Clint Mansell Interview (Archive 2008)
Earlier this year, Coventry born film composer, Clint Mansell, re-mastered and adapted his track "We are all Stardust" for Coventry Moves, a one minute film telling the story of the city's history, which commemorated the launch of the Coventry City of Culture Trust 2021 brand.
Back in 2008, Coventry filmmaker (and now CineCov team member) Brian Harley, interviewed fellow Cov-kid, fresh off a Golden Globe nomination for his score for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain.
In this archive interview, Mansell reflects on the popularity and ubiquity of his score for Requiem for a Dream, recalls his childhood in the Midlands and offers his views on Coventry's sprawling music heritage. He also shares insights into his influences, ambitions, creative process and what it's like grocery shopping in Hollywood!
Set Flux Capacitor to 2008…
Brian: Many of your scores, particularly Requiem For A Dream, are quite foreboding and jarring. Is this just inspired by the subject material or is this darkness something that you bring to the table?
Clint: I think it's part of my make-up. I like art, music, film of a more serious tone. I want to work on projects that are important to me. Projects that have something to say, something of some value. Entertainment is, obviously, an important part of the medium, but it depends on what the individual finds entertaining. To many, Indiana Jones is the definition of film entertainment whereas Kieślowski's A Short Film About Killing would perhaps not be thought of in such a way. I could happily go to my grave never seeing another Indiana Jones movie but if there was a Kieślowski film I had yet to see, I would have to see it. I have scored movies that are purely entertainment-oriented and the experience has been good, particularly from a financial point of view. But films like this need to be somewhat formulaic, and as such, leave little room for artistic expression. I guess the Holy Grail of film scoring would be a huge, artistically-driven entertaining blockbuster!
Brian: Your score for Requiem is one of the most used pieces of music ever, having been used in multiple advertising, sports events and movie trailers. What is it about this piece that makes it so popular?
Clint: I have no idea. I find the whole thing most amusing because the film company who made Requiem wouldn't let us use the music from the film in the trailer! As you say, it's now one of the most used pieces ever. Take from that what you will. Musically, it's a simple progression and melody, quite direct. It's got mood and emotional power. Maybe that's what connects with people. I try to keep my music minimal, melodic & simple - a lot of movie music these days is bloated nonsense.
Brian: You cite the score to Halloween as one of the most effective pieces of music in film. What other scores and composers do you admire?
Clint: Halloween was like punk rock kicking the film score world's self-indulgent arse! It's simple, beautifully effective and to the point. John Carpenter's music from that period is amongst the best film music, in my view. I like Bernard Hermann, Miklós Rózsa, Ennio Morricone, Zbigniew Preisner, Philip Glass. Sad to say, a lot of film music these days is devoid of emotion or melody. The word often used is 'neutral'. Producers don't want to do anything that might offend the audience these days so music is often bland and like so much wallpaper. However, some truly great scores in my opinion are Taxi Driver, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Spellbound, The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity, My Dog Skip, Unfaithful, Finding Neverland. I could go on and on...
Brian: You strike me as a composer that likes to think outside the box, intelligent and thought-provoking.
Clint: I search for the music inside me. I search for the music that the project needs me to write. My only strength is being myself. I am not a jack-of-all-trades. Fact is, most of those conventions are either learnt or mimicked. I try to learn through my own experience and I'm too impatient to mimic. I need to create.
Brian: In your opinion, and you can include advertising and music videos here, what is the greatest marriage of image and music so far?
Clint: There's a beautiful scene in La Fille Sur La Pont where Daniel Auteuil is a knife-thrower in a circus. In the scene he is performing his act throwing knives at Vanessa Paradis' character. The music accompanying the scene is written by Angelo Badalamenti with a vocal performed by Marianne Faithful. Its called "Who Will Take My Dreams Away" and it's just beautiful. Is it the greatest? For today, it is....
Brian: Are there any filmmakers that you'd particularly like to work with?
Clint: Anyone who sticks to his guns!
Brian: Have you ever had to make any creative sacrifices for a film?
Clint: Constantly. The film is king. It’s important that the film and everything about it works - not just one element of it.
Brian: How do you compose your music for film? What's your process?
Clint: I need to be excited by the project, the story, the images, the director. It's a chemical thing. It's like an attraction to a person. Some people bring the best out of you because the chemistry between you is electric. Other people bore the pants off you - and you them!
Brian: Is there any music that you have written that you're particularly precious about, perhaps holding back until the right film comes along? Your own film, perhaps? Any plans?
Clint: I always believe I'll write better tomorrow than I did today so why hold something back? My own film? Maybe one day. I would really like to write for a ballet some day. I would like to turn The Fountain into a ballet.
Brian: You've established a creative partnership with Darren Aronofsky. What is it about him you're drawn to and vice versa?
Clint: He's a maverick in an age of few. He pushes himself and those around him to fly higher, work harder, achieve more. One of the first things he ever said to me was that, whilst not everyone will like what you do, they will see the work you put in. We don't have much time so make your mark. He's an inspiration and a friend.
Brian: Keeping with Aronofsky, The Fountain, came out to mixed reviews. However, you received much critical acclaim and awards for its score, including a golden globe nomination. What do you think it was about that film that made it difficult for audiences and reviewers?
Clint: It's a complex movie and brings more questions than answers. Like all great art it is divisive and has provoked some heated debate.
Brian: What are you working on at the moment?
Clint: Aronofsky's new movie The Wrestler followed by a UK sci-fi film called Moon.
Brian: What advice would you offer to any budding film composers?
Clint: Be yourself. It’s the only thing they can't take from you.
Brian: You're a Cov-kid. What do you remember most about the city and its music scene past and present?
Clint: We moved from Coventry when I was 2, then went to Nuneaton 'til I was 6. So my earliest memories are of Nuneaton, to be honest - the park across the road from where we lived. Ansley County Infant School, a lot of snow for some reason? We must have had a heavy winter in 1969, I think it was? Then we moved to Stourbridge in the '70s, I think. I loved The Specials. Pete Waterman is a legend, for better or worse. I've got The Enemy record and I saw them play in HMV on Oxford Street in London once. Not really my thing, but more power to 'em!
Brian: What's Hollywood life like?
Clint: I'm a bit of a hermit to be honest. I write music, I watch the football on T.V. I drink red wine. I love it! I see famous people in the supermarket quite often - Vince Vaughn, Christina Ricci, Rose McGowan. I often wonder if any of them have ever thought 'Hey, that’s Clint Mansell in the dairy aisle'!? Probably not.
Brian: Finally, the most probing question of all - if you were a musical instrument, what would you be?
Clint: I just bought a stylophone! Can I be a stylophone, please?