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Thomas Dolby Blog about Gothic

Here's any interesting and amusing blog from the soundtracks composer about his recollections of working with Ken Russell on the film;

"For some reason it was only today that I was struck by the coincidence that ‘Gothic’ was both the name of the theater in Denver I played last night, and the name of my first and only orchestral score for a movie, Ken Russell’s thundering 1986 depiction of Byron and Shelley and the birth of the Frankenstein legend.

I have many good memories of that experience, as a well as some bad ones. It was wonderful to hear my music performed by an orchestra for the first time; and, given how out of control a composer usually is when it comes to scoring a movie, I could have done far worse than to get paired up with Ken Russell, who doesn’t take crap from anyone and who has a deep and scholoarly love of music.

Here’s an interesting story though. Ken had the reputation for being something of a tyrant and a hothead on the set. The movie was being produced on a low budget by Virgin, their first venture into feature films. To save money the producers pulled a stunt called ‘upgrading’, whereby a grip becomes a focus puller, a focus puller becomes a camera operator and so on, in order to get the credit on his/her resume but still being paid the old fee. In addition several of the crew were regulars on Virgin’s music videos and were working for free to get the feature experience. As a result the crew had a young average age—mid-20's perhaps—whereas Ken was well into his 60's, and quite a hard drinker to boot.

The movie was shot in England’s Lake District, masquerading as Lake Geneva. For the first few days of the shoot everyone walked on eggshells around Ken. Every time a lamp got knocked over, or the correct prop was not on the set in time for the shot, people would glance nervously over at Ken. But he could be seen visibly closing his eyes and counting to ten while his anger abeyed. Half way through principal photography the crew was just beginning to get comfortable, remarking on how calm and easy-going Ken was despite his reputation.

Then on the eleventh day, a parrot was required for a scene. There is only one professional parrot handler in the whole North of England, and he and his prize bird were on the set ready for the shot, probably delighted to get a rare booking like this. The shot required the parrot to sit at the right hand end of his perch in order to stay in the frame. The handler placed the parrot there, but each time the assistant director yelled “and…. ACTION!” the parrot immediately shuffled to its left along the perch and out of the frame, ruining the take.

After about five takes had been wrecked this way, Ken Russell, who had been lurking in the shadows watching a monitor, burst onto the set and was on the point the point of throttling the poor parrot handler—and probably would have succeeded had he not been physically restrained by the cast and crew.

After that, Ken’s outbursts became more frequent. It was not uncommon for a crew member to shush a colleague and whisper, “Careful… Ken’s got PHS today.” (Parrot Handler Syndrome.)

I’m happy to say Ken was always kind to me and I never found myself on the receiving end of PHS. But on the day we recorded the orchestral score, at the Angel Studios, a converted church in North London, I did get to witness it first hand.

I had never worked with an orchestra before, and I’d made the mistake of signing a deal with Virgin where I had to pay all recording costs out of my own fee. I reckoned I could just about afford the London Philharmonic plus an orchestrator for one day. We had 18 cues to record. I carefully prepared and sequenced them all in my Fairlight and gave the recordings to the orchestrator to transcribe. But I don’t read music and have little or no formal training, so I trusted him to transcribe my Fairlight versions faithfully. This he had not done. Orchestral players being heavily unionized as they are, on the dot of 9am they opened their sheet music for the first time. I stood there in the middle of a 96-piece orchastra thrilling at the sounds of my compositions. But every few bars, something was off. I made mental notes as they played each cue through. I had to walk from one section to the next saying, “Ok cellos… that part that goes ‘da DAAA da da…’ what’s your top note there?” “Erm, A flat?” I thought about it and said “…ok…. change that to an A natural will you?”

They obviously thought I was a complete dunderhead. I could see Ken through the control room window, already well into his ever present crate of red wine at this early hour. By late morning we were already 50% behind where we needed to be. At about 2 minutes to 12, I had just made a couple of minor changes to a cue and was ready to run it one last time. “Er sorry Mr Dolby,” said the first violin, “it’s almost twelve and we have to go to lunch.” “Well they’ve almost nailed it, can’t we just add on the equivalent mintues at the end of your lunch break?” I asked, perplexed. “Sorry, Mr Dolby, that’s the rules.”

I was speechless.

They were just beginning to put down their instruments when the heavy studio doors burst wide open, and Ken Russell came storming in the room, flush with Burgundy, the veins sticking out on his neck. He strode to the middle of the floor, glaring around at the musicians. “You… *beep* BASTARDS!!” he screamed: “You have this wonderful gift—from GOD!” (hand outstretched to the heavens) “—to play your instruments, and all your can think about is your *beep* TEABREAK!”

The reverberations died down, leaving a deathly hush in the studio. After a few seconds the silence was broken by the tap of the conductor’s baton on his music stand. “Cue 11a once again please, gentlemen.”

I saw Ken in the canteen. He complimented me on how the music was sounding. I said I was sorry he got a bit het up there for a moment. He leaned in to me and whispered: “Well it did the bloody trick Dolby, didn’t it?” "



Awesome! Thanks for share it!

Prostitute: What the *beep* are you doing?
Johnny: I'm gonna kill a bunch of people.


Cool, thanks.


Hmm, this had a composer. Here I thought he was just continually sampling Stravinsky's Rite of Spring!




Such an interesting and entertaining story, thanks!