Basil Poledouris

Film composer who scored 'Conan'


Basilis Poledouris, film composer: born Kansas City 21 August 1945; married (two daughters); died Los Angeles 8 November 2006.

Basil Poledouris was best known for scoring epics and fantasy action films, though they and their scores were often better than usual for such fare. He collaborated with the director John Milius on Conan the Barbarian and with Paul Verhoeven for Robocop, and also composed the music for The Blue Lagoon and The Hunt for Red October.

Poledouris was born in Kansas City in 1945. He began studying music at seven and seemed set for a career as a concert pianist. However, at the University of Southern California he "lasted about a semester as a music student":

Basically I was not prepared for 20th-century music... Every technique of composition being taught

at that time, primarily serial composition and 12-tone composition, left me disinterested... I wandered into the cinema department because of [Miklós] Rózsa, and immediately thought that it looked to me like film was the music of my generation.

The impression was confirmed by a record of Alfred Newman's score to The Robe (1953) - "I basically wore it out!" - and a fondly remembered bootleg copy of Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn (1958).

At USC, he studied all aspects of film-making. Poledouris had already scored many educational and TV projects when his fellow alumnus, and surfer, John Milius offered him the coming-of-age-and-male-bonding-surfing drama Big Wednesday (1978). Milius saw surfing as a mythic expression of American expansionism, and Poledouris buttressed it with lush orchestral music alongside more folksy themes.

It was Poledouris's big break and began a series of collaborations, the best of which was the comic-book übermensch fantasy Conan the Barbarian (1982) with its driving score. Poledouris's nine-year-old daughter Zoe also contributed a theme, earning a co-writer credit. Given that Milius's world-view makes him popular with survivalists, the collaboration was perhaps surprisingly sympathetic, with filming and scoring progressing side by side, music and images alternately taking the lead. However, fearing a flop, the studio economised by recording the score in mono rather than stereo.

Poledouris's best work was with regular collaborators, some of whom were old friends: his student film Glut (1967) was scripted by Milius and edited by Randal Kleiser. Poledouris then scored Kleiser's The Blue Lagoon (1981), whose romantic score is better than the film, Summer Lovers (1982), White Fang (1987), which studio politics made an unhappy experience, and It's My Party (1996) about an Aids victim's last party, for which Poledouris relied on his own solo piano playing.

Attracted by Conan and Conan the Destroyer (1984), another major collaborator was the musically astute Paul Verhoeven. Flesh + Blood (1985) has appropriately medieval music but given to a full-throated modern orchestra and two more films followed, each with a landmark score. Robocop (1987) had visceral pounding music but when Verhoeven moved on Poledouris was overlooked for the sequel and though the composer returned alone for Robocop III (1993) it lacked the original's energy, wit and intelligence.

For 1997's Starship Troopers Verhoeven wanted every cue to sound like a main title, underlining the film's ironic presentation of a fascistic United States. As with Conan, Poledouris was involved even before photography had finished, and Zoe wrote and performed an anonymously submitted song. Father and daughter also worked together on the quirky comedy Cecil B Demented (2000).

Romance in its widest sense and melody were at the heart of Poledouris's art, often using modal harmonies inspired by his Greek Orthodox upbringing, while The Hunt for Red October (1990) is based on Russian folk music. Nevertheless, for Red Dawn (1984), a fantasy about a Soviet-invaded US, he overcame his aversion to serial music and used it to evoke the victims' confusion, mixing it with Coplandesque Americana.

He would return to folk-ish music, winning an Emmy for the western mini-series Lonesome Dove (1989), replacing the clichéd harmonica with an accordion. It was the first of five films with the director Simon Wincer but only this and the last, Free Willy (1993), are notable.

Poledouris's non-film work includes "The Tradition of the Games", for the opening of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

John Riley

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - C#, ASP.Net, MVC, jQuery

£42000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a C# ...

Recruitment Genius: General Driver - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food