Alec Baldwin at the NY Phil | Photo by Chris Lee
Hit play below to listen to our extended Music for Moving Pictures interview featuring Alec Balwdin and Christiane Kubrick discussing Stanley Kubrick’s unique use of music in film.
Alec Baldwin is many things. He’s the suave movie star from ’90s dramas like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Hunt for Red October. He’s the bullish, hilarious Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock. And more recently, of course, he’s Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. He also loves film music. That became apparent when Baldwin took the role of artistic advisor and host for the New York Philharmonic’s series, The Art of the Score, where the orchestra plays scores live to picture.
The series returns for its sixth year on September 12th with Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood, followed by Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I recently spoke to Alec Baldwin—who is also one of my favorite podcast interviewers, on his WNYC show Here’s the Thing—about his personal history with film and classical music, the scores in his own movies… and whether he thinks film music will ever truly join the repertoire in the concert hall.
Tim Greiving with Christiane Kubrick
Somebody who knows a thing or two about Stanley Kubrick—and the way he used music—is the late director’s wife, Christiane Kubrick. Stanley met Christiane neé Harlan when he cast the young actress in his 1957 World War I film, Paths of Glory. They got married the next year, and stayed married until his death in 1999. Kubrick had a very unorthodox, very particular approach to using music in his films. After hiring composers to score Spartacus and Dr. Strangelove in the traditional way, he took a hard left when he made 2001—throwing out an entire original score composed by Alex North in favor of his temp track filled with classical and modern concert music. It was a strange move, it was a blow to Alex North… and it was instantly iconic.
From then on, Kubrick almost exclusively worked with existing music. A Clockwork Orange relied on Beethoven and Rossini. Barry Lyndon is full of Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel. And The Shining loves Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, as well as modern maestros of unease like Ligeti and Penderecki. What drove this collagist method of using music? I’ve always assumed it was about control, that Kubrick didn’t want to hand his films over to another artist and have them muck around by adding their own ideas which he would have very little control over. But when I visited the delightful, 86-year-old Christiane at the Kubrick manor in the English countryside a few weeks ago, I heard a slightly more nuanced theory. We spoke about her husband’s own musical chops, his tastes, where he liked to listen to music, and the suspicion that he was always just missing out on the best piece of music to use.