Few composers come close to matching the extraordinary record of former Santa Barbara resident Elmer Bernstein, one of Hollywood’s all-time-favorite soundtrack artists. As part of a new series dedicated to exploring the role of the composer in filmmaking, the film To Kill a Mockingbird, which has an exquisite Bernstein score, will screen on Monday, November 24, at the Granada Theatre. The Bernstein memorial series, which also includes The Great Escape (January 26) and The Magnificent Seven (March 30), is curated by another important composer and hit songwriter, Paul Williams. Williams will be joined in conversation this Monday by veteran composer Richard Bellis, making for a night not to be missed by those who are serious about the art of scoring a film.
Although any chance to see a beautiful classic film like To Kill a Mockingbird on the Granada’s majestic, state-of-the-art rear-projection system would be worth celebrating, the choice of Williams as curator and host renders Monday’s event an especially compelling opportunity. Williams, who wrote “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “The Rainbow Connection,” overflows with energy and insight. When we spoke with him by phone last week from his office at the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), where he is president and chair of the board, Williams shared big ideas and even bigger surprises. For example, although he’s been sober for more than two decades, Williams just came out with his first book about recovery, Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life, which he cowrote with Tracey Jackson. Before you jump to any conclusions, though, consider that Williams participated in another important creative collaboration just last year, when he joined the group Daft Punk on two songs for the duo’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year, Random Access Memories. In other words, he may be clean, sober, and 74, but Williams still hangs with a pretty cool crowd.
Speaking of To Kill a Mockingbird, Williams praised Elmer Bernstein’s reach. “His music goes beyond what’s normally expected of a score and becomes a part of the environment of the film,” he said. “In Mockingbird, I feel like what he’s done works in parallel with Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch and conveys the same sense of a simple wisdom that’s been delicately enhanced.” For The Magnificent Seven, Bruce Broughton, who wrote the Academy Award–nominated score for Silverado, will join Williams to examine the challenges of composing for a western. Williams loves the “anthemic” quality of Bernstein’s work in that film and admires the fact that the score is “always moving forward, generating passion, and taking you deeper into the film.” These are three of the greatest film scores of all time, and the people talking about them are the top contemporary practitioners of this art.
Prior to speaking with Williams, I had the pleasure of relistening to a lot of great music, but it would be a shame to neglect the fact that I also read Gratitude and Trust with interest and, yes, gratitude. It’s an unusually cogent and forceful entry into the vast literature of self-help and recovery, and it rings with the truth of hard-won experience. Williams and Jackson are particularly good on the uses of failure and on how accepting and owning one’s lapses and mistakes can actually lead to a more effective and fulfilling life. The audience at these film screenings will unquestionably benefit from the additional acuity and wisdom this multifaceted artist brings to everything he does. And that’s no mistake.
Monday at the Movies continues with To Kill a Mockingbird at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Monday, November 24, at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.