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Somebody Out There Doesn't Like John Williams.


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Academic writing can be hard to penetrate, but I wonder if this guy has thought about the structural styles and frameworks that dictate his criticism of film scoring. I'm going to need to read it again, but I got the impression that this fellow thinks he stands outside the very criticisms he is dishing out. Tough to say though.

Ted

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It's more about music's relationship with images in cinema than just music.

And it is in that regard that the writer of the article thinks that Williams' approach is infantile.

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Terrible 'academic' hogwash. He may have a 'thesis', but he never makes a critical evaluation of it. He just claims it to be and could easily be falsificated if only someone would bother. It's the old charade of presenting random citings as absolute proof.

One just have to read through the passage where he 'cleverly' induces the Nazis deemed Korngold's music 'entartet' to go on how he would flee Germany to write real 'entartete' music for Warner Brothers. The irony! ;)

Conclusion: vitriolic comments are welcome if the rest of your thesis makes for a convincing case, in this case it's just pathetic.

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I stopped reading as soon as I hit contrapuntal antirealism. It wasn't until my junior year of college that I could read academic papers in my own field, much less one I don't understand to begin with.

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I applaud anyone who had the guts, or managed to stay awake, to read the whole thing.

;)

Well at least he's right about Horner and I really don't have a problem with Korngold using sections from his concert pieces in scores. Akira Ifukube would work passages or use portions from his concert works in his scores as well.

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This article is infantile. At my music study time I heard a lot of people who wanted to talk very professionally and arise.

For me this is another boring guy ;)

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Sombody Out There Doesn't Like John Williams

Then there is sombody out there that I don't care for as a person.

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Yeah, silly Milos Forman for using Mozart's own music in Amadeus, when he could have used Salieri's music or something like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Just brilliant. :roll:

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When someone tries to cram all the big words they know all into one sentence, they're trying too hard to sound smart and knowledgable. I couldn't stomach my way through the first paragraph.

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It's more about music's relationship with images in cinema than just music.

And it is in that regard that the writer of the article thinks that Williams' approach is infantile.

Part of me agrees. The vocabulary was absolutely staggering, but once overcome, it yielded an interesting thesis. I have to say I only read the first third of it, though.

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All academics dont like John Williams, it's par for the course. This particular cretin is being particularly obtuse and wanky in his nonsense.

He's a fool, bottom-line.

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I applaud anyone who had the guts, or managed to stay awake, to read the whole thing.

:(  

Well at least he's right about Horner and I really don't have a problem with Korngold using sections from his concert pieces in scores. Akira Ifukube would work passages or use portions from his concert works in his scores as well.

you reached Horner?

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For every move in the right direction towards seriously, incisive analyses on the art of film composition (see FSM Podcasts) we get contrived high-brow, disertations of diarrhea like this one that sounds very impressive because of its heady ideas (most of which are plagiarized from other sources BTW) cloaked in completely overdone flourly prose. Believe me, I'm not knocking academia, but this long-winded essay seems to lack a centralized idea and flits about. Even the title appears to be sensationalist in its origins having little to do with the body of this article.

I know its more fun to knock John Williams down when coming from the annals of academia, but this guy obviously is a quasi-philosopher with little real musical understanding if he makes the claim that E.T. has any similarity to Mahler's 9th Symphony. I know that score extremely well and there a no passages in said work that bare a resemblance to Williams' effort. Howard hanson's works do inspire some comparisons but not Mahler. But you see, it's more impressive to list Mahler in a "serious" essay and not a middle-of-the-road composer like Hanson (this term is what an academic would say about Hanson, I don't believe that for a second personally) to underline one's point.

Most importantly, if the aim of this treatise was to garner a large readership, it missed the mark by a mile. I started replaying some of Williams' more exciting cues in my head whilst perusing this banal rhetoric. And as I mentioned before, none of his ideas are original- perhaps that's why he kept mentioning Horner in the body of his piece. Perhaps it was a sly element of self-reflexivity. Or perhaps the irony wasn't intended.

Ugh.

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I wonder if this person will ever write an article revealing to us "How to murder pedantic and self-aggrandizing 'music critics'", of which there never seems to be a shortage.

Reading the article, I get the impression that if the guy has so many problems with where music is going, perhaps he himself being the genius that he is should compose music so as to illuminate the rest of the World to his way of thinking.

EDIT:

Oh, and very well said Fiery Angel!

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Somebody Out There Doesn't Like John Williams

Well, that would be me :sigh:

Ok, were just taking this guy to serioulsy. He is free to make his remarks, an in the end Williams is just a too easy target, since he's so famous in the film music medium.

I won't really say anything about the article as I haven't read it yet, but it does bring to mind a teacher I had in college, who would write essays on painting that no one would understand. He would then ask us to write our own essays and we would get our grade not for the actual quality of the paintings, but for the amount of weird writtings on our essays... Some people are happy this way, why bother?

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Academic writing can be hard to penetrate, but I wonder if this guy has thought about the structural styles and frameworks that dictate his criticism of film scoring. I'm going to need to read it again, but I got the impression that this fellow thinks he stands outside the very criticisms he is dishing out. Tough to say though.

Ted

i dont think its academic. it seems like an incomprehensible, inconglomerate mess of unconnected ideas.

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so Beowulf, still keeping up with your Sooners?

Hi Joe

Yeah i've been keeping up with what I can while over here in Scotland - the News hasn't been good with all the dismissals as of late but I hope they pull things together before the start of the season. It's a tough act to juggle both College FB and "real" football that they play over here!

How are the Razorbacks looking this year? I was in Little Rock not too long ago [the downtown regeneration projects looked nice], but I didn't hear any news about them.

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we hope to be better after two down seasons. We have a chance to be really good the next couple of years.

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Academic writing can be hard to penetrate, but I wonder if this guy has thought about the structural styles and frameworks that dictate his criticism of film scoring. I'm going to need to read it again, but I got the impression that this fellow thinks he stands outside the very criticisms he is dishing out. Tough to say though.

Ted

i dont think its academic. it seems like an incomprehensible, inconglomerate mess of unconnected ideas.

It is written in an academic "prose." Whether or not you think it's good academic writing is another story altogether. I like some of the ideas in the article, but like someone else said, the author goes nowhere with it and some of his assumptions aren't grounded. I rather like some of the stuff on familiarity and convention - how the spectator weeds through images and makes sense of them - but, then again, I've read it all before, and much much better. The article is a valiant attempt to explore the score's relationship to the image though.

The title of the article is absolutely ludicrous, if I may say; what a cheap swipe at a guy he hardly mentions in the article. Once again, we have another another "academic" just going along with pre-determined assumptions that John Williams is a hack. If people cared to challenge some of these inexplicable, underyling assumptions about Williams and actually listened to his music - not judging him based on the presentation and positioning of his more popular stuff - they might be surprised. Richard Dyer said it best in his review of the concert. If Close Encounters were written by Gyorgi Ligeti, it would be studied in music circles and schools everywhere. But it's Williams. It's amazing how much assumption and expectation play into how one experiences something. Sadly, so many have already made up their minds about Williams.

Ted

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Actually, this is a very interesting article that presents a very interesting point of view on the counterpoint between images and music. It is very valid, and although as mentioned above the ideas are not original, since they come from obvious sources, from Adorno to Hegel passing through Schoenberg, the expressionist school of thought. The premise is based on dialectic synthesis, that means the presence of two seemingly incongruous (not opposing) elements leading to a certain unexpected synthesis.

The main weaknesses I can discern while reading through it once are a certain intolerance for other 'conventions' even though some of those he mentions are trully superficial and annoying, a certain ignorance of Williams, and a tendency to use random examples to back his point, some of them very weak. For the first, well it may be unavoidable since he is defending his school of thought, but it sometimes is unnecessary to pursue: for example, Amadeus could have been interesting if scored with Stravinsky. Yes it would show the director's point of view, be more individualistic, less redundant, less psychological and more sociological etc... But that is simply not the goal of the movie. I don't know if this is for the better or the worse, but I know it is pointless.

As for the second point, I mean he barely attacks Williams himself, but instead groups everything connected to modern film music under an umbrella carrying his name, supposing that all that Williams writes is transparent music that runs parallalel to the action on the screen. Well he does a lot of that, but he does it well, but at the same time, that is not all he does. I mean, is it wrong to suggest?

And last of all, there are few examples that support his thesis, and that is because mainstream commercial movies cannot go for that school of thought. But that is not a testament of the futility of his argument, rather an outlook on all the uncharted waters we still have to discover!!

In all it is a good article, but it needs to poisition itself against something to find a place and garner attention since it is in the minority (at least in cinema as an art form), hence the title. 'Living With Williams' just wouldn't work.

Igor

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Nice post, Igor. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. I agree that this article is much more worthwhile than many are giving it credit for, and I think your critcisms are very strong.

Ted

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Ted, I don't agree he's going nowhere, he is making a point. In general, I don't think his assumptions don't hold ground, it also depends on how they are put to practice. I mean following his method just to make a splash or just to be noticed, it will be simple kitsch in bad taste. But that is another problem, his method may become too obscure or too chaotic, he even admits that, that is what I think you might mean when you say he goes nowhere.

Igor

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Anyone ever watch the BBC's Newsnight Review? Four academic intellectuals sit around and "review" the latest movies, art, books and theatre whilst trying their very best to sound as clever as possible. Its like one big cock sparring contest. The program isn't really about the subject matter, but rather the delicate (but huge) egos of the participating critics.

Rarely do they view a film an enjoy it entirely for what it is - entertainment. They would find allegory and metaphor in a film like Deuce Bigelow. And then they would rip it to shreds, thinking they are the only people who did. The only time I've witnessed them all shut the hell up and love a movie was when they reviewed LOTR:FOTR. To my ultimate shock they all enjoyed it immensely.

I only mention this because the guy who wrote that article would fit perfectly into that crowd. Though having said that, I think even he was too extreme for something as 'lighthearted' as Newsnight Review.

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One more idea for those who read the article. When music walks hand in hand with the images, it does not necessarily mean that it is only emplyoing the standard cliches to punctuate what is happening at the same time. Smartly composed music can be quite ambigous itself due to its nature, escaping all encompassing descriptions, and when such good music accompanies the images, it adds another layer which resides in the realm of ideas rather than simply providing exclamation marks, to use the author's words. I am thinking on the lines of Gabriel Yared, Jerry Goldsmith, some of JNH's work, John Williams... I'm sure there are more, but these constitute a good example by themselves. I mean this is one of the reasons Star Wars is more interesting!!

The downsides to this approach(according to the author) are the following:

The director has less control over this process. Quoting the article, ''The audiovisual incongruity for which we should aim expresses not the psychology of a character but the attitude of the director and composer'' and then, ''Inevitably, the tension or difference between the audience’s interpretation and the director’s intentionality will express and run parallel to the tension between the incongruous audio and visual elements of the film.'' Should the director be absolute God? If the director has so much control, will the composer become a puppet, a vehicle to the ''temp-track'' provided by the director's ideas? Is the director musically competent? Do his ideas make sense in a practical way? How will he involve the composer? How much freedom will the composer have? This is not a counter argument, just a matter of concern, since I think there is a delicate balancing act involving the composer's will, that of the director, and that of the film. There is no question, in narrative scoring, when the composer is tied down to the will of those above him, the results are mostly mediocre.

But in the author's defense, part of the excitement is the experiment that results from the incongruities of the counterpoint method he proposes, there is an element of RISK, and it is worth embracing. One more thing, George Lucas asking a different composer to write sad music for a scene will probably lead to banal results, sad is too vague...

Another downside is a certain friction between the music and the images and the sound: Happens all the time, there are compromises to be made, and in addition to that, the composer rarely has the finished cut at his disposal, so that person might miss certain nuances.

Another downside, following the previous point, is the music totally veering from the film.

Another one is redundancy, the ''marching march'' or the ''joyful joy''. I think one can argue for hours whether it can work sometimes or not.

In general, I think the greatest downside is that the nature of cinema is exposed. In its nature, it is not a unified art, it depends on so many different elements to come to life (unless it is simplified to the extreme by stripping it of all except ''pure images'') and the slapping of music is sometimes an extra burden. But that is what cinema is, and the result has been the production of great films.

In other words, I refer to my previous post. We can easily tolerate both congrous and incongrous counterpoint as long as it leads somewhere.

Well, that's enough from me.

Igor

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In general, I think the greatest downside is that the nature of cinema is exposed. In its nature, it is not a unified art, it depends on so many different elements to come to life (unless it is simplified to the extreme by stripping it of all except ''pure images'')  and the slapping of music is sometimes an extra burden. But that is what cinema is, and the result has been the production of great films.

In other words, I refer to my previous post. We can easily tolerate both congrous and incongrous counterpoint as long as it leads somewhere.  

Well, that's enough from me.

Igor

What you call the greatest downside can also be considered the cinema's greatest strength over other art forms - and yes, it is an art.

Anyone ever watch the BBC's Newsnight Review? Four academic intellectuals sit around and "review" the latest movies, art, books and theatre whilst trying their very best to sound as clever as possible. Its like one big cock sparring contest. The program isn't really about the subject matter, but rather the delicate (but huge) egos of the participating critics.

Rarely do they view a film an enjoy it entirely for what it is - entertainment. They would find allegory and metaphor in a film like Deuce Bigelow. And then they would rip it to shreds, thinking they are the only people who did. The only time I've witnessed them all shut the hell up and love a movie was when they reviewed LOTR:FOTR. To my ultimate shock they all enjoyed it immensely.

I only mention this because the guy who wrote that article would fit perfectly into that crowd. Though having said that, I think even he was too extreme for something as 'lighthearted' as Newsnight Review.

I won't deny that academia has its share of pontificators, and I will also admit to not having seen this show, but the point of view you advocate is one with which I come into contact frequently. Academics tend to be ripped to shreds by non-academics, and I'm not really sure why. One could make the claim that non-academics are no different than academics in that they insist upon their own self-proclaimed simpler point of view. Yes, not all of it is as great is it tries to convince you it is. But there is a wealth of knowledge, information, and ideas in the academic realm. The problem is that it often takes a great amount of time, effort, and work to appreciate it. It is often demanding and sometimes difficult, but it can be very illuminating and enriching. However, I think many people are too often challenged by the difficult nature of the writing - some of which I agree is confusing for the sake of trying to be intelligent - and complexity of ideas that they do not make the effort to challenge themselves with the ideas presented. This is not directed at you, TheGreatEye, so much as me just venting about a general perspective held concerning academics. I know that some of it is indeed egotistical, insistent mumbo-jumbo, but there is a lot of good academic writing out there, especially about the cinema.

Ted

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Anyone that wants to write that much on such an angry subject clearly has problems.

There is room for film score in the academic realm. Not ALL film score though. This guy has crappier composers to worry about than John Williams, that's for sure.

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As the saying goes - why use a long word when a diminutive one will do? I think this writer is never very far from his Thesaurus. Reminds me somewhat of the style of writing employed in Filmtracks - who needs "orchestra" when you can use "ensemble"? It's the dress of learning, not the substance. Other words which get my bullsh*t-detector jangling are "text" (instead of "book") and "space" (instead of "theatre"). You just know you're in for a load of twaddle.

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Quite right - I suppose I was referring the sort of people who use the word "text" when the word "book" would do just as well. People often will use a word they think sounds better over the one they really mean.

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  • 1 month later...

Well, once you cut through the writer trying to impress you by using every big word he knows in each individual sentence, you realize the entire premise of the article is totally wrong. Maybe the writer changes the focus, but the part that I read seemed to be based on the belief that a film score is ONLY meant to accentuate the exact moment you see on screen.

When, at least in my opinion, scores are meant to set a mood.

Although he has a point with Horner's plagiarism, I didn't agree with him blasting Gods and Generals for plagiarizing Alexander Nevsky, but then again, I'm not relaly familiar with that score.

EDIT: Is Williams even mentioned in that article? I didnt' see him when I skimmed through it, but I saw the author lambast everyone else who's ever conducted music.

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