Conti, Bill

views updated


Composer. Nationality: American. Born: Providence, Rhode Island, 13 April 1942. Family: Married Shelby Cox; children: Rachela, Nicola. Education: Louisiana State University, B.A. in piano and composition, 1964; Juilliard School of Music, M.A., 1967. Career: Was a piano prodigy as a child; organized his own band, 1957; scored his first films in Italy while traveling with a jazz combo, late 1960s; composed original music for many TV series and mini-series, most notably Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Cagney & Lacey, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, The Colbys, American Gladiators, North and South, North and South II, and Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story, 1976–89; his recording of "Gonna Fly Now" (the theme from Rocky) became a number one pop music hit, 1977; began stint as Music Director of yearly Academy Awards ceremony, 1970s. Awards: Best Original Score Academy Award, for The Right Stuff, 1984; ASCAP Film and Television Music Award for Primetime Live, 1989; Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction, for The 64th Academy Awards, 1992; ASCAP Golden Soundtrack Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1995. Agent: Kraft-Benjamin Agency, 8491 West Sunset Blvd., Suite 492, West Hollywood, CA 90069–1911, U.S.A.

Films as Composer:


Juliette de Sade (Heterosexual) (Kiefer); Un Sudario a la medida (A Candidate for a Killing) (Elorrieta)


Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) (De Sica)


Liquid Subway


Blume in Love (Mazursky)


Harry and Tonto (Mazursky)


Pacific Challenge (Amram)


Next Stop, Greenwich Village (Mazursky); The Displaced Person (Jordan—for TV); Rocky (Avildsen) (+ "Gonna Fly Now" theme); Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (Moxey—for TV)


Handle with Care (Citizens Band) (Demme) (+ song "You Heard the Song"); A Sensitive, Passionate Man (Newland—for TV) (+ co-wrote title song); Kill Me If You Can (The Caryl Chessman Story) (Kulik—for TV); In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan (Jordan—for TV)


Uncle Joe Shannon (Hanwright); Slow Dancing in the Big City (Avildsen); Paradise Alley (Stallone) (+ song "Too Close to Paradise"); Five Days from Home (Peppard); The Big Fix (Kagan); Ring of Passion (Countdown to the Big One) (Lewis—for TV); An Unmarried Woman (Mazursky); F.I.S.T. (Jewison); The Pirate (Harold Robbins' The Pirate) (Annakin—for TV)


The Seduction of Joe Tynan (Schatzberg); The Fantastic Seven (Steel Glory, Stunt Seven) (Peyser—for TV); Dreamer (Nosseck) (+ song "Reach for the Top"); Goldengirl (Sargent) (+ song "Slow Down, I'll Find You"); A Man, a Woman, and a Bank (A Very Big Withdrawal) (Black) (+ song "When You Smile at Me"); Rocky II (Stallone)


Private Benjamin (Zieff); The Formula (Avildsen); Gloria (Cassavetes)


For Your Eyes Only (Glen) (+ co-wrote title theme); Carbon Copy (Schultz) (+ song "I'm Gonna Get Closer to You"); Victory (Escape to Victory) (Huston); Neighbors (Avildsen)


That Championship Season (Miller); Split Image (Kotcheff) (+ songs); Rocky III (Stallone) (+ song "Pushin"'), I, the Jury (Heffron); Farrell for the People (Wendkos—for TV)


Without a Trace (Jaffe); Two of a Kind (Herzfeld); The Right Stuff (Kaufman); The Terry Fox Story (Thomas—for TV); Bad Boys (Rosenthal)


Mass Appeal (Jordan); Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets (Merrill) (doc); The Bear (Sarafian) (+ co-wrote song "I'll Be Home Again"); Unfaithfully Yours (Zieff); The Karate Kid (Avildsen) (+ songs); The Coolangatta Gold (The Gold and the Glory) (Auzins)


Stark (Holcomb—for TV); Rocky IV (Stallone); Beer (The Selling of America) (Kelly); Gotcha! (Kanew)


Stark: Mirror-Image (Stark II) (Nosseck—for TV); Nomads (McTiernan) (+ co-wrote songs); Niagara: Miracles, Myths and Magic (Merrill) (doc); F/X (Mandel); The Boss' Wife (Steinberg); Big Trouble (Cassavetes); The Karate Kid, Part II (Avildsen) (+ song "Two Looking for One")


Io e papa (Papa and Me) (Capitani—for TV); Happy New Year (Avildsen); Broadcast News (Brooks); Baby Boom (Shyer) (+ song "Everchanging Times"); A Prayer for the Dying (Hodges); Masters of the Universe (Goddard)


A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (Richert); I Love N.Y. (Bozzacchi, Smithee); For Keeps (Avildsen); Betrayed (Costa-Gavras); Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) (Le grand bleu) (Besson)


The Karate Kid III (Avildsen); Lean on Me (Avildsen); Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story (Gibson—for TV); Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (Levi—for TV); Cohen and Tate (Red); Lock Up (Flynn)


The Fourth War (Frankenheimer); A Captive in the Land (Berry); Backstreet Dreams (Backstreet Strays) (Hitzig); The Operation (Bodily Harm) (Wright—for TV); Rocky V (Avildsen)


Necessary Roughness (Dragoti); Grand Canyon (Kasdan); By the Sword (Kagan); Year of the Gun (Frankenheimer); Dynasty: The Reunion (Moore—for TV)


Nails (Flynn—for TV)


Rookie of the Year (Stern); The Adventures of Huck Finn (Sommers); Bound By Honor (Blood In. . . Blood Out) (Hackford)


Yellowstone (doc); 8 Seconds (The Lane Frost Story) (Avildsen); The Next Karate Kid (Cain); The Scout (Ritchie)


Napoleon (Andreacchio); Bushwhacked (The Tenderfoot) (Beeman)


Spy Hard (Friedberg); Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (Rhodes)


Wrongfully Accused (Proft); The Real Macaw (Andreacchio); Winchell (Mazursky—for TV)


The Thomas Crown Affair (McTiernan)


Sugihara: Conspiracy of Goodness


By CONTI: articles—

"A Few Easy Pieces: Interviews with Composers Bill Conti and Jerry Goldsmith," interview in Millimeter (New York), April 1979.

"Working Abroad: Two Composers," interview with D. Koeser, in Cinema Papers (North Melbourne, Australia), February/March 1985.

"Bill Conti," interview with S. Simak, in CinemaScore (Sunnyvale, California), Summer 1987.

"A Conversation with Bill Conti," interview with D. Cavanagh and P.A. Maclean, in Soundtrack! The Collector's Quarterly (Belgium), September 1992.

On CONTI: articles—

Barbano, N., "Musik," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), September 1980.

Santiago, T., "A Film Music Seminar," in Soundtrack! The Collector's Quarterly (Belgium), March 1984.

Feldman, G., "Filmusic: Bill Conti," in American Premiere (Beverly Hills, California), no. 2, 1985.

Scott, V., "Scrapbook: Conti Scores Catchy Themes," in Soundtrack! The Collector's Quarterly (Belgium), June 1985.

Lehti, S., "'The Right Stuff'/'North and South'/Bill Conti," in Soundtrack! The Collector's Quarterly (Belgium), December 1986.

Pecqueriaux, J. and others, "Bill Conti-Filmography/Discography," in Soundtrack! The Collector's Quarterly (Belgium), December 1986.

Darnton, Nina, "At the Movies," in New York Times, 22 May 1987.

Tucker, G.M., "Bill Conti's 'Neighbors'/The Undiscovered Score," in CinemaScore (Sunnyvale, California), Summer 1987.

Silverman, M.S., "Organizers of Oscar Telecast Plan a Few Changes This Year," in Variety (New York), 10 February 1988.

Blocker, S., "Conti Doesn't Write Music for Prosperity," in Wisconsin Journal, 22 January 1995.

* * *

Bill Conti is a prolific, all-purpose composer-arranger who in his thirty-plus year career has written musical themes for every conceivable medium and genre: blockbuster and B-list Hollywood action-adventures and comedies; television series and mini-series; independent and foreign-language productions; and even television commercials, specials, and news and variety programs. In 1987, for example, he composed the music for such diverse films as Broadcast News and Masters of the Universe, Baby Boom and A Prayer for the Dying—not to mention the Italian-made Io e Papa, the television series Ohara and Mariah, and the mini-series Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story. Early in his career Conti found himself in Italy, where he scored one prestigious film, Vittorio De Sica's Il Giardino dei Finzi-Continis. He began composing scores and themes for long-forgotten television series and made-for-TV movies and worked with Paul Mazursky, writing music for Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto, and Next Stop, Greenwich Village. Yet in the mid-1970s, Conti still was relatively unheralded. Then he won the assignment that would establish him as one of the most celebrated composers of his era. He was hired to write the music for an obscure, low-budget feature about a club fighter who gets the opportunity to tangle in the ring with the World Heavyweight Champion. The star and screenwriter was an unsung actor named Sylvester Stallone. The film was Rocky, and Conti's rousing, inspirational theme song, "Gonna Fly Now," was an immediate audience-grabber. Along with Vangellis's Chariots of Fire theme and Randy Newman's music for The Natural, "Gonna Fly Now" remains among the most familiar and beloved sports-oriented movie themes. Musically-speaking, Conti's overall score is neither complex nor creative, but it is undeniably effective in imparting a mood of self-confidence and triumph.

Conti's music for Rocky transcends the motion picture medium—and not just because, back in 1977, "Gonna Fly Now" reached number one on the pop music charts. In subsequent years, the song has come to symbolize the courage and spirit of the underdog. Decades after Rocky first came to movie theaters, one might attend an athletic event and find some scrappy, Rocky-like challengers entering the boxing ring or playing field to the soaring trumpet that opens "Gonna Fly Now."

Given the phenomenal success of Rocky, it is no surprise that Conti went on to compose the theme music for the television series American Gladiators. In fact, quite a few of his future projects involved creating musical sounds to parallel the emotion inherent in athletic activity: Goldengirl; Dreamer; The Terry Fox Story; The Karate Kid and its sequels; Rookie of the Year; The Scout; Necessary Roughness. One of Conti's very best scores, for The Right Stuff, amplifies the heroics of pioneer American astronauts. The names of the themes on the soundtrack—including "Breaking the Sound Barrier," "Yeager's Triumph," "A Close Call," "Returning Home," "Last Embrace," and "Final Meeting"—mirror the composer's approach to conveying the tension and emotion of the story.

Across the decades, Conti has maintained professional relationships with his Rocky co-workers. Immediately following the film's success, he composed for projects that were outgrowths of Rocky: Slow Dancing in the Big City (a Rocky clone helmed by its director, John G. Avildsen); Paradise Alley (directed and scripted by and starring Sylvester Stallone); Uncle Joe Shannon (scripted by and starring Rocky supporting actor Burt Young); F.I.S.T. and Victory (both starring Stallone)—and, of course, the inevitable Rocky sequels. In particular, Conti has remained Avildsen's house composer, scoring a majority of the filmmaker's projects well into the 1990s.

As a composer working in a commercial medium, Conti is as pragmatic as he is prolific. He accepts the reality that his role as composer is to serve his director. If the filmmaker is not musically oriented, Conti will relish the resulting artistic freedom. However, if the filmmaker knows exactly what he wants for the soundtrack, Conti will provide those sounds. He understands that movie music primarily must be emotional; it is one of the components that keeps the viewer involved in the on-screen activity.

For Conti, composing ultimately is a job. Upon completing work on one project, which may be a much-hyped potential blockbuster or Oscar contender, he will dutifully move on to the next, which might be an obscure television show or made-for-TV movie.

—Rob Edelman