undercurrents.   Pungent, homophonic, chamber-like, wind textures and insinuating jazz harmonies cut to smoky sax lines suggesting nuances of character and mood while discreetly hinting at the underlying tension'.

FG - In The Servant you used a device similar to that of the accordion in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, except here you have a very interesting juxtaposition of string quartet and saxophone quartet.   They're almost like two sides of the same coin.   They played the same theme, that four-note theme that you introduced in the opening sequence, when you see Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) walking over to the house of his employer Tony (James Fox) to introduce himself and start his first day of work.   You have the theme playing which is initially brought in by string quartet, and then you reintroduce the theme again with the saxophone quartet

z_servant_2.jpgJD - Yes, it changes on the interior of the house.   I wasn't happy with the way the leader of the saxophone quartet played.   He was very highly regarded, but somehow, though, the way he played it didn't sound like what I wanted.   So, I then re-recorded it with the Michael Cryon Saxophone Quartet, and then I got just what I wanted out of it.   I didn't want it to be too sweet, but I didn't want it to sound too sort of po-faced either.

  • The song All Gone in The Servant fulfils a similar role to the song in The Criminal, and is also sung by Cleo Laine.   Harold Pinter wrote the lyrics.   In Cleo and John, Dankworth states:

  • 'The idea was that the same song should change imperceptibly to spell out the degeneration of the situation.   The first time the song was played, it was quite straightforward, then it crept in to the minor key, then it came with interjections from tenor sax and in the last case it was done in almost an atonal way with Cleo singing right through what was in those days a cacophonous background. (quoted in Collier 1976: 108).

FG - Pinter's lyrics have to do with the movie, but and the words could easily have been changed and the song transferred to the popular canon as a jazz ballad.

JD - I asked Harold whether he would consider rewriting the lyric in a way that it could be performed separately from the film.   As you say, the lyrics directly relate to the film and the tawdry things that happen in it.   He said: 'No.   For what reason?'   I said: 'Just so it might get more performances and you might be a more famous lyricist than you are at the moment', or something trivial like that.   He never came up with anything, but there again I can't imagine what lyrics a Nobel Literature Prize winner would come up with!

  • z_darling_3.jpgDespite the successes of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Criminal it wasn't until after The Servant that Dankworth's film scoring talents were widely sought after.   His next collaboration was in 1965 with director John Schlesinger, for Darling. In his memoir, Dankworth (1998: 155) wrote: 'Schlesinger was a keen music lover and was anxious that the score had a different feel from fashionable movie scores, which merely reflected current tastes in popular music'.

JD - What happened was that he entrusted me with the score, as a' director does in the first place, but obviously tried to explain the sort of effect he was trying to get for any particular scene.   One of the most important bits of music was when Julie Christie gets upset and runs through the set discarding her clothes and ends up sobbing on the bed.   The camera followed her all the way through, and that's where I had Kenny Wheeler on the session.   I particularly wanted him to be featured on this.   However, I guess I probably overwrote myself, or got a bit 'Gil Evans-ed' up, or whatever.   Anyway I thought it worked out quite well.   I'm not sure if John was there when I actually recorded it, but when he heard it, I could see he wasn't happy with it.   I realised then that I'd somehow overwritten it, which you should be very careful about if you're a film composer, as it's a bit show-offy to do that.   Some of the best film music shouldn't be heard or noticed at all, it should just be part of the experience.

Anyway I realised he wasn't happy, so I said: 'Well John, I'm getting the sort of texture that you want now, but can you just tell me a little more about it?' So we looked at it on the Moviola and when he started trying to explaining to me what he wanted, I said: 'John, why don't you just sort of moan, or say syllables, or something, just to give me an idea where you feel things should happen'.   So he made various sounds as we watched, and I did get from him the idea that the music had to be very thin, sad and isolated and that the great layers of sound that I'd given it, a sort of organ type accompaniment, were not what he'd wanted, and weren't going to work either , so we redid it all again.

Kenny Wheeler did the repeat, but instead of using the flugelhorn, he used a tin mute trumpet, and it got thinned down until it ended up being almost inaudible at the end, just a single instrument.   So that was a case where a director who was very interested in music, but not musically literate, was able by sounds and noises to give me a road map of what he actually wanted to hear, and so we both ended up with the same sort of product, and with me converting into musical terms what he had in his mind. 'next', at right, to read on.....

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