Undertones: Volume 11
Shire, Coppola’s brother in law, was approached to write the score and given the huge financial takings of The Godfather, felt sure he would be allocated a budget that would allow him indulge himself in the luxury of writing for a full orchestra. Coppola however, had other ideas in mind for the film’s score. In the liner notes of the film’s soundtrack release Coppola notes, “…I stressed to David Shire that I did not want a large orchestral ensemble, but something simple, haunting and lonely as I imagined Harry Caul was himself.” Given Harry’s interest in playing along with his favourite jazz records on the saxophone in the film, Coppola also went on to say that he felt a solo instrument playing material with roots in the genre would best accompany the depiction of Harry’s solitary existence and “wanna-be” jazz musician leanings. Interestingly, Shire wrote the entire score before any of the film was even shot and was even asked by Coppola to score imaginary scenes that did not take place in the film, purely to establish a definite mood and character.
The central theme of the score, simply titled, “Theme from The Conversation” and heard only in its entirety on the soundtrack release, takes the form of a simple
What is particularly unique about The Conversation’s score is the input of sound designer and film editor, Walter Murch, whom had previously worked with Coppola on The Godfather. Working alongside Coppola, Murch manipulated and tracked Shire’s already written score to the completed film, adding electronic effects to heighten the intensity of the theme in certain scenes. For his innovative work on the film, Murch was nominated for an Oscar for “Best Sound” at the 1975 Academy Awards, “losing” to his work on The Godfather: Part II.
What the score/soundtrack of The Conversation achieves is a strengthening of the film’s narrative in that it plays with the intensely audio-driven world of Harry’s occupation, taking elements of his recordings, scrambling and re-imagining them. The somber, character study by Shire commenting directly on Harry’s loneliness and isolation plays wonderfully off Murch’s use of taped material, effects and ambient noise, which so aptly underscore Harry’s psychosis, and the resultant soundscape haunts the listener/viewer long after The Conversation has ended.
– Clare Nina Norelli