Elmer’s Fire

Charles & Ray Eames, Elmer Bernstein, film scores, great film composers, iconic film work, Powers of 10

I rewatched the Powers of 10, one of the many films of Charles & Ray Eames. This 1977 IBM film short depicts the relative scale of the Universe using factors of ten. I had always focused on the narration and the imagery – the score was unobtrusive and complementary. I was surprised to discover that Elmer Bernstein created it, in addition to scores for over 40 of the Eameses’ film shorts.

Never would have figured – Elmer Bernstein was a feature film composer, part of the studio system, who wrote music for hundreds of major films. In reality, he composed for TV, theater, UN radio programs and industrial documentaries. He was also a painter and collaborated with many contemporary designers on various projects. Perhaps the reason his scores are so rich and enduring is because he was a prolific artist whose work contributed to, and was influenced by, virtually all creative media.

Elmer Bernstein won an Oscar® for the score of Thoroughly Modern Millie, but his years of feature film work covered an enormous variety of styles: from jazz-driven The Man With the Golden Arm and galloping western True Grit to pop-influenced Ghostbusters, and these two favorites of mine.


It’s no wonder that the Powers of 10 was such a captivating and memorable short. With talented collaborators, Bernstein and the Eameses, it could only be an iconic piece.

To hear a different facet of Bernstein’s work, watch the Powers of 10.

Pop quiz: Director Robert Mulligan and Elmer Bernstein collaborated on six films, name the three black & white titles (no cheating at the IMDB).

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