Vertigo
Daniel Pemberton: My 5 Most Influential Film Scores
Daniel Pemberton
Daniel Pemberton
Composer

Daniel Pemberton recorded his debut album, Bedroom, when he was just 16. It was named as such because he recorded it in his childhood bedroom in London, with just a keyboard, drum machine and 4-track cassette recorder.

His breakthrough movie score came with Ridley Scott's 2013 crime thriller The Counselor— he reteamed with Scott on 2017's All the Money in the World — and in the years since, Pemberton has become one of the most sought-after all-around musicians working in film today, as a composer, producer and lyricist.

Despite his prolificity, each of Pemberton's scores is innovative and unique, no matter the genre: He composed scores for 2017's Molly's Game, 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2020's Birds of Prey, and 2021's Being the Ricardos, to name a few.

In 2021, he earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, for co-writing "Hear My Voice" with singer-songwriter Celeste for The Trial of the Chicago 7, which hailed from another regular collaborator, Aaron Sorkin.

Already this year, Pemberton has scores featured on Brian and Charles and See How They Run. His latest film is for David O. Russell's Amsterdam, a period crime thriller starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington as three friends who witness a murder and wind up becoming suspects themselves.

"I learned long ago that, if it's praise and adulation you’re after," he says, "becoming a film composer as your job is definitely not a good move."

Below, Pemberton shares with A.frame the five film scores that have influenced him the most —along with praise for the perhaps undersung composers behind them.

1
The Third Man
1949
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Directed by: Carol Reed | Music by: Anton Karas

One of the reasons this masterpiece still feels like such a timeless piece of work, I think, is because of it's amazing soundtrack, all performed on the zither. This is a sort of holy grail for me — the ability to write an entire score on just one instrument that can convey humor, pathos, danger and adventure, that sounds like nothing else before (or since) and has one of the all time killer themes to boot.

It would have been so easy to score this in the conventional, melodramatic, orchestral way of the time, but the masterstroke of asking Anton Karas — an in-house zither musician at a restaurant Carol Reed frequented when filming — to score the picture (something he had never done before or since) makes the film feel as fresh today as it did no doubt in 1949. It gives the film such an immediately recognizable unique palette. I also love the fact that, after it made Karas rich, he didn't see the need to write anymore. He simply went back to the restaurant he used to work at, bought it, and then, carried on playing to diners every evening - but now as proprietor. 

2
Blade Runner
1982
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Directed by: Ridley Scott | Music by: Vangelis

I grew up a huge fan of Vangelis and electronic music, and this soundtrack has probably had one of the biggest impacts on me in terms of the rich world building it does and its ability to create an audio environment as striking as the visual one. A lot of people overlook the hybrid of unusual world instruments and percussion with the synthesizers and refer to it as an "electronic" score, but the reality is it paved the way for how so many modern film scores are now approached, utilizing sounds and colors way beyond those only achievable from a conventional orchestral lineup.

The way Vangelis worked with synths I still think has yet to be surpassed as he created an insanely complicated way of writing that was pretty much like a live performance, meaning you get a dynamism and freeness that is very hard to create any other way. I have been lucky enough to work with the great Ridley Scott on a number of films and projects and I still badger him with questions on this whenever we actually have a free moment. 

3
Once Upon a Time in the West
1969
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Directed by: Sergio Leone | Music by: Ennio Morricone

Morricone is probably my all time favorite film composer, because he married both the abstract with the emotional; created themes that were insanely bold but also ridiculously moving. A lot of what I try to do is have both a striking sound palette and production technique married with melodic writing that moves you, for which Morricone is the number one king.

I remember the first time I saw this in the cinema, at a BFI revival screening. The moment when it is revealed why you have been hearing that incredibly unusual harmonica riff throughout the film and the ways it pays off is one of the most powerful cinematic experiences I have had and was the entire inspiration for how I approached "The Prowler" reveal in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. But that is just one scene of such a masterpiece of a film soundtrack. I love Leone but without a doubt it is the score that makes this film.

4
Beverly Hills Cop
1984
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Directed by: Martin Brest | Music by: Harold Faltermeyer

This is such a great underrated score that I feel is not taken seriously enough. Every time I approach a film, I want to make that film feel unique — I don't want to force my style on it, I want to work out what it needs. If I ever had a credits list that went from a big orchestral score to something as different and perfect as this I would be very happy. I love working with a limited palette — it forces you to be inventive. I'm not sure I'd ever make something as stripped back as this though as I'd probably overwrite or add extra sounds. And it drives me crazy because this is so perfect for the film.

Here, Harold Faltermeyer created the best work of his career. While the iconic "Axel F" theme (the James Bond theme of the '80s?!) is what everyone remembers, the rest of the score is a brilliant use of a carefully selected small number of sounds and melodic ideas that give the entire film a very strong cohesion that is so often lacking. Faltermeyer doesn't overwrite or overcompensate with the score and gives the film an elegance and coolness 100% in line with its main character.

5
Vertigo
1958
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Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock | Music by: Bernard Herrmann

Vertigo is just a magical score. Period. I love the richness of the orchestral writing, the boldness of the melodic phrases, the way it can move from moments of extreme tenderness to visceral power and still all feel connected. This is one of those scores that again just blew me away when I saw it in the cinema the first time, which is what I think we all aspire to — making art that has such a visceral and emotional impact that you can still remember the moment you experienced it for the first time for the rest of your life. Bernard Herrmann was a genius but also a right grumpy git by all accounts because no one recognized his brilliance, which is a real shame because he was actually right. I learned long ago that, if it's praise and adulation you’re after, becoming a film composer as your job is definitely not a good move.

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