The Stories Behind 10 Unused Film Scores


This month is dedicated to horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York) at BAMcinématek, which is celebrating his oeuvre in conjunction with the release of his first solo album, Lost Themes. “Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun,” the filmmaker stated. “[Lost Themes is] little moments of score from movies made in our imaginations.” In keeping with the theme of “lost” music, we examined the stories behind several unused film scores. These are the soundtracks that didn’t make the final film for one reason or another. Listen to several excerpts, below.

The Panic in Needle Park

Composer Ned Rorem has scored multiple documentaries, but his brush with Hollywood filmmaking came when he was asked to create the soundtrack for Jerry Schatzberg’s 1971 film, The Panic in Needle Park. A story of love and loss centered on a group of heroin addicts who hang out in New York City’s Sherman Square, the final film was shot vérité-style with no music, relying on the sounds of the streets. In a 2003 interview, Rorem explained why his score went unused:

[Jay] Nordlinger: Some of the movie composers are fairly well known. Did you ever write for a movie?

[Ned] Rorem: Only once. It was a movie called Panic in Needle Park, and it was Al Pacino’s first movie. It gets four stars in the books now. But after I wrote my score, they cut every note. They decided the movie didn’t need music.

Nordlinger: Did you do anything with that music?

Rorem: I took one section of it, but my publisher at Boosey & Hawkes had to go down on his knees, promising that the music would be used in no other film. I incorporated it into a work called Air Music, which won the Pulitzer prize.

Nordlinger: You like movies?

Rorem: Love them. I do look at television more than I’d like to admit. I like old movies, and sometimes watch them on television — and almost always, they don’t hold up.

You can listen to excerpts of Rorem’s suite Air Music, over here.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

David Bowie assumed he would score the soundtrack for Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which he stars as an alien in search of water for his dying planet. He set about composing a score that included “some beautifully made mbiras (African thumb pianos), “low and spacey cues with synth,” and more. But contract and creative squabbles booted Bowie out of the musical aspect of the picture. Elements from Bowie’s intended soundtrack were used for his 1977 album Low, which you can listen to below.


Tinto Brass and Bob Guccione’s porntastical take on the life of Rome’s infamous emperor includes a soundtrack from Italian maestro Bruno Nicolai (credited as Paul Clemente). But famed composer, pianist, and conductor Franco Mannino, who worked with some of Italian cinema’s finest during his day (including frequent collaborator Luchino Visconti on his Death in Venice and Conversation Piece) was originally asked to create the soundtrack. Nicolai’s style is decadent, whereas Mannino’s style has been described as “very romantic,” “open-hearted,” and full of “Mediterranean warmth.”


Stalker composer Edward Artemiev revealed what the unused soundtrack for Andrei Tarkovsky’s film sounded like in an interview about his fascinating career:

[Anneliese Varaldiev]: I think your score for Stalker is a perfect illustration of what you spoke about earlier-the idea that something completely new and unique can come about when the parallel lines of acoustic and electronic sound finally connect. Not just merge or collide, but truly connect…

[Edward Artemiev]: There were actually two versions of the score for Stalker. The first one was done with an orchestra alone-no synthesizer-but Tarkovsky rejected it, which surprised me, because he loved the idea of live music-making. The second version, which he accepted, was basically created on the Synti-100 synthesizer, along with solo acoustic instruments that were extensively manipulated using various sound processors. At that time, Tarkovsky was very interested in Zen Buddhism, and wanted the music to reflect certain contemplative elements that are part of Eastern religion and philosophy. To achieve this quality, I borrowed from the Indian classical tradition of using a single basic tonality, whose rhythmic patterns are slowly and constantly changing, creating a background over which the melody of a solo instrument can soar.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Dubbed the “Mozart of cinema” by the French press, composer Georges Delerue’s (Hiroshima mon amour, Agnes of God) score for the 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes went unused because producers at Walt Disney felt it was too dark for their audience. There are multiple copies of Delerue’s work floating around online, but you can listen to a few samples below. Pick up Georges Delerue The London Sessions, Vol. 3 to own a 12-minute suite composed for the film.

Blood Simple

In Soundscape: The School of Sound Lectures, 1998-2001, Blood Simple composer Carter Burwell — a regular Coen brothers’ collaborator (Miller’s Crossing, Fargo) — revealed that he was not the first musician chosen to create the soundtrack for the directors’ neo-noir crime thriller. Burrell writes of the unnamed musician:

He did a very electronic score, and they decided, after hearing it, that they weren’t that comfortable with it. And then he lost it. They hired him and he lost it. So they weren’t sure what to do. They’re still unclear, was it in his computer that he lost it? Did he misplace the tapes? I don’t know. But somehow he actually lost the score, and that gave Joel and Ethan the opportunity to say, ‘Thank you very much, here’s your cheque, but I think we should try something different,’ which worked out well for me.

On Burwell’s website he elaborates:

Years later the Coens told me that after our initial meeting they continued to interview composers, ranging from newcomers like myself who had the virtue of being cheap, to established names like Jan Hammer, who at the time was composing the music for Michael Mann’s TV show Miami Vice and who, good German that he is, wore shorts, socks and sandals to the interview and began by handing them his contract and asking them to sign it. They also told me that they did actually hire two musicians before me to score the picture. After receiving some very electronic music the Coens began to doubt that was the right direction. The composers opined that the Coens were squares. Then they reported that their work had been lost, and Joel and Ethan took the opportunity to beg off. At least this is the story I’ve been told. I guess that’s why I ended up with three weeks to write and record the score.


Tangerine Dream scored a Ridley Scott movie about unicorns, goblins, and the devil. The electronic soundtrack for Legend — which includes a high-pitched track performed by Jon Anderson (of Yes fame), “Loved by the Sun” — has its fans. But the original score for the film was composed by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith (Chinatown, Planet of the Apes). Scott wanted to appeal to younger audiences, so he went with the sounds of the contemporary German group instead. Goldsmith’s work was restored for a director’s cut.

Interview with the Vampire

Elliot Goldenthal won an Oscar nomination for his soundtrack to Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire. Frequent Jordan collaborator George Fenton was originally hired to compose the score, but producer David Geffen axed it, stating: “I think George is very talented, but he didn’t hit the bull’s-eye on this movie. (The score) was too dark.” The Los Angeles Times has the full details on that history. Listen to an excerpt of Fenton’s alluring composition.

Cruel Intentions

John Ottman (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, X-Men: Days of Future Past) probably felt totally exasperated by a last-minute change producers made on the soundtrack for 1999’s Cruel Intentions. Ottman’s music made the cut for the film’s trailer, but got swapped with Ed Shearmur’s work for the final film. Ottman has since released his work for the movie, which you can preview over here.


Donald Rubinstein is known in cult film circles for creating the soundtrack to George A. Romero’s 1977 Pennsylvania-set vampire tale, Martin. He also worked on a soundtrack for Ed Harris’ 2000 biopic of abstract painting Jackson Pollock, which simply didn’t make the cut. Pick up a copy for yourself over here.