Where Is the Line Between Homage, Ripoff of Another Composer's Movie Score?

Yahoo Contributor Network

Anyone who has ever caught the cult horror classic "Re-Animator" can tell you that one of the idiosyncratic elements of this movie that has made it so beloved by fans is its musical score. Any resemblance between the soundtrack to "Re-Animator" and the iconic, strings-heavy score Bernard Herrmann wrote for "Psycho" is entirely not coincidental.

Richard Band's soundtrack for "Re-Animator" is far too obvious and lengthy a replication of Herrmann's "Psycho" composition to be anything less than intentional. When such a thing occurs in the artistic world it is known as an homage. But when does an homage cross the line into copyright infringement and intellectual thievery?

This whole subject of intellectual theft as it relates to illegal downloading seems to miss the point entirely. If you can go into any library in America and borrow a copy of "Moby Dick" for your own personal enjoyment without paying for the privilege, how is that any different from downloading a copy of a cinematic adaptation of "Moby Dick" for your own personal enjoyment without paying for it? Neither seems to accurately fit any definition of intellectual property theft.

Since Band has not only never tried to hide the fact that his score for "Re-Animator" is explicitly inspired by Herrmann's earlier composition but has actually been quite forthcoming about why he chose to write what some call a rip-off, that doesn't appear to fit, either. Neither did the makers of "Re-Animator" play games with the music by almost guiltily choosing only to allow it to played in short, subliminal snatches; long, extended sequences point up the fact that Band look back to the entirety of Herrmann's musical creation.

On the other hand, surreptitious utilization of not just one but two quite famous film scores indicates a definite quality of sneakiness on the part of the makers of another low budget B-movie. Originally distributed under the title "Naked Youth" and later altered for some reason to "Wild Youth," this movie belongs to a popular but short-lived subgenre typically screened only at drive-in cinemas that focused on what was viewed as one of the most pressing social problems facing American during the age of Eisenhower: juvenile delinquency and the effect of illegal narcotics upon that drive to lawlessness.

The real legacy of the movie may be more timely today. Those with a grasp of movie history can only be shocked at the opening title sequence. If prosecutors of those who download movies solely for the purpose of their own viewing pleasure really want to understand what intellectual property theft looks like, they should look no further.

"Naked Youth" or "Wild Youth" or whatever you want to call it features title music that is a direct rip-off of Elmer Bernstein's earlier score for another movie about drug addiction, "The Man with the Golden Arm." The difference between this film and "Re-Animator" is that the composer engages in the classic tactic of mucking around with the notes just enough to differentiate it from the original but not enough to allow it to be called original in any sense.

Things would be bad enough if "Naked Youth" was only satisfied with ripping off Bernstein's score, but it later takes the leap from the ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime by lifting the music Bernard Herrmann wrote for "Vertigo" to indicate the state of mind not of a character suffering from vertigo but of a character in the grip of heroin addiction.

Where is the line between homage and ripping off another composer's film score? I would posit that it is located somewhere between "Re-Animator" and "Naked Youth."

For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:

Vertigo: Causes and Dietary Treatments

"Dirty Girl" and Other Movies About Juvenile Delinquency

The Best Movie Score and the Worst Movie Score of All Time

Heading to the movies? Get an instant mobile coupon to use at select theaters for free popcorn!

View Comments