×

Carter Burwell Goes West for ‘Buster Scruggs’ Score

Two-time Oscar nominee Carter Burwell has penned music for the films of Joel and Ethan Coen for more than 30 years, including such classics as “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski.” But “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was unique: a six-part Western with stories ranging from comic to bleak. As Joel Coen told him, the single thread that bound all six together was that they all involved “non-accidental death.”

“Each of the films is so different in tone and characters and story that I couldn’t find a musical solution that would work for all of them,” Burwell concedes. Ultimately, he decided to bookend the film with versions of the old cowboy song “Streets of Laredo,” and there are guitars, harmonica and tack piano sprinkled throughout.

But, he adds, “We needed a big, traditional Western sound” for four of the six segments, which needed “a Dimitri Tiomkin sense of scale,” referring to the composer of such ’50s classics as “High Noon” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” This was especially true for the segment with Tom Waits as a gold prospector and one with Zoe Kazan as a would-be bride on a wagon train headed for Oregon.

Burwell researched old cowboy songs, recorded in the early 20th century for the Library of Congress. “They’re generally lonely and sad songs,” he says, “but I wouldn’t say anything I wrote was especially inspired by them.” He focused on “the folkier aspects of the orchestra” without leaning too far into Classic Western territory; “it’s still a Coen Brothers movie,” he notes.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film

    Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film and TV Rebate Incentive

    Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Canton of Sarajevo is introducing a new €1 million ($1.1 million) film funding initiative next year aimed at promoting domestic and international film and television production in the region. The incentive is the first of its kind in the country. Government representatives of Sarajevo Canton, including Prime Minister Edin Forto and culture [...]

  • Antlers Trailer

    Guillermo Del Toro's 'Antlers' Starring Keri Russell Drops Chilling First Trailer

    Events take a dark turn for a small town school teacher, played by “The Americans'” Keri Russell, in the first teaser trailer for horror movie “Antlers,” produced by Guillermo del Toro. The footage, unveiled Tuesday, centers on a young boy (Jeremy T. Thomas) reading from a frightening short story he’s written as Russell listens. The [...]

  • Why Hollywood Should Tone Down Violence

    Why It's Time for Hollywood to Reconsider the Amount of Violence on Screen (Column)

    To put it mildly, we live in scary, intolerant, violent times. Since a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 children, six adults and himself, there have been at least 2,187 mass shootings across America, resulting in the deaths of some 2,461 people and wounding more than [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    James Bond Movie Title Revealed

    The latest James Bond adventure finally has a title. The 25th entry in the action spy series will be named “No Time to Die.” In the upcoming movie, Bond (Daniel Craig) has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA [...]

  • IFC Midnight Buys Brighton Sharbino Survival

    IFC Midnight Buys Survival Thriller 'Radioflash' (EXCLUSIVE)

    IFC Midnight has acquired U.S. rights to “Radioflash,” a survival thriller starring Dominic Monaghan and Brighton Sharbino, Variety has learned. The company will release the movie on Nov. 15. The film imagines a dystopian future, one in which an electric-magnetic pulse strikes America, knocking out all the power and pushing the country into the Dark [...]

  • Lee-Daniels-headshot

    Lee Daniels Entertainment Announces Diverse Creative Workshop

    Lee Daniels Entertainment and the online entertainment network Represent by OMV have launched a diversity-focused creative workshop to promote a diverse group of new writers. The workshop will be held from Sept. 25-28 in Los Angeles, with travel provided by American Airlines. Industry professionals will mentor aspiring creatives from underrepresented communities with workshops, meetings with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content