Music

Marvin Hamlisch’s Hollywood

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Composer Marvin Hamlisch performs in 2011.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch performs in 2011.

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ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

For almost half a century, the composer Marvin Hamlisch made his way into our heads with ballad after show-stopping ballad: “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line,” “Through the Eyes of Love” from “Ice Castles,” and the title song from “The Way We Were,” to name just a few. He died in 2012 at age 68.

In 2009, Hamlisch came by the studio to talk about his score for the Steven Soderbergh movie “The Informant!” (Soderbergh was inspired by Hamlisch’s score for Woody Allen’s “Bananas.”) To come up with the movie's signature riff, he had to get inside the mind of the main character, a corporate whistleblower (played by Matt Damon) with bipolar disorder. Hamlisch realized he had to approach the score “the way the main character would be thinking,” he explained to Kurt Andersen. “And if you take it from his point of view, it turns out that he is just having the best time of his life, and the FBI are nuts.” Once you take on that point of view, the jaunty melody “just comes to you.”

"If you think of music as a language,” he hold Kurt, “all I'm doing is taking my thoughts in English and translating what I'm feeling about a scene into music."

Hamlisch scored more than 40 films, including “The Sting,” for which he won an Oscar. That soundtrack almost single-handedly revived ragtime music, long forgotten by mainstream America. That score came easily to Hamlisch. He assembled the sheet music for Scott Joplin’s entire oeuvre, pulled together phrases and themes, and orchestrated over the piano line. “I’m not kidding when I’m telling you that the actual doing of this film maybe took me six days. Everything fit!”

(Originally aired October 2, 2009)

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