Film music is often thought of and referred to as background music. But a growing number of “live-to-picture” concerts, where orchestras perform the scores for various movies live to the movie itself, are bringing the background to the foreground. The latest movie to get this treatment is "Back to the Future," scored by composer Alan Silvestri, which turns 30 this year.
The score was written by Silvestri, who went on to score every movie for director Robert Zemeckis.
“This was only the second time I had ever written anything for orchestra,” Silvestri says. “I was completely new to all of this.”
In the movie, Marty McFly travels 30 years into the past and tampers with his own timeline. It’s now been 30 years since "Back to the Future" was released, and Silvestri decided he wanted to travel back the same distance and only slightly tamper with his score.
“We added music to the film,” he says. “But everything that was in the film, originally, is just the way it was originally.”
When Silvestri’s agency decided to celebrate the score’s 30th anniversary by turning it into a live-to-picture concert experience, they realized there was only about 26 minutes of score in the entire film. They asked Silvestri to flesh it out for this concert, which is currently on an international tour, and he received an enthusiastic blessing from “the Bobs” (Zemeckis and producer/co-writer Bob Gale).
“The way the two Bobs constructed these films, they’re constantly promising things that they then deliver as the film goes on,” he says. “Like you see the plutonium box in the opening shot, and then you see what the plutonium means as you go on. And so this became, then, a fun opportunity for me to kind of do something like that with the music. I wound up finding material from the clocktower sequence that felt really appropriate in the lab when the phone rings. Just as the guys are promising things that happen later, I was able to start doing some of that musically.”
“There’s new cues, and they help my acting,” laughs Lea Thompson. Thompson played Marty’s mother, Lorraine, in the movie — both as an older woman and as a teenager in 1955, who unwittingly falls in love with her time-traveling son. “It makes it a little more poignant. And it’s interesting to celebrate, because there’s been a lot of great composers for film that have been kind of overlooked. I always thought that the score was brilliant, and Alan Silvestri didn’t quite get his due for how much of a contribution it made to 'Back to the Future.'”
Thompson will make an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night when the L.A. Philharmonic performs "Back to the Future — In Concert" — along with co-star Christopher Lloyd, Bob Gale and, of course, Alan Silvestri. She was at the show’s recent U.S. premiere at Wolf Trap in Virginia.
“It was really fun to watch it this way,” she says. “It’s almost like you get to turn one part of the headphones up and really watch something in a different way, with a different mix. This is a very powerful score. And, you know, I think it really enhanced the experience. It enhanced the power of the emotions. When you hear it, especially in the middle of a big orchestra, you can really see how much power he added to the movie.”
David Newman, a film composer in his own right, has the unenviable task of conducting the orchestra Tuesday night. He has to keep the L.A. Phil precisely on track with the movie and with Marty McFly’s time-traveling antics... so in a score like this one, timing is everything.
“Once he gets in the past and he’s going back to the future, they’re just chasing a lightning bolt,” says Newman. “They’re just desperately trying to get a car exactly at the right place at the right time. I always thought the score is like a ticking clock that is just going a little too fast. So when you’re conducting it, it needs to feel like it’s falling forward, like it’s almost going to trip on itself. There are a lot of what we call ‘hits,’ where the music hits a picture cut — especially in that clock tower scene. And it goes on and on and on and on and on. That’s the challenge in doing it.”
For Silvestri, there are many strange parallels to revisiting something he wrote 30 years in the past. But, he says, when he listens to the music now, it still feels like it came from the same guy.
“You know, it was both instantaneous and going back and seeing something after 30 years. It was just like the movie, in a funny way.”
"Back to the Future — In Concert" will be performed by the L.A. Philharmonic Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. at the Hollywood Bowl.