Elmer Bernstein, Film Composer: An Authorized Biography

Rowman & Littlefield. Nov. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9781538183571. $34. BIOG
In a long and prolific career, Elmer Bernstein (1922–2004) composed the scores for more than 150 films and nearly 80 television productions. His work earned 14 Academy Award nominations (winning one for Thoroughly Modern Millie) and two Tony nominations. He arranged music for such classics as The Ten Commandments, Sweet Smell of Success, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Far from Heaven. The author of this biography, Bernstein’s son, focuses more on his father’s career, including his blacklisting in the 1950s and his numerous successes, failures, and reinventions. This is not a memoir of growing up with Elmer Bernstein as a father; rather, it is a studiously detailed career overview and appreciation of his talent. As such, there is a reserve to this biography—when the author (rarely) writes about himself, it’s in the third person. Bernstein once said, “Music is the soul of life, yet each soul sings its own song,” and as this biography makes clear, he was a soul with many songs.
VERDICT Anyone who enjoys music, movies, or music in the movies will find much to sing about in this thoughtful and well-written biography.
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