Remembering Angelo Badalamenti Interview by Randall D. Larson
Angelo Badalamenti and Director David Lynch
“Angelo Badalamenti, who created the haunting, memorable scores for TWIN PEAKS, BLUE VELVET and MULHOLLAND DRIVE and collaborated with David Lynch on several other films, died Sunday,” reported Pat Saperstein on Monday in Variety. “He was 85.”
Angelo Badalamenti seemingly came out of nowhere to provide a superbly expressive score for David Lynch’s hypnotizing thriller, BLUE VELVET (1986), his music mirroring the film’s sense of nostalgia, beauty, and psychosis, beautifully offsetting Lynch’s fetish for decadent weirdness. Born in Brooklyn in 1937, Badalamenti grew up listening to classical music and opera. He studied at the Eastman and Manhattan Schools of Music, earning a master’s degree at the latter. His scores for Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS (1989-91) and numerous other films led to an ongoing collaboration and partnership between the two. He was also known for his scores to NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989), Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (2004) starring Audrey Tautou, Paul Schrader’s THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS (1990) starring Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren, Jeunet & Marco Caro’s sci-fi fantasy THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) starring Ron Perlman, Steven Shainberg’s provocative SECRETARY (2002) starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Philip Haas’ remake of Ursula LeGuinn’s THE LATHE OF HEAVEN (2002) starring James Caan, Lukas Haas, and Lisa Bonet, and Walter Salles remake of the Japanese horror thriller DARK WATER (2005) starring Jennifer Connolly. His last feature film score was for 2020’s HERE AFTER for director Harry Greenberger, a dark romantic fantasy about the meaning of love in the afterlife.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Angelo twice, once about his score for NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (which followed BLUE VELVET by a year) for a soundtrack album project, and a few years later for a planned soundtrack CD of his score to Joel Schumacher’s COUSINS (1989) in 2019. The notes were completed but the proposed album wound up being cancelled and the notes were never published.
In memory of Angelo and in thanks for his kindness in taking the time to talk with me about scoring those two films – which led to several other fun recollections he had, which need not be presented here but remain delightful memories – I present those album notes, honoring him and his music for COUSINS, and what Angelo meant for it to be.
The 1989 romantic comedy COUSINS is based on a 1975 French film, COUSIN, COUSINE, directed by Jean-Charles Tacchella and written by him and Danièle Thompson – one of the most successful French comedies of its time. The American version was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, but set in Seattle. Screenwriter and playwright Stephen Metcalfe (JACKNIFE, BEAUTIFUL JOE) adapted the French script for director Joel Schumacher (ST. ELMO’S FIRE, THE LOST BOYS, BATMAN FOREVER), who was tapped to direct the American movie.
“Basically, the story hasn't changed from the original: what do you do in life if you've settled for Plan A and Plan B comes along?” Schumacher said, discussing foreign film remakes with New York Times columnist and critic Lawrence Van Gelder, published in his July 1, 1988 “At the Movies” column. “I think the biggest difference is that in the French film there was a tacit understanding of everyone involved that adultery is just part of life. I don't think American characters are so understanding. And any movie that was made 13 years ago bears a certain amount of re-examination as to values. The times change.”
COUSINS follows two couples who become related in marriage. Larry Kozinski (Ted Danson) is married to strikingly attractive cosmetician Tish (Sean Young) and has a teenage boy from a previous marriage named Mitch. Legal secretary Maria Hardy (Isabella Rossellini) is married to car salesman Tom (William Petersen), and they have an adolescent daughter named Chloe. When Larry’s uncle Phil marries Marie’s widowed mother Evie, things begin to get complicated. When serial adulterer Tom has a roll-in-the-BMW with insecure Tish, those complications assume maximum overdrive. Aware of their spouses’ infidelity with the other’s spouse, Larry and Maria meet to decide what to do about their cheating partners, which leads into an intimate platonic friendship. Tom and Tish confuse that friendship with Larry and Maria having an affair. When Phil dies unexpectedly a few weeks after the wedding, his brother Vince (Lloyd Bridges), who is Larry’s father, arrives for the funeral and, after an appropriate period allowing now twice-widowed Evie to mourn, begins to act on his attraction toward her, much as Larry and Maria’s warm friendship turns, unintended, into a quickly-blossoming love.
There are additional cousins and relatives who become a sort of accompanying ensemble that follows the primary characters throughout the film, and it’s easy to get confused who’s related to whom, but none of that really matters that much. The entanglements are complicated but therein lies the film’s charm and much of its humor. Both humor and plot are character-based. Maria is radiant and pure and devoted to her daughter; Tish is intoxicatingly alluring, but vulnerable, wanting to be admired for more than just her looks. Larry is friendly, gregarious, a devoted father to Mitch, and wants happiness over success, and Tom… well, Tom is essentially a self-centered weasel seeking only to satisfy his own wants and desires. And for Vince, he owns every one of the movie’s funniest lines.
“I’d never done a love story before,” Schumacher told David Poland in an interview originally posted in 2010 at moviecitynews.com. “It’s delicate material, in the sense that there’s no theater to it; there’s no car crashes, there’s no ‘oomph’ to it except a love story. So you either go with the lovers or you don’t.”
COUSINS was a bit out of left field for Schumacher’s usual type of film; the same was true for composer Angelo Badalamenti, who was best known for his edgy, dark scores for David Lynch, having gained popularity for scoring his film BLUE VELVET (1986) and his TV series TWIN PEAKS (1989+). Surprisingly, it was David Lynch who recommended Schumacher consider Badalamenti for the job of scoring COUSINS.
Previously to COUSINS, Badalamenti was in Prague recording another film score, and happened to have with him an original theme he’d recently written. Knowing the likelihood that the recording session would be completed an hour ahead of schedule, Badalamenti orchestrated the theme and brought it with him to Prague, and in that last hour he’d booked for the recording session he had it recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Back in his New York office, he met with David Lynch on a new project, and he played that theme for him. “It wasn’t the kind of thing that we’re doing, but I thought he might like to hear it,’ Badalamenti recalled. “He loved it, and suggested it would be perfect for this film that our friend Isabella Rossellini was doing with Joel Schumacher. So he called Joel right then and there and told him about that theme. Joel, being a gentleman, said ‘Sure, have Angelo send it over to me.’”
When Schumacher heard it, he agreed it would be ideal for COUSINS, and thus Angelo was hired to score the entire film. “Later, Joel told me during the sessions, ‘I’ve got to tell you - when I got that call from David about that piece of music, I said to myself “there’s just no way in hell I’m going to like a piece of music that David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti are doing, not with their kind of music! They don’t have a clue what I’m going to need for this film,” but much to my surprise it was a knock-out!’ ”
Re-recorded at Paramount with its studio orchestra, that piece became the “Love Theme from Cousins,” one of four primary themes that formed the basis of the film’s musical score. “There were a lot of different versions of each theme,” said Badalamenti. “Some were either solo piano or arranged for flutes, but they were all different. The big orchestral statements were just used in a couple of places, but the themes were used throughout.”
The “Love Theme from Cousins (Piano Solo)” is the first score music heard in the film, performed by pianist Mike Lang. The music ostensibly serves as source music from an electric piano switched on by Larry as he and Maria, both suspiciously abandoned by their partners at the same time, have a conversation in the vacated restaurant after the wedding party is over. In one of the film’s most exhilarating musical moments, Badalamenti reprises the melody for “Love Theme from Cousins” for the morning after Larry and Maria have agreed, perhaps reluctantly, to remain just friends. Maria waits on the commuter platform for her train, clearly sad about their decision. The theme begins with the tentative strokes and quietude of Lang’s solo piano; until she sees that Larry has come up on the opposite platform; the music, like Maria’s smile when she spots him, grows happily and is soon joined by spirited flutes as she runs to the stairs and crosses over to the other platform, but of course Larry’s done the same thing and now they are still separated by the same set of train tracks, only on the reverse platforms. “Don’t move!” Larry shouts across and hustles back up the stairs and is soon by Maria’s side; at which point the theme, emboldened by a burst of brass, soars with joy and provides an aural segue as the scene cuts to the two of them, close together on the back of Larry’s motorcycle, driving through the country and voicing the sheer happiness of the would-be couple, before reducing back down to the serenity of the solo piano as they arrive at a lakeshore hideaway. The theme is reprised again as Larry and Marie enjoy a private post-coital skinny dip in the lake, and then one last time at the end of the film in “Love Theme from Cousins (Finale),” which concludes the movie with a gentle piano rendition that escalates into a fully orchestral gesture of euphoria as Larry, Maria, Mitch, and Chloe sail out as a family into adventure on Larry’s boat.
“Maria’s Theme” perfectly accompanies the character – quiet, demure, and a tad lonely – with its pretty but cheerless melody line. It is first heard in the film by a street musician playing an accordion. The theme is reprised three or four times by flutes over the next several scenes they spend together, visiting Larry’s boat, having a platonic date at a lakeshore park, as they are drawn together in friendship and consolation in the wake of their partners’ duplicity. A beautifully noble arrangement of “Maria’s Theme” played by solo trumpet (its sad tone is tied to the instrument that Larry happens to play at home) makes up “Montage (Maria’s Theme),” accompanying a sequence of reflective tableaus as Maria, Larry, and Tish ponder recent events.
Listen to "Montage (Maria's Theme)"
“For Tish, I needed something very sexy for her,” explained Badalamenti. “I wrote the piece and went into the studio to record it. I had a great alto saxophonist playing the melody, but it wasn’t quite coming off. Even Joel said, ‘I like the tune but something’s not right.’ I finally figured out that it was the choice of the instrument. I told Joel ‘let’s try a tenor saxophone,’ so we brought in a jazz tenor player named Kirk Whalum and he gave it everything and it worked. Simply replacing the alto sax with a tenor made all the difference.” Tish’s theme, which by usage also covers Tom’s equation in the infidelity factor, is “Adulterer’s Blues,” first heard from piano and saxophone when Tom, realizing his wife is aware of his dalliance with Tish, visits all of his other active girlfriends and calls off their affairs, trying somehow to make amends. It’s reprised later in the film as “Adulterer’s Blues Two” (sans the men’s chorus intro that is heard in the album track), when, after amicably leaving Larry, Tish visits Tom at the car dealership and they go out and have a fling in a hotel, but Tish realizes from his poor performance that he was only interested in her when she was married; and she departs behind a slamming door. Finally, “Adulterer’s Blues (Jazz Quintet)” is heard very faintly in the background from keyboard, bass, and drums as Tom and Trish have an argument while attending the wedding of another Kozinski relative, Dean, and his pregnant fiancée.
Finally there is “Cousin’s Waltz,” a delightful big band swing number first heard late in the film from the dance band on board the River Boat cruise where Vince takes Edie on their date. A slow dance version of this theme is heard in the film during Edie and Vince’s wedding, where from separate tables Larry and Maria silently wrestle with their feelings. Prompted by a wooden boat floating along the creek beside the wedding area – reminding them both of Larry’s boat and what might have been – Badalamenti begins with an introduction on Fender Rhodes before developing the melody into a lusher string choir. “Cousin’s Waltz (Credits)” segues in from the end of “Love Theme (Finale)” to accompany the end credits; beginning with solo accordion (a nice sonic contrast to the previous cue’s huge orchestral finish) the cue grows into a pleasant mix of accordion, bass, guitar, and orchestra that takes the credit roll through to the end.
Listen to "Cousins Waltz"
Three standalone cues complete the COUSINS album tracklist. “Classical Restaurant” is, as its title might suggest, source music composed by Badalamenti in a formal classical style heard as piped-in music over the restaurant scene where Larry and Maria orchestrate a “happenstance” meeting between the Hardys and the Kozinskis. “Joel said ‘write me something classical, something like Mozart or Bach.’ ” Badalamenti said. “ ‘I’d like a string section with a classical feel,’ he said, but he wanted to make sure I wrote for the upper register of the strings, because when you have them as background music and they’re playing in their normal registers, the music doesn‘t cut through the dialogue.’ So I made sure that the first violins were an octave higher, above what I would normally do. As a result, you can have the music way in the background and it’ll still cut through dialogue.”
Badalamenti had written a song for the film called, “I Love You For Today,” using a vocal arrangement of “Adulterer’s Blues” as its melody line. Associated with the Kozinskis living in an apartment in Seattle’s Chinatown, a singer named Pearl Huang translated the lyrics and sang the first half of the song in Mandarin Chinese, with the latter half sung in English. The song is barely audible in the film, only a few snatches drift across the atmosphere from a Chinatown bar, providing a bit of musical set design when the Kozinskis arrive home after their awkward dinner with Evie and the Hardys.
Listen to "Adulterer's Blues"
“Overture” embodies a marvelous and fully orchestral introduction to each of the score’s main themes in an invigorating, theatrical performance. It begins with “Cousin’s Waltz,” segues into “Maria’s Theme,” moves into a brief interpretation of “Adulterer’s Blues,” before moving into “Love Theme from Cousins,” and finally concludes with “Maria’s Theme” for solo piano. As far as I can tell, however, from several concentrated viewings of the movie, this track was not used in the picture.
The musical score to COUSINS is a provocative and affecting musical work, richly endowed with emotive melodies and intimate expressions of eloquent beauty. Angelo Badalamenti’s association with David Lynch has linked him irretrievably to quirky, violent, edgy, and sometimes surrealistic films to the point where other styles or idioms of music have been comparatively neglected, yet as COUSINS clearly shows, Badalamenti is more than capable of operating without, as well as within, the Lynch sphere of influence. “I’ve covered a lot of ground,” Badalamenti said, on reflection. “I’ve done so many different genres of music, and so many movies, that you’re going to get a little bit of everything. COUSINS, of course, has a continental flavor, especially in the main theme, and a romantic flavor, but there was also the big band stuff and the jazz-influenced things, so it was actually a combination of different things itself. It was an absolute pleasure to do.”
The 1989 Soundtrack album for COUSINS from Warner Bros. Records [9 25901-2] remains the only soundtrack of Angelo Badalamenti’s score, and contains the same track-list as the cues referenced in the notes above. New and pre-owned CD copies remain available in the secondary market at Amazon and eBay as of Dec 12th. Digital versions of the soundtrack are available for purchase/listening from Amazon, Apple Music, and listening from Spotify.