Stephen Endelman’s Nostalgic Score Lifts Rob The Mob

By Alice O’Neill

From the opening of the mobster flick, Rob The Mob, audiences are pulled into the story unfolding to the musical sounds of the early 1990s.

Stephen Endelman shows Rob The Mob card to Andy Garcia. Photo by Alice O'Neill

Stephen Endelman shows Rob The Mob card to Andy Garcia. Photo by Alice O’Neill

The music bathing the New York borough streets is the same that played on the radio in the mob restaurants and private social clubs at the time of the John Gotti trial. The top Gambino family mafioso is being ratted out by Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. And his lieutenants are old and saggy.

Big Al Fiorello, top banana in Gotti’s absence, played by Andy Garcia, has a full salt and pepper gray beard. How much damage could he do, you wonder. He seems devoted to one thing– teaching his grandson the secrets of Italian cooking. The director lets out the story slowly, the camera and the music capturing each indelible scene.

It isn’t exactly a puzzle, but you wonder where the story’s going. I won’t spoil it for viewers. It’s worth your time. If you know the era you’ll be right at home. If you don’t know anything about Gambinos, Gotti, or Gravano– no worry. It all becomes clear. There are no loose ends. Jonathan Fernandez, the scriptwriter, put everything on the page. He honed his craft while president of The Harvard Lampoon. After graduation he began his career running the production companies of Roger Corman and Dino De Laurentiis.

Endelman knew that Rob the Mob follows the true story of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva, two lovers who take their passion for audacious heists to another level by robbing New York City Mafia social clubs. Endelman says he was drawn to the film because he lived in the city during the actual incidents in 1991.

Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda star as the doomed lovers, Tommy and Rosie. They’re young, wild, impulsive, crazy in love, and out to get revenge on the mob for brutally beating Tommy’s father. Music of the day accompanies their actions.

But Endelman isn’t content to merely play the music of the day. He raises the stakes—-makes us care about the modern day Bonnie and Clyde characters who steal our hearts, even as they uproarously rob the mob, taking incredible chances as they carry out their outrageous plan. The music that accompanies the heists and getaways is a perfect marriage of action and emotion.

“One of the first scenes I became inspired by is when Tommy (Pitt) visits his mother (Cathy Moriarty) after he is sprung from prison, followed by a second scene where Tommy proposes to Rosie,” Endelman explained, adding that such emotional moments became the springboard to a cohesive, thematic score.

As I watched the film at a private press screening, I hoped the pair would get a break and come out okay. Gut level I knew it wouldn’t end well. But while it lasts, the exuberance and the passion these crazy kids exhibit takes you for a loopy ride. And always, accompanied by Endelman’s music, the heartbeat of the tale, based on real people and real events.

At a press conference (Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel) Endelman told me how he used popular music of the time and segued into his own compositions to accompany screen actions and human emotions.

When I mentioned how his music was just right for the comedy scenes, he grinned. “As a composer you don’t try to write funny,” he said. “Funny is what happens. You just need to write the truth of emotions. Pure and simple. That’s how the song, Love and the Gun came about.”

I found a “Love and the Gun” video on You Tube at this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwMYx3pBIcU from the Rob The Mob soundtrack. The performance by Tamela D’Amico is captivating. Timeless. As I watched I realized it is a mini movie that ran over the end credits. Brilliant.

The composer said he wrote the song with the film’s director and longtime collaborator, Raymond De Felitta.

“It was an unusual working relationship,” Endelman said. “Usually music is composed after the film is finished and edited. But not on this one. Raymond and his editor moved into my studio. We each worked in separate rooms. They’d bring me the latest edit, I’d write music and throw it back to them. Then we’d tackle another scene. Raymond would change things in the picture. Or he’d say maybe I could adjust the music.”

“Sounds like total collaboration,” I said. “Other composers tell me they wish they could work that way. You’re the first to tell me you had that kind of relationship with a film’s director.”

“Ah, it was a wonderful way to work,” he said. “It’s the most creative experience I’ve ever had with a director.”

Director of Rob The Mob, Raymond De Felitta. Photo by Alice O'Neill.

Director of Rob The Mob, Raymond De Felitta at press conference. Photo by Alice O’Neill 2014.

Some background:

Endelman, a British composer based in Los Angeles, gained recognition for his scoring on independent films including The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, a hit movie for Hugh Grant that propelled him into stardom. Endelman didn’t work directly with Grant or any of the stars. He wrote the music after the film wrapped, in the traditional mode.

It seems music was Endelman’s first language. He began playing clarinet at age seven. Soon afterward he studied as a clarinetist at The Purcell School of Young Musicians, and at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Endelman pursued composition and subsequently graduated from the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada as a classical composer.

At the age of 18, he moved to New York City to develop his film music career. He scored the 1992 Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon For The Misbegotten, which won a Tony Award. He made his film debut the following year with Robert De Niro’s A Bronx Tale. His second film, Household Saints, was released the same year.

When I mentioned these to him, and commented on the incredible quickness with which he accomplished so much, he smiled. “I like what I do,” he said, and shrugged. The smile grew . . . and grew.

The more I learn about this gifted composer the more fascinating he becomes. At the press conference and interview afterward he was completely open and helpful in explaining his mode of working as the film’s composer. I came away thinking, “What a thoroughly nice person in an industry I love.”

Little known facts about Endelman: He wrote two operas and the incidental music at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. In fact his music accompanies the first two planetarium shows, Passport To The Universe, narrated by Tom Hanks, and The Search For Life, Are We Alone? narrated by Harrison Ford.

Over 45 film credits have followed including Lionsgate’s Two Family House, which received an Audience Award for Best Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival 2000, Disney’s Tom and Huck, Norman Rene’s Reckless, and Largo Entertainment’s City of Industry, directed by John Irvin. He also scored October Film’s Kicked in the Head, a Martin Scorsese production directed by Matthew Harrison, Polygram Filmed Entertainment’s The Proposition, Largo Entertainment’s Finding Graceland, Morgan Creek’s Imaginary Crimes, and Sony’s Jawbreaker, in addition to the box office hit Flirting with Disaster.

In 1998, he won the ASCAP Foundation Award as Resident Composer at the Metropolitan Opera Guild where he has been a resident artist since 1993.

As the soundtrack producer on Irwin Winkler’s film De-Lovely, Endelman arranged a number of classic Cole Porter tunes, for which he received a Grammy nomination.

When I asked what he had hoped to accomplish in Rob The Mob, Endelman told me, “I wanted the music to give the audience a sense of time and place, that’s true,” he said, “but uppermost in my mind was to create a unique, romantic theme for Tommy and Rosie. They’re madly in love and I wanted to say it musically.”

Endelman got it right; piano notes were never used so well to accomplish so much.

A Millennium Entertainment release. The cast:
Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda, Ray Romano, Andy Garcia, Burt Young, Frank Whaley, Michael Rispoli, Yul Vasquez, Cathy Moriarity, and Griffin Dunne, and Luke Fobb as Big Al’s grandson.

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