Ask any film score fan for one of Oscar’s greatest injustices and they’ll point to Anne Dudley‘s 1997 win for THE FULL MONTY. This sleeper hit surprised many by also picking up a Best Picture nod in this tale of six out-of-work steelworkers in a once-thriving English suburb who decide to strip to earn a bit of cash. (The “full monty” of the title refers to totally naked.) While it’s a charming film, it didn’t merit a nomination in the top five, nor did Dudley’s minimal score.
Dudley used a small combo of drums, sax, trumpet and harmonica for a reggae-flavored score that clocks in at less than 10 minutes (if the Oscar “For Your Consideration” disc is any indication). “It was clear from my first viewing…that this was a seriously funny film,” said Dudley in an interview at the time. “It was also apparent that writing an appropriate score was not going to be easy. An over-elaborate orchestral style would have swamped the humor and been incompatible with the large number of semi-camp ’70s disco tracks.
“The style that we devised was a sort of hybrid ska/reggae with an acoustic guitar and prominent baritone sax. This, coupled with a tango style for the ballroom dancing fan, Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), formed the basis of the original music. It seemed to fit the slightly rough-and-ready characters of the story; you could almost imagine them playing it themselves. After all, no one believes these guys are ever going to turn into the most sophisticated dancers. To preserve the freshness, we tended to use the first takes of cues, before the musicians had a chance to make them too polished.
“[We devised] a little sort of odd band full of slightly unusual instruments that you wouldn’t normally put together, like a harmonica and an acoustic guitar and a baritone sax. The thought process behind that was that these men who come together and form this group–they’re all very, very different and have different personalities, and you think, this is never going to work when you see them first rehearsing together. And in the end, it all comes together, and they do this marvelous show. So that was the reason behind getting this weird little band together, and that proved to be very much a spur to doing something different because with a group like that you have to do quite quirky, interesting harmonic and rhythmic moves. The reggae thing really seemed to fit. That sort of loping rhythm seemed to fit the rhythm of the piece.”
The soundtrack album contains only two score cues. A sequel CD, More Monty, contained two more cues. To get the entire score (brief though it is), you will need to get your hands on an Oscar promo disc. The film was later made into a thoroughly delightful 2001 musical with a score by David Yazbek. Though it was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, it went home empty-handed in the year of The Producers.
In a normal Oscar year, Dudley’s score wouldn’t have stood a chance. But since the Music Branch was dividing the scores into Dramatic Score and Musical or Comedy Score, Dudley snuck in on the wave of affection for the film. Original Score is often handed out as a consolation prize by Academy voters who like to award Best Picture nominees that aren’t going to win in any other category. Then again, maybe voters thought the numerous pop songs—which included Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” Donna Summers’s “Hot Stuff” and, of course, “The Stripper”—count as a “score”. Whatever the reason(s), any of the other four nominees—the animated ANASTASIA (David Newman, Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens), AS GOOD AS IT GETS (Hans Zimmer), MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (James Newton Howard), and especially Danny Elfman’s MEN IN BLACK—would have been more worthy choices.
“When they announced my name [for the Oscar],” said Dudley, “I was in a state of shock.” So were we all.