“One of the principal glories of the film is the score by John Psathas, in which genuine sweep and poetry are combined with affectionate send-ups of Ennio Morricone. It would be a major achievement for an experienced film composer; as a first film score, it’s little short of astonishing.” – Jim Svejda, Classical KUSC Los Angeles
Classical composer John Psathas, known for his music for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympics, fell in love with Good for Nothing after watching an early cut of the film. “I watched it and I absolutely loved it. I laughed out loud and found I really cared about what was going to happen. But most of all I noticed that there was a lot of space for music as the dialogue is so sparse.”
With his original compositions heard regularly on the world’s concert stages Psathas is widely considered one of the three most important living composers of the Greek Diaspora, the son of Greek immigrant parents who arrived in New Zealand in the 1960s. It was a huge deal for Mike and Inge to have him select Good for Nothing as his first score (knowing he had turned down all previous other offers).
“For me it felt like a leap into the unknown but the culture of the film process Mike and Inge created was incredibly enabling. I don’t do something unless I can give the 5000% commitment that’s needed and as it was the first time I’d done it, I realised I had to figure it out as I went along.”
Psathas did a great deal of research into the great Western movie soundtracks. “I learned why they were nicknamed ‘Horse Operas.’ In Westerns they say the Arias are sung with the eyes. So much of the story is communicated in a look and that is what was so captivating about this film. It’s not simply a comedy. The Man, the lead character undergoes a hugely transformative experience while Isabella survives relatively intact. The Man is a completely different person by the end and it’s part of the music’s job to take you on that journey.”
The score is generously performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, making Good for Nothing the epitome of a New Zealand-made production. “We really wanted to get a gritty, dirty sound”, says Psathas. “It’s an environment of dirty, unwashed men, so we made a decision to use no electronic music – we wanted to do it all acoustically. This brings new things out of you and forces you to be creative in new ways, for example using a dulcimer – a Middle Eastern instrument that produces a twangy sound, to emote the feeling of being in a desert, and a South American guitar – a Charango – to highlight The Man being pushed around by his feelings for Isabella. I’m very pleased with the results. It’s gritty and unwashed. It’s tough justice or no justice and there’s a hell of a lot said with very little.”
“John has a genuine passion for the art of cinematic scoring”, says Wallis. “He was excited about the chance to create a unique orchestral ‘Pavlova Western’ soundscape – one that embraces elements of the traditional Western score as well as using his unique base of influences creating something truly original.”
“It’s been an incredible meeting of minds and enthusiasm on this project, says Psathas. “When we were mixing the score the sound guys were turning to us and saying this is a multi-million dollar soundtrack. It’s something I feel incredibly proud of.”
For Psathas music composition is first and foremost a communicative art form. His music has been on the radar of a wider public than normally associated with contemporary classical music and his music has been commissioned and performed by many great musicians and orchestras around the world. He is constantly seeking ways and means of making art music accessible to a wider audience and is currently working on projects with Jane Curry (classical guitar), Salman Rushdie (author), a consortium of 14 American percussion ensembles, and Strike (percussion).
In the past he has written music for and collaborated with Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Serj Tankian, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Pedro Carneiro, Frederico Mondelci, Netherlands Blazers Ensemble, the Halle Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony and many others. He also lectures at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University.