Danny Elfman is both one of Hollywood’s most individualistic screen composers and also one of its most prolific. He has over 100 film music credits. Many are for films with Tim Burton, with whom he became friends years ago and teamed with initially on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. This year Elfman added two new scores to his Burton skein: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.Charlie is the second cinematic version of the book by Roald Dahl. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) had its own tunes, and Elfman knew he couldn’t satisfy the rabid fans of the original. “I knew I’d take a lot of shit,” he says. But Elfman came up with his own, more sinister and hilarious set of songs. For lyrics, he employed the original ditty verses Dahl penned for his sardonically humored book that’s as much aimed at adults as children. The result was a quartet of loopy songs that were also part of the film’s narrative, telling of the nasty fates met by the four bratty children—Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee—as they took place.Because they don’t have original lyrics, none of the songs are eligible for Oscar consideration as best song from a film. Multi-voiced by the Oompa Loompas, Charlie’s petite Munchkin-like candymakers, who are all replications of one actor-singer Deep Roy, the effect must be seen and heard to be believed. In some ways the film in its visual virtuosity and tunefulness echoes The Wizard of Oz. The songs for stop-motion animation film Corpse Bride are in a different more Gothic—or Goth—vein, that fits the morose stop-motion animation love story.Elfman, who works alone in his personally outfitted sound cave adjacent to his home, composes the songs and vocalizes them into a fairly primitive tape recorder. The practice comes from his days as lead singer and composer for cult rock band Oingo Boingo. For all his fecundity, he says he’s a procrastinator. “When I’m done with the songs and score, I bring them to Tim, who’s usually happy that I’ve actually come up with something.”This has been an extremely busy year for Elfman in diverse ways. Besides the two Burton films, he won an Emmy for his music for television hit Desperate Housewives. He’s also done music for The Simpsons. And he finished his first piece of what could be legitimately called “classical” music. The 45-minute composition premiered earlier in 2005 at Carnegie Hall, with a full symphony orchestra, and Elfman’s working on plans to get it recorded for CD and DVD release.
Written by Jack Egan