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Ottman, John (b. 1964)  
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American film composer John Ottman has gained international acclaim for his innovative and emotionally resonant musical scores for such diverse films as Superman Returns, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Apt Pupil, and The Usual Suspects. In addition to scoring over thirty full-length motion pictures, Ottman has created musical compositions for numerous short films, television programs, and commercials.

Although he prefers to devote himself to music, Ottman has worked as both editor and composer on several occasions; he is reputed to be the only individual who simultaneously fulfills both these roles in the production of major American motion pictures. Prominent among the films that he has both edited and scored are seven created in collaboration with his close friend, director Bryan Singer, who is also openly gay.

On several occasions, Ottman has cautioned against interpreting all of his contributions to mainstream films in terms of his gay identity. However, in a 2000 interview with Dennis Hensley, he explained that he thought his experiences as a gay man strongly influenced his music.

Specifically, he maintained that the "longing tone" conveyed by many of his scores is an expression of his "empathy for people who go through the coming-out process." In this interview, he further stated: "I was really fortunate to be in a very liberal family, but even in that environment I felt there was something wrong with me."

Ottman's comments imply a relationship between gay identify and a certain degree of alienation from others. Thus, it seems reasonable to correlate his determination to overturn conventions and to affirm difference in his musical compositions with his perspectives as a gay man. As he explained in a 2006 interview with Rudy Koppl, he delights in defying expectations: "I love scoring against the grain when I possibly can."

Thus, for Usual Suspects, Ottman devised a lush, classical score that offsets the brutal action, even though the producers tried to force him to produce lively "hip" music that would better conform to the expectations of most moviegoers.

Most current American film scores emphasize the specific actions taking place on screen. In contrast, Ottman develops themes that evoke the inner lives and backgrounds of characters and that musically establish the narrative. As he explained in a 2006 interview with Christian DesJardins, he regards music as "the soul of a movie," and he tries to create scores "from which you can somehow take away the gist of a story being told without having seen the film." To accomplish this goal, Ottman not only reads the entire script but also does extensive background research before beginning any film composition.

In emphasizing the narrative functions of scores, Ottman recalls the achievements of composers of earlier generations, such as his idol Jerry Goldsmith. However, his work should not be regarded simply as a revival of older methods. Ottman's "longing tone" infuses his scores with an emotional complexity often lacking in more traditional narrative film scores.

Background and Youth

Ottman was born on July 6, 1964 in San Jose, California, where he grew up. He attended Gunderson High School in South San Jose, graduating in 1982. Then from 1982 to 1984, he attended DeAnza College in nearby Cupertino.

In his interview with DesJardins, Ottman described himself as an "odd kid" because of his early interest in film scores, which he avidly collected. Also fascinated by classical music, he persuaded his parents to take him to numerous concerts of the San Jose Symphony Orchestra. He prepared himself for these events by listening repeatedly to recordings of the featured music, so that he could pick out variations in the performances.

Despite this early strong interest, Ottman had only minimal training in music. In fact, his only formal instruction in music consisted of clarinet lessons that he began while in fourth grade; he continued to play that instrument through his high school years.

As a young boy, Ottman was also an avid science fiction fan, and he remains one to this day. Already while he was in elementary school, he began shooting science fiction films with a Super 8 mm. camera. In his parents' garage, he devised all sorts of sets with the help of friends, family members, and teachers, who also served as actors. By the time he was in high school, these productions had become quite elaborate. To provide musical background for his films, he spliced together excerpts from his extensive collection of recordings of film scores.

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