Ghosts of Ghostbusters: Elmer Bernstein

By Jared Young

Mailed on August 29, 2014

Dear Elmer Bernstein

Dear Elmer,

You learned a little something, over your long and storied career, about how to score comedy films. You came to it late, though. In the early 1980s, even though you were already one of the most famous film composers in the business, John Landis still had to fight with the studio brass to bring you onboard National Lampoon’s Animal House (sure, he was probably a fan—but he also grew up down the street from you and was pals with your kids). They didn’t think you could score a straight-up comedy flick. And, boy, did you prove them wrong.

You followed up Animal House with a run of comedy scores that can only be described as legendary: Meatballs, Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, Stripes, and Trading Places (for which you were nominated for an Academy Award).

Scoring a comedy film is less about themes and melodies than it is about tone—and tone, in comedy, is a precarious thing. Which is ,why the music you composed for Ghostbusters is so brilliant. Classical orchestral elements mixed with wavering Theremin notes and a bit of synth,

The Ghostbusters soundtrack is so preeminent that your score is often forgotten. Play Ray Parker’s Jr.’s eponymous theme song (or Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug,” for that matter), and, even without the lyrics, it’s instantly recognizable. Play the main theme from your score, however, and I wonder how many people – though it would seem familiar to them – would identify the melody with the world’s most famous team of paranormal investigators. But that jaunty piano march is the perfect balance to the pop music that proliferates throughout the rest of the film. More than the cinematography, more than the directing, more than the performances, it’s the regulating element that prevents the special effects and supernatural mythology from overwhelming the film’s

Ghostbusters, at its heart, is a small film, filled with wonderful small moments that are more than the sum of their parts. And it was your score that gave them room to thrive.



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