Amid the expensive boxed sets and picture disc pressings of classic albums, a subset of new vinyl has concentrated on reissuing the soundtracks of vintage cinema or recent films. The New Orleans-based imprint Waxwork Records, for example, has resurrected the score and music from William Friedkin’s 1980 fever dream Cruising and released the music from one of 2019’s best films, Her Smell. Austin, Texas’ Mondo has done the same for everything from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
The latter label has also been behind a newfound interest in the sometimes off putting, always inventive soundtracks composed for Italian genre films of the ’60s and ’70s. The Spaghetti Westerns, exploitation flicks, and horror fare of that era were, in some cases, the biggest platforms for the work of Ennio Morricone, Claudio Simonetti (and his band Goblin), and the composer/musician Fabio Frizzi.
The 68-year-old Frizzi got his start in the film industry with a little boost from his dad, an executive for a distribution firm, and music publisher Carlo Bixio. Working as part of a trio that included Bixio’s brother Franco and Vincenzo Tempera, he helped score comedies, action films, and even a erotic exploitation film. Eventually, he struck out on his own and struck up a long creative partnership with director Lucio Fulci, the director of cult favorites like The Beyond and Zombi 2. Their combination of sound and vision allowed Frizzi to make great use of early synthesizers and dramatic movements that felt operatic and a little campy.
With this renewed interest in his music and the genre films he made it for, Frizzi has been enjoying a new career as a performing artist. As he will be doing on Wednesday December 11 at the Hollywood Theatre, he and a small ensemble have been playing the live score to one of the films from his past, as well as playing a full set of music, incorporating themes from other movies. When Frizzi stops by Portland this week, he and his band will play the music from the 1981 supernatural gore fest The Beyond.
In advance of his performance, Frizzi was kind enough to answer some questions via email about the start of his career, his working relationship with Fulci, and why Italy has birthed so many amazing movie composers.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
PORTLAND MERCURY: I’m curious to know about your musical training. Did you go through any serious education to learn your trade? Or did you have an interest in trying to be in a rock band before settling into this work as a film composer?
FABIO FRIZZI: While I was in high school, studying classics, I had the chance to start studying music, privately, as it was done in the 18th century. It was my passion as a child. In my house, they were all a bit musicians. My teacher Vittorio Taborra was versatile. We started with the classical guitar. I was an emulator of Andres Segovia and his transcriptions of the great classics. I saw two of his concerts in Rome and I was deeply impressed. But I was also attracted to many other musical fields. So, in the many years of study, we have faced harmony and counterpoint, the approach to the piano, the violin… and I started making arrangements for the small groups I worked with. A pop-rock band and several classic groups. In short, parallel to the school and then to the university (where I studied law), I cultivated the plant of this incurable passion.
Was film composing an easy trade to learn or were there bumps in the road for you as you got into this work?
Nothing is easy, everything must be conquered. With determination. My father was involved in cinema, so I wasn't far from the environment. Writing music for cinema is an exciting but delicate work, with no definite rules. Each project is different from the other. I think it takes a lifetime to hone your style, your technique. Then, in over 40 years of activity, many things have changed, both technically and expressively, as communication. It's a daily research.
What can you tell me about your first synthesizer and what impact that had on the music you were creating at the time?
It was a small Moog keyboard, more like an emulator of real instruments. With the grotesque awkwardness of the sounds of that period. But I was proud of it! Together with an Eminent and a rudimentary electronic battery (and, of course, my numerous guitars, piano, percussion, etc.), I faced the first professional tests. Having fun like crazy.
What can you tell me about the process of working with Lucio Fulci? Was it a fairly symbiotic relationship where your music was influencing the visuals and vice versa, or did he pretty much leave you alone to do what you do?
Lucio trusted me a lot. He knew I was instinctive and passionate, and he knew how to direct my creative fury in the right direction. Even when I had no idea where to go artistically, he could give me the necessary coordinates. There was a good relationship between us, great mutual respect.
When it came to other films that you scored—those not directed by Lucio—were you very particular about what projects you chose or did you grab whatever work came your way?
It was not easy to make choices when I started working. I was very young. The market offered what it offered. And then I had a publisher who, in the early years, especially those of my trio Bixio Frizzi Tempera, chose the projects I had to do. So, today a comedy, tomorrow an Italian western, the day after tomorrow a detective story. On the other hand, in the early years you need to prepare your own arsenal. From the end of the ’70s, when I began to have clearer ideas, the choices have become a rule.
To that end, are there films that you put a lot more of yourself into than others? Or did you sweat and struggle over every project you put your name to?
One of my mottos is that when I play in a team, I have to help win the game. Certainly there are projects that involve me more, but basically my commitment and enthusiasm are always the same.
Are you happy being associated primarily with horror cinema or would you rather people take an interest in the work you have done for other genres like comedy and action?
I owe a lot to genre cinema and horror in particular. And frankly I think it's one of the branches in which I express myself the best way. There are other things that I liked and I like doing. And there is a project that I am preparing to let my fans know about other aspects of my music that are less known.
What was it about Italian cinema that made it such a rich creative space for composers like yourself and Morricone and Claudio Simonetti to work in?
Yes, the great season of Italian cinema has been long and varied. Something to be proud of. And surely that great cinema has given way to several generations of composers to be able to express themselves to the maximum. When I entered the game, at the beginning of the ’70s, there were 250-300 films produced each year and the market was constantly on the move. And today telling those stories, the music had become a fascinating new activity for us.
What drew you to want to perform these concerts where you’re performing the score of a film live as it screens?
Since the silent cinema, the fascination of commentary music is well known. Nowadays, live score is a way to make a movie spectacular, to make it different. Almost a re-reading. And this was my intention. Reviewing and implementing the choices made then, trying to create a denser weaving was a long job, and great fun. And recently The Beyond: Composer's Cut has also become a double vinyl released by the prestigious Cadabra Records. So it's nice to revive one of Fulci's masterpieces, every night, with my talented musicians.
What comes next for you after this run of shows? Any work on the horizon you can tell us about?
There are so many good things that boil in the pot. First of all, the score for a remake of [1990’s] Castle Freak, for Fangoria, which will be released in 2020. Then there will be many discographic projects with a view to the new and the vintage. Ah, then something really new, a book of anecdotes....
Fabio Frizzi performs the live score for The Beyond, Wed Dec 11, 8:30 pm, Hollywood Theatre, $30-50