Henry Mancini...Reinventing Film Music
University of Illinois Press
When I think of Henry Mancini, the theme to The Pink Panther comes to mind. (A tie for very close second is the enduring theme to the television series, Peter Gunn and the memorable theme and popular song from the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Moon River.) It is fitting that John Caps’ biography of his life reflect this in the pink lettering and inside jacket as well as the typeface reminiscent of the movie.
Mancini’s life was dedicated to arranging and composing music. Early on, he would practice writing out arrangements of music he heard on the radio growing up near Pittsburgh. He would study the orchestration and even learn the names of the arrangers of charts for big bands such as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.
Born in 1924, Mancini witnessed the rise of big band swing and his pursuits as an arranger nearly landed his a place with Glen Miller’s military incarnation. (He would eventually work with the Miller band as arranger and pianist with Tex Beneke at the Helm.) It was his early love of film music, though, that would lead him to become arguably the most recognizable name in film and television music. In Reinventing Film Music, details of the chance encounters and deliberate actions won and lost that propelled him on this journey abound.
The technical aspects of composing and arranging are given much more than a cursory mention that would be expected of a biography. Notes on the orchestra membership of some studio recordings and details from his 1962 text on orchestration that appear in this book reveal some of the elements that made up the “Mancini Touch.” The melodic choices that went into his memorable themes from the scores to Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Days Of Wine And Roses are described in detail that is inspiring for songwriters as well as those with a fondness for the tunes. John Caps illustrates parallels between the scoring and the plot in Mancini’s approach. In addition, some cliched elements are given defense, such as the over-dramatic moments in the scoring of Breakfast. The cultural references help portray the composer as someone who was able to innovate while still taking care to create a successful score.
All of Mancini’s creative output is addressed in the book. The most notable movies and television shows are discussed in depth including the main characters and the actors that portrayed them as well as plot points and the occasional depiction of scenes. The film lover will enjoy being reminded of the details of the groundbreaking opening shot from Orson Well’s A Touch Of Evil with it’s dolly shot that encompasses over 3 minutes of uncut action as well as the fact that the Pink Panther theme is absent from the second movie from the series, A Shot In The Dark, due to the fact that it was an unintentional sequel salvaged from another film.
It doesn’t appear to be an accident that this book could serve the student of music and film in addition to serving as a biography of one of Hollywood’s most successful musicians. The technical details are compelling and the background provided to many of his projects complete the picture for those not familiar with his work. A must read for anyone interested in the genre of film music and films in general.