Interviews Soundtracks Review Vinyl

Lalo Schifrin – The Chameleon

Title: Bullitt OST

Label: Speakers Corner

I beg your indulgence on this particular review because I want to illuminate the disc around a brief interview I did some time ago now with its composer, Lalo Schifrin, who shed light on the creation of the record but also referred to other associated works, Enter The Dragon and Dirty Harry. I include my old interview below, which hopefully provides an insight into Bullit‘s production and, even when discussing other projects, hopefully allows you to see more of the man and his temperament as an artist.

Argentinean born, Lalo Schifrin, is one of the most versatile composers on the scene today – and he wants you to know it. As a pianist, composer and conductor, he is equally at home conducting a symphony orchestra, performing at an international jazz festival, scoring a film or television show. However, it’s those classic film and TV scores that he’s most well known for.

Schifrin is adamant, he hates any suggestion of procedure, any accusation of soundtrack by rote, any hint that a template may be involved. He’s an artist and he’ll tear your throat out if you say otherwise. My first mistake. 

“I studied music!” Schifrin snaps through a half ingested sandwich, “I don’t want to sound like a snob or arrogant but you really should study classical music, get yourself The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky.” Blood fills his cheeks. He discards the sandwich. I’ve obviously said something wrong. I scramble to remember what it might have been, “I have a technique, yes. I have influences but I have my own personality. I write a soundtrack from the beginning to the end, in one unified way. I don’t do films that fit my style, I adapt my style to films. I like the challenge. I am a chameleon!”

Then he talks about his non-film work, defensively listing his many talents and describing his broad creative brush. 

I try to bring him back to film but Schifrin bites back, “I am sorry to disappoint you. You are not going to be able to pin me down because I am a chameleon!” That word again. Then we both count to 10. I wonder if he’ll go for the sandwich again or even if he’ll throw it at me.

Which is why I gently offer Schifrin Enter The Dragon, Bullitt and Dirty Harry for discussion and he deigns to give me the essence of his immaculate conception.

“There were, at the time, three styles of thriller: the American style, the detective in action; the English style, Hitchcock’s suspense element and the French style, psychological elements,” he said. “Dirty Harry follows the American tradition. However, Harry is in action, so I don’t have a major theme for him. His time comes in moments of pathos – when the girl dies or, at the end, when he throws his badge, his rejection of the system.”

“Hitchcock stated that the villain is more important than the hero in a motion picture and, for Dirty Harry’s villain, Scorpio, Schifrin gets into the man’s head,” said Schifrin. “Don Siegel, director, was confused at Shifrin’s insistence in using haunting female voices for Scorpio’s ‘theme’. He wears a belt with a peace sign on it. He lives a paradox, he’s a killer. The man hears voices.”

Bullitt follows the British film model, according to Schifrin, depending more on suspense. For this film, Schifrin was just as determined to leave music out, “I didn’t write any music for the chase,” Schifrin recollects. “I told the director, Peter Yates, it’s not necessary to have music here. You’ll have more freedom to use sound effects.”

As for Enter The Dragon? It falls out of Schfrin’s classification. It’s a fantasy, “Everything is exaggerated. Dirty Harry and Bullitt are set in realism.”

Speakers Corner’s new Bullit vinyl release is excellent, incidentally. Nicely mastered and carefully packaged.

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  • Reply
    16th July 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Ah scary Lalo 😱 You were lucky to escape with your boots on lol! Anyway Bullitt brings back memories of a gig I went to back in 2000. Earlier in the evening before the concert I paid a quick visit to Tower. A short time later I left with…….’Bullitt’ on vinyl. So off I went to Whelan’s to see my hero with the precious Lp tucked under my arms. And, there he was, resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts sitting on a stool ‘improvising’ away on his white electric guitar. He might as well have been strumming nonchalantly on his back porch! As the concert went on I was secretly hoping he’d conjure his magical acoustic guitar from the ether and start playing the way he used to. Wishful thinking I’m afraid. Anyway at the interval he sauntered down and sat at one of the tables…..munching a burger! So what did I do? I went down and asked him to sign my Lp! Luckily he was impressed with my taste and, smiling warmly, he wrote his name on the back cover. Six months later he was gone to that gig in the sky, hopefully playing the acoustic guitar I craved. His name? I give you the equally irascible John Fahey; Though he spelt his name without the ‘e’.

    Another good one in the Lalo mode is the equally wonderful original OST ‘The Taking of Pelham One,Two, Three’ by David Shire.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th July 2018 at 1:17 pm

      Hi Dermot – Hehe – ah, yes scary Fahey/Fahy. I remember one colleague telling me that he went to a show of his once. John sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar. Then he plucked at a single string. Then he listened to it’s reverb and then the silence after it. Then he repeated himself. Then he did it again. And that was the show! Over and over he did that for a long, long time. Half the audience left before the end! Whatta guy 🙂 I expect you are fully conversant with his disciples but I heartily recommend Leo Kottke for a guitar picking’ good time. Nice OST, incidentally, and I loved the film.

  • Reply
    16th July 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Ah I love those old Rock n’ Roll tales! I have some of good ol’ Leo’s outpourings. Awesomely talented guy too. Much better than John lol! That’s a joke 😉 Thanks for the tip!

    He was a funny guy too as this little ditty on the rear of his first Tacoma release :

    On ‘Jesu,Joy of Man’s Desiring.’

    “The engineer called this the ancient joy of man’s desire. (Bach had twenty children because his organ didn’t have any stops.)”

    Ha ha ha ha!

    Another relentless single minded guy was the equally awesome Jack Rose.
    My favourites being ‘Red Horse, White Mule’, ‘Opium Musik’ and one simply called Jack Rose which features the side long ‘Spirits in the House’. ‘Kensington Blues’ is another…..

    My version of the Pelham OST was actually going for around £200 on Discogs last time I looked! Yeah great film 🎥

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th July 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Jack Rose is a new one on me – thanks for that Dermot, I’ll check him out.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th July 2018 at 3:49 pm

      I’ve just found Jack Rose and now realise that he died in 2009! At just 38 too. Listened to Kensington Blues on YouTube, very nice indeed.

  • Reply
    16th July 2018 at 6:07 pm

    Completely forgot to mention he died! Too young…..

    Glad you like Kensington Blues 🙂 Have a listen to ‘Levee’ from the Jack Rose album too.

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