Jump to content

Royal S. Brown's reviews of Williams's A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Harry Potter


Lewya
 Share

Recommended Posts

I hope that someone else here might find his film music reviews of interest.

Royal S. Brown on John Williams's A.I. Artificial Intelligence:

Stephen Spielberg films are a sucker punch: The director sets you up with all sorts of things that you just have to love—childhood, motherhood, cuddly aliens, patriotism, even paranoid adults and great white sharks (not much difference there, eh?)—and then, not unlike Sally Field at the Academy Awards ceremonies a few years back, just stands there and begs for you to love him. Well, hey, I'm not perfect, and I fully admit to being crushed by A.I. Artificial Intelligence—its first 15 or so minutes, at any rate. How can you resist a story in which a perfect humanoid child (Haley Joel Osment— you remember, the kid who "sees dead people" in The Sixth Sense—in one of the truly spectacular performances, child or otherwise, of all time) is programmed, via a magic formula spoken by his (adoptive? surrogate?) mother (Frances O'Connor), with real human feelings, only to find himself almost immediately abandoned by said mother once her apparently dead but cryogenicized "real" son (Jake Thomas) has been defrosted and (somewhat) put back together again. That first 15 or so minutes also offers early on a particularly unsettling musical cue ("Cybertronics"), entirely for strings, by John Williams. Starting, if I remember correctly, in the corporate headquarters where the humanoid child has been created, and continuing for a time as the camera looks in on its human family, the cue opens with a long theme, in the unison violins, that seems to have thoughts about being a tone row without ever getting there. This is eventually joined by a second unison line in the strings, and the two interact, with subtle but often jarring dissonances, throughout most of the remainder of the cue, with other lines briefly added, and with devastatingly quiet chords coming in at the end as if uttered from another, very dark world by a Dmitri Shostakovich and/or a Bernard Herrmann. For once Spielberg seems to have moved into sync with his composer of choice throughout the years, John Williams, whose gifts as a musician generally tower over those of Spielberg's as a director.

But once the boy robot with human feelings finds himself alone in the woods, A.I. falls apart with truly amazing speed, rapidly becoming an unholy combination of John Carpenter's Escape from New York and Disney's Pinocchio while lacking the unselfconscious brazenness of the first and the apparent sincerity (not to mention artistry) of the latter, which comes across in A.I. more as an inter-textual reference than as a believed-in fairy tale. Where, for instance, Carpenter stages his orgies of violence with real human beings Spielberg wreaks hideous tortures only on automatons—or rather computer-graphics-rendered pieces of same—so that we know that they're not suffering when they get dunked in a vat of acid, or whatever (one droid does rather coyly ask another to turn off his pain chip, however). And, for heaven's sakes, Spielberg can find nothing better to do than to have the robot boy followed in his peregrinations by a grumpy (unconvincingly) droid teddy bear who has all the cuteness of a $250 toy-Ewok and the prissy negativism of R2D2. Spielberg's screenplay, based on Brian Aldiss's 1969 short story "Supertoys Last All summer Long," on which Stanley Kubrick gave up after some 15 years of playing around with the idea, leaves a huge trail of dead-end plot details before arriving at a conclusion that would be bittersweet if it didn't leave you with the queasy feeling of an Oedipal/Orphic robot eating his mom and having her too. Similarly, Williams's score melts into a happysad pop tune ("For Always"), which opens hinting at the second theme of the first movement of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, that rarely leaves the music track once it has been introduced. With appropriate corny lyrics initially (on this CD) sung by Lara Fabian, this theme is best heard either in its instrumental versions or as beautifully vocalized by Barbara Bonney, whom I swear Williams must have asked to sound as much like Morricone's Edda Dell'Orso as possible (she happily succeeds). On the other hand, skip the end-title version, in which Fabian and Josh Groban perfectly embody the Spielberg aesthetics as they seem to be asking you to love them and their music because their singing is so sensitive. . . .

Forali that, however, Williams's theme stops just short of falling into that abyss of pushy cuteness that Spielberg plunges into with glee, and I found myself on the verge of tears once in a while, probably as much because it took me back to those initial 15 or so minutes as purely because of the music itself. The rest of the score has its share of foggy mood ("Replicas"), gloomy. post-Romantic lyricism ("Abandoned in the Woods" and '"Rouge City," which sport an accompaniment that briefly evokes Philip Glass, of all people; Steve Reich has a bit of a role in the opening cue, "The Mecha World"), and toccatalike action music ("The Moon Rising"). But the best of the cues, after "Cybertronics," is the gossamer "Hide and Seek," in which the robot boy and his "mother" play a game that quietly reveals the Freudian underpinnings of hide and seek, particularly as accompanied, as I remember, by Williams's 6/8 sprite-dance, with its flowing harp, its bell-like motifs, and its mildly unsettling bitonality. And so, in "Cybertronics," "Hide and Seek," and some of the gloomy post-Romanticism, Williams reminds us of the darkness and tragedy lying behind the myths of motherhood, while in the "For Always" theme he allows us to feel the ineffable sadness involved in living through those myths. After those 15 or so initial moments, Spielberg doesn't even come close to the heights attained by his composer, even having the hubris to suggest that there might be an at least momentary light at the end of that Oedipal/Orphic tunnel.

Royal S. Brown

On Raiders of the Lost Ark:

While vast differences in critical opinion are a fact of life, I must remain amazed that so many reputable film critics were, I feel, sucked in this past summer by Stephen Spielberg's vapid Raiders of the Lost Ark. As far as I can figure out, Spielberg lost his grips on the directorial art around the middle of Jaws (you remember: the Merry Olde Shark Chase?) and has not refound it since. Perhaps if scriptwriter Lawrence Kasdan had directed as well, as he did with his marvelously taut Body Heat, the results might have been more worthwhile (and if John Barry's score for Body Heat, his best since Petulia, is not issued, there is something mightily wrong in the world). In Spielberg's hands, the transparent imitations of Saturday-afternoon serials are so self-conscious, the pacing so wrong-headed, that suspension of disbelief goes right out the window. Spielberg got the musical score he deserved. Composer John Williams has gotten more mileage than he ever merited out of his neo-Korngold marches, and he has written one of the absolute worst of these pieces as the main theme for Raiders. The rest of the score has its moments, whether in the pizzicato strings and other instrumental effects of “Flight from Peru,“ the mystery of “The Map Room: Dawn,“ or the neo-Prokofiev romp (very reminiscent of a cut from The Empire Strikes Back) of “The Basket Game.“ The cembalom in “The Miracle of the Ark“ also adds a nice touch. But “Marion's Theme,“ heard in several cuts, is a nearly direct lift from Star Wars. And every time Raiders' main march-theme pops up (which is often), I want to smash the disc, which remains one of 1981's more forgettable soundtrack albums, in spite of excellent sonics from CBS. Spielberg's brief, cutesy-poo jacket-notes for this disc also brought me to the point of nausea.

On The Empire Strikes Back:

I had an enormously difficult time turning on to a film in which, a) the mystical “force“ that is supposed to govern the entire universe is concentrated in the hands of a character (Yoda) who sounds not unlike Grover of the Muppets; b) this same character spends a lot of time trying to pass on this force to a whining teenager (Luke Skywalker) who generally sounds as if his chief concern in life is that he blew his tan at a beach party; c) two robots, one speaking in a prissy English accent, the other in an even more grating computerese, continually upstage everyone and everything, guaranteeing that the level of dramatic involvement by the viewer will be no higher than that offered by an electronic game. Indeed, The Empire Strikes Back is one of the noisiest films I have ever attended, the producers' targets obviously being nothing broader than a three-year-old's attention span.

Ah, but the music! I continue to find Williams' two Star Wars scores mostly frosting and froth. But there is no denying that they generate considerable excitement. Williams is perhaps the only current film composer who can carry off the types of neo-Korngold swashing and buckling the Star Wars films call for and sound completely sincere about it. And, oh my, do Williams' endeavors ever make choice morsels for conductor Charles Gerhardt and producer George Korngold to sink their teeth into. Gerhardt has repeatedly demonstrated, most recently on the Chalfont recording of Korngold père's Kings Row (see Fanfare IV: 1), his special affinity for this type of music: the big themes are paced in such a way that they never become cloying; the action sequences move with incredible intensity—and while exciting dramatically, they never become hammy; instrumental choirs are brought together in rich blends that offer tremendous aural treats in and of themselves. As for the sound: Fanfare Editor/Publisher Joel Flegler and I are in agreement that this may be one of the best recorded albums ever released. Producer George Korngold and Chalfont Records have succeeded in finding a perfect combination of sonic ambience, recording level, and instrumental balance to create a sense of stunning orchestral realism that does full justice to the efforts of Gerhardt and his forces (but where were you, George, Charles, and Chalfont, when North by Northwest needed you?).

A few additional notes: the 45-minute Empire Strikes Back Suite recorded here is an expansion (by Gerhardt) of a specially written suite that John Williams adapted from the original film score for concert performance and that included about half the music heard here. Those acquainted with the two-disc RSO release of the original soundtrack (see Fanfare IV: 1) should almost immediately notice the lack, on the Chalfont album, of many of the more modernistic musical passages that give the Empire Strikes Back score an added distinction, for my money, but are not exactly Charles Gerhardt's cup of tea. For this reason, film music fans will not want to be without the original soundtrack album which, after all, is very well played and recorded (on lousy surfaces). But for pure listening pleasure, the smoothly flowing Williams/Gerhardt suite (breaks between bands are all but instantaneous) with Korngold's sonics on Chalfont's immaculate surfaces should be an indispensable item in the collections of all but the most diehard cynics.

Royal S. Brown on the CD - JOHN WILLIAMS POPS IN SPACE. Superman; The Empire Strikes Back; Star Wars; Close Encounters of the Third Kind

 

Well, here we have a major American orchestra with the most popular film composer to come along in some time conducting excerpts from four of his best-known scores on a digitally recorded album released on an exceedingly prestigious label. And what does it all add up to? A lot of very mediocre music, I am afraid. Mind you, I'd be the last one to say that cuts such as “The Asteroid Field“ or “The Imperial March“ from The Empire Strikes Back do not generate a hell of a lot of excitement. But for some reason, even the strong syncopations in the rather Prokofian “Asteroid“ piece come across as labored, or at least as too pat, too obvious to generate any real musical interest. I am hard put to say why this album makes me react much more negatively to the three Empire excerpts recorded on it than I did to either the original soundtrack release or the extended Suite on Chalfont (also produced by George Korngold in digital sound), with Charles Gerhardt brilliantly wielding the baton. Williams certainly conducts with authority (he always has), and Philips' Sonics have beautiful depth and clarity. Perhaps it is the Boston Pops' ingrained penchant for marshmallowing everything that pushes all these Williams numbers, which have never been quite my cup of tea to begin with, over the brink from good film music into bad concert pieces.

 

For those who are interested, this disc does contain one bit of previously unrecorded music, namely the very Korngold/Steiner strains that the composer added to the re-released “special edition“ (which I could not bring myself to go see) of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Williams' best efforts in recent (post-Images) years have been his scores for De Palma's The Fury (Arista AB 4175;see Fanfare 1:6) and John Bad-ham's Dracula (MCA 3166), which F. S. in his review (Fanfare III:3) quite aptly called a “Dracula Symphony.“ Now that Williams has apparently relinquished his film-scoring crown to take over at the helm of an extremely gifted group of musicians, he could do an enormous service to film music by tapping some of the less well-known treasures. Here's hoping that the powers that be will not force the composer/conductor to continue hashing over his own box-office smashes. After all, did we really need still another Star-Wars-Close-Encounters-3nd-companyalbum?

 

On the Harry Potter 1 score:

 

John Williams's second score of 2001 finds the composer doing one of the things he does best, which is to use all of the forces of the symphony orchestra to evoke magic, adventure, and heroism in more or less equal doses. And it would in fact be almost impossible to imagine a film such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer s Stone, which brings to the screen the first of J. K. Rowling's wildly popular books for children, without something resembling the John Williams "sound" on the music track. Williams starts with the magic, presenting his solidly minor-mode main theme, a dancelike, mildly chromatic, mildly gloomy melody in a 6/8 meter, on the solo celesta (stunningly performed by Randy Kerber), which in fact will play a major, sometimes virtuosic role throughout the score, including variations on that theme as well as in the more marchlike theme that follows it in the "Prologue." Williams allows the main theme (ostensibly for Harry's owl, Hedwig, but in fact pretty much standing for the whole story) to gather orchestral momentum, first by overlaying some swirling/soaring string figures reminiscent of a cue in Williams's score for Robert Altman 's lost (for the moment at least) film Images, then by turning the theme over to the horns, thus moving into the heroic side of the story and its characters. The marchlike theme, which I'm presuming belongs more to Harry Potter (I would have to see the film again to verify this), is also in the minor mode, and evokes a kind of magical heroism—it would be completely at home in Star Wars, for instance—that also implies the adventure, with which both the novel and the film are cram-packed. The adventure mode extends as well into several breathtaking action cues, the best of which is the percussion-laden and modernist "The Chess Game." There's also a lyrical theme that would likewise fit quite comfortably into Star Wars, along with a couple of cues of very eerie/scary electronics that certainly evoke mood but that also seem rather weirdly out of place surrounded by Williams's traditional sym-phonism. The recorded sound is wonderfully limpid.

 

For all of that, however, Harry Potter remains pretty much middle-of-the-road Williams. It allows Williams fans, of which I certainly am one, plenty of chances to revel in the characteristic devices of the composer's musical creativity without really venturing into the kind of unexpected territory that led me to put Williams's score for A.I: Artificial Intelligence on my 2001 Want List. But perhaps this is as it should be, since, from where I sit, Harry Potter as a film takes no chances at all, and as such remains an entertaining collection of magical-adventure tropes that have no soul and evoke little emotional reaction. Like most films coming out of Hollywood these days, Harry Potter is content, for instance, to throw in an actor such as Alan Rickman and to presume that the audience will build up its own aura of scariness around the character almost solely on the basis of his perpetually dour facial expressions. Critics have complained that Harry Potter is too literal an adaptation of Rowling's book, and some children have been heard to complain that, at a running time of 152 minutes, it is too long. I feel that Harry Potter in fact needed greater length in order to give some flesh to its English-boarding-school-cum-wizardry stereotypes. But what do I know? As I write, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is on the way to breaking every box office record known to humanity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"The music for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, also reviewed this issue, reveals composer John Williams's usual mastery of the big symphony orchestra, his ability to generate drama on a moment's notice, his innate lyrical gifts, and a very keen sense of harmonic movement. But the CD, as good as it is, would not have made this Want List if it had not included two cues—"Cybertronics" and "Hide and Seek"—in which the composer trades in the high theatrics for much more subtle utterances that get beneath your skin and infuse your fairy-tale sensibilities with doubt and paranoia. I also admit to a misty-eyed weakness for the score's big lyrical theme."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The two last Royal S. Brown on Williams reviews that I found. He writes that HP 1 is basically middle-of-the-road Williams.

 

Royal S. Brown on the CD - JOHN WILLIAMS POPS IN SPACE. Superman; The Empire Strikes Back; Star Wars; Close Encounters of the Third Kind

 

Well, here we have a major American orchestra with the most popular film composer to come along in some time conducting excerpts from four of his best-known scores on a digitally recorded album released on an exceedingly prestigious label. And what does it all add up to? A lot of very mediocre music, I am afraid. Mind you, I'd be the last one to say that cuts such as “The Asteroid Field“ or “The Imperial March“ from The Empire Strikes Back do not generate a hell of a lot of excitement. But for some reason, even the strong syncopations in the rather Prokofian “Asteroid“ piece come across as labored, or at least as too pat, too obvious to generate any real musical interest. I am hard put to say why this album makes me react much more negatively to the three Empire excerpts recorded on it than I did to either the original soundtrack release or the extended Suite on Chalfont (also produced by George Korngold in digital sound), with Charles Gerhardt brilliantly wielding the baton. Williams certainly conducts with authority (he always has), and Philips' Sonics have beautiful depth and clarity. Perhaps it is the Boston Pops' ingrained penchant for marshmallowing everything that pushes all these Williams numbers, which have never been quite my cup of tea to begin with, over the brink from good film music into bad concert pieces.

 

For those who are interested, this disc does contain one bit of previously unrecorded music, namely the very Korngold/Steiner strains that the composer added to the re-released “special edition“ (which I could not bring myself to go see) of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Williams' best efforts in recent (post-Images) years have been his scores for De Palma's The Fury (Arista AB 4175;see Fanfare 1:6) and John Bad-ham's Dracula (MCA 3166), which F. S. in his review (Fanfare III:3) quite aptly called a “Dracula Symphony.“ Now that Williams has apparently relinquished his film-scoring crown to take over at the helm of an extremely gifted group of musicians, he could do an enormous service to film music by tapping some of the less well-known treasures. Here's hoping that the powers that be will not force the composer/conductor to continue hashing over his own box-office smashes. After all, did we really need still another Star-Wars-Close-Encounters-3nd-companyalbum?

 

On the Harry Potter 1 score:

 

John Williams's second score of 2001 finds the composer doing one of the things he does best, which is to use all of the forces of the symphony orchestra to evoke magic, adventure, and heroism in more or less equal doses. And it would in fact be almost impossible to imagine a film such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer s Stone, which brings to the screen the first of J. K. Rowling's wildly popular books for children, without something resembling the John Williams "sound" on the music track. Williams starts with the magic, presenting his solidly minor-mode main theme, a dancelike, mildly chromatic, mildly gloomy melody in a 6/8 meter, on the solo celesta (stunningly performed by Randy Kerber), which in fact will play a major, sometimes virtuosic role throughout the score, including variations on that theme as well as in the more marchlike theme that follows it in the "Prologue." Williams allows the main theme (ostensibly for Harry's owl, Hedwig, but in fact pretty much standing for the whole story) to gather orchestral momentum, first by overlaying some swirling/soaring string figures reminiscent of a cue in Williams's score for Robert Altman 's lost (for the moment at least) film Images, then by turning the theme over to the horns, thus moving into the heroic side of the story and its characters. The marchlike theme, which I'm presuming belongs more to Harry Potter (I would have to see the film again to verify this), is also in the minor mode, and evokes a kind of magical heroism—it would be completely at home in Star Wars, for instance—that also implies the adventure, with which both the novel and the film are cram-packed. The adventure mode extends as well into several breathtaking action cues, the best of which is the percussion-laden and modernist "The Chess Game." There's also a lyrical theme that would likewise fit quite comfortably into Star Wars, along with a couple of cues of very eerie/scary electronics that certainly evoke mood but that also seem rather weirdly out of place surrounded by Williams's traditional sym-phonism. The recorded sound is wonderfully limpid.

 

For all of that, however, Harry Potter remains pretty much middle-of-the-road Williams. It allows Williams fans, of which I certainly am one, plenty of chances to revel in the characteristic devices of the composer's musical creativity without really venturing into the kind of unexpected territory that led me to put Williams's score for A.I: Artificial Intelligence on my 2001 Want List. But perhaps this is as it should be, since, from where I sit, Harry Potter as a film takes no chances at all, and as such remains an entertaining collection of magical-adventure tropes that have no soul and evoke little emotional reaction. Like most films coming out of Hollywood these days, Harry Potter is content, for instance, to throw in an actor such as Alan Rickman and to presume that the audience will build up its own aura of scariness around the character almost solely on the basis of his perpetually dour facial expressions. Critics have complained that Harry Potter is too literal an adaptation of Rowling's book, and some children have been heard to complain that, at a running time of 152 minutes, it is too long. I feel that Harry Potter in fact needed greater length in order to give some flesh to its English-boarding-school-cum-wizardry stereotypes. But what do I know? As I write, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is on the way to breaking every box office record known to humanity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He is one of the best-known film music scholars out there. The author of one perhaps classic film music book: Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Lewya said:

 

Composer John Williams has gotten more mileage than he ever merited out of his neo-Korngold marches, and he has written one of the absolute worst of these pieces as the main theme for Raiders.

 stopped reading there

 

Exactly what I expected by someone called "Royal S Brown"

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On Nixon and Sabrina:

 

I found John Williams's Nixon not only one of the major scores of 1995 but certainly one of the composer's best efforts in several years. Yet a person I was talking to in a Manhattan store specializing in film scores and theater music put at the top of his list Williams's score for Sabrina (A & M Records 31454 0456 2; 51:13), Sidney Pollack's remake, which I may or may not catch when it comes out on video, of Billy Wilder's 1954 classic starring Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, and Humphrey Bogart (a British actor named John Williams also has a role in the film!). There is certainly no denying the charm of the Sabrina score, which opens with a haunting piano solo that blossoms into the kind of neo-Romantic rhapsody with orchestra that was just about dying out, in films scores at least, when Sabrina was first made. Williams, however, keeps his rhapsody much more out in the open, avoiding the darker emotional reaches created by composers such as Franz Waxman in favor of the kind of on-the-surface nostalgia that has become a cinematic staple, both narratively and musically, these days. But much of the thematic mileage comes from the principal melody of a Latin-flavored song, composed by John Williams, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, entitled Moonlight, initially heard in a performance by the misty-voiced Sting, one of the only singers I know who can get away with a nonvibrato delivery. Indeed, I'll take Sting's vibratoless voice any day to the croaky warbling of Michael Dees, who performs another, much less interesting Williams/Bergman song, How Can I Remember? (not heard, for whatever reasons, in the film). The score offers a number of purely instrumental cues that cast an atmosphere of mild suspense over the general mood of romantic longing. And at one point, some three minutes into the cue entitled “Sabrina Comes Home,“ we get one of those classic, soaring violin themes over repeated horn chords that leaves no doubt as to the score's composer. But, in fact, this is one of the few moments when the music really sounds, to my ears at least, like John Williams. A few pop staples, including La Vie en Rose (played by a solo accordion, of course), When Joanna Loved Me, The Shadow of Your Smile, Call Me Irresponsible, and Stella By Starlight, also turn up, most of them for a party sequence. All in all, it is almost as if the music, both by Williams and in the pop staples, rather than capturing the spirit of the Wilder film and its Ernest Lehman screenplay, spends most of its time yearning for a past that the current cinema cannot hope to recapture. The well-recorded Sabrina CD will certainly get played during more dinners and parties than Nixon. But there is a good reason for that. . . 

One more from John Williams: there are few movie themes that 1 dislike more than Williams's title march for Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film I also intensely dislike. I mean, throughout its history film music has been filled with writing that would not pass muster in the conservatories, and this is not necessarily all to the bad. But when a piece of obnoxious musical amateurism asserts itself quite as brazenly and as frequently as the Raiders march, I start running in the opposite direction. But if you're into this kind of cornball fare, you'll love the DCC reissue of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark music track, which includes a half hour of previously unreleased material (DZS-090; 73:30; London Symphony Orchestra; Nick Redman, prod.). Usually, of course, you can count on Williams for some much more sophisticated fare once he's gotten past the title music. I'm not great fan of the main Star Wars theme, for instance, but many of the ensuing cues reveal some of the composer's best scoring, at least in this vein. I do not find this to be the case for Raider. Much of the music is terribly action specific, which of course is appropriate for a film that sets itself up not as a parody but as the reincarnation of the Saturday afternoon serial. But that being the case, don't ask me to get all excited about a score that kinds of plods along while leaving in its wake gaping holes that need to be filled by action from a film I can't stand. Even when Williams, avoiding bombast and his awful title march, tries to work in pure mood, I find the results uninspired and uninspiring. And to my ears, the love theme is warmed-over Princess Leia, who was never that hot to begin with. . . . It is also interesting how many Williams scores of this ilk include one cue (in this case “The Basket Game,“ not included on the initial release) that could almost come straight out of a Prokofiev symphony. DDC's recorded sound, though, is bright, crisp, and vibrant, and the program notes feature commentary, a detailed, cue-by-cue analysis of the score, and a John Williams interview, all by Lucas Kendall, the editor and publisher of Film Score Monthly, in the “Around June 1995“ issue in which you can find an interview with yours truly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He called Williams's The Fury a masterpiece, but generally finds Williams overrated as a composer.

 

From Varese Sarabande's ongoing series of CD reissues of MCA original soundtrack recordings comes The Fury (VSD-5264 [ADD?]; 43:39; London Symphony Orchestra), an absolute masterpiece from the pen of John Williams, a composer I have generally found overrated. In his score for Brian De Palma's second go-round with the subject of telekinesis, Williams has created music that stands on its own particularly well but that also communicates the entire affective content of the film if you have seen it . . . and to a degree even if you haven't. Williams has been seen as the rescuer and resuscitator of the symphonic movie score, an honor that is not without its pastichy downside. Here, as usual, the composer mobilizes a large orchestra whose individual instrumental timbres are almost always integrated into the broader orchestral fabric. But in The Fury, Williams, while working in a solidly minor-mode tonal base, ventures into much more modern sounding, much darker harmonic domains, and much more complex textures, than he usually does, so that the emotions are continually jolted nearer to the level of the collective unconscious than in such more consciously archetype-on-sleeve scores as Star Wars and Superman. Further, The Fury contains one of the supreme musico-visual amalgams of cinema history. Around an hour and a quarter into the film, the telekinetic, psychic Gillian (Amy Irving) escapes from the secret, government-run testing center where she is being held against her will. The six-minute musical cue, entitled “Gillian's Escape,“ begins with some ominous, low figures as Gillian and Hester (Carrie Snodgress) prepare her escape. As Gillian runs out of the building, director De Palma cuts off the voice track and turns to the slow motion he often uses in key sequences, while the music rises to a joyous theme, initially in a bitonal harmonic setting, in the high strings. Additional resonance from various bells adds an eerie note. From this point on, the score slowly becomes darker and darker as Gillian's pursuer's close in on her. Action and score reach a pitch of almost unbearable, elegaic intensity as Hester is struck and killed by an automobile in one of De Palma's crudest manipulations and one of Williams's saddest.

 

Moments later, De Palma and Williams ingeniously create a bit of “Mickey Mousing“ that grows totally out of the musical structure as the three shots fired by Gillian's rescuer (Kirk Douglas) coincide with the first three of a series of major triads played in the horns and oboes beneath a high, sustained unison in the violins. The sequence closes with a particularly poignant reprise of the film's dirge-like main theme as Gillian and her rescuer escape. This is music that can elicit tears even without its film; with it, it tears you apart. And the music remains on this elevated level throughout, which the film unfortunately does not. Included on this CD is an original, very serioso version of the “Death on the Carousel“ cue not heard on the LP and replaced in the film by a synthesized-calliope version of the main theme that speeds and glissandos upward as Gillian's counterpart (Andrew Stevens) telekinetically trashes a carnival ride. One wishes the producers of the Vertigo CD had likewise returned to the original material. The Fury CD closes with an “Epilogue“ for strings, a deeply moving, concert elegy not heard in the film. The sound captures with equal depth and clarity Williams's beautifully mobilized strings and his varied deployment of the winds, although I must say that the digital side of the transfer was much more apparent through my speakers than on my earphones, which is not always the case. The Fury should be a basic film-score recording in any collection. And those who like The Fury will not want to be without its companion piece, Dracula, penned a year later, reissued on Varese Sarabande, and reviewed in Fanfare 13:5.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Bellosh said:

Does the S stand for Salty?

 

This dude sounds like the saltiest guy ever.

He hates the " patriarchy"😁.

 

He is VERY good when discussing Morricone and Herrmann.

So, there is some value to be had from his writings.

He does have a musical background

Caveat emptor

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He calls himself a fan but it's always Korngold this , Korngold that, and what self respecting fan hates the Raider March...

 

He doesn't say he personally doesn't like the Raiders March but objectively calls it the worst theme ever.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 10/31/2020 at 9:28 PM, Lewya said:

He is one of the best-known film music scholars out there. The author of one perhaps classic film music book: Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music.

 

Indeed. That book is a must-have for all serious film music researchers. It's as classic as Gorbman's UNHEARD MELODIES or Prendergast's FILM MUSIC: A NEGLECTED ART. I also used it and referenced it frequently in my own thesis.

 

But I haven't read many of his reviews.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I remember how he slashed both First Knight and Apollo 13 in his summer '95 list, with only Nixon getting a decent nod. All the *serious* magazine reviewers back then, FSM included, would have enraged today's fans.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is his best of the decade list for the 1990s, 1980s and 1970s by the way.

 

The 10 best scores of the 1990s:

 

Elmer Bernstein: The Grifters (1990

Howard Shore: Naked Lunch (1991)

Joanna Bruzdowicz: Jacquot de Nantes (1991)

Thomas Newman: The Player (1992)

Akira Senju: Rampo (1994)

John Williams: Sleepers (1996)

Neil Young: Dead Man (1996)

Dave Grusin: Mulholland Falls (1996)

George Fenton: Mary Reilly (1996)

John Corigliano: The Red Violin (1999)

 

Best new film composer of the last decade: Thomas Newman.

 

Most consistently derivative, mediocre, bad, or horrible film composer of the last decade: James Horner. No hesitation.

 

His picks for the 1980s:

 

Finally, inspired by a request for the ten best scores from Pro Musica Sana, the journal of the Miklós Rózsa Society, I offer my list, sans comments, of the best scores of the past decade. There is no way I could limit it to ten, however. More than a few films from above appear below: after all, one thing that can help make a film great is its score.

 

The Fourth Man (Loek Dikker, 1979/1984)

Altered States (John Corigliano, 1980)

Deathwatch (Antoine Duhamel, 1980)

Dressed To Kill (Pino Donaggio, 1980)

Body Heat (John Barry, 1981)

Dragonslayer (Alex North, 1981)

Invitation au voyage (Gabriel Yared, 1982)

Koyaanisqatsi (Philip Glass, 1983)

Videodrome (Howard Shore, 1983)

Once Upon a Time in America (Ennio Morricone, 1984)

Ran (Toru Takemitsu, 1985)

Betty Blue (Gabriel Yared, 1986)

Babette's Feast (Per Nørgaard, 1987)

Housekeeping (Michael Gibbs, 1987)

Siesta (Marcus Miller/Miles Davis, 1987)

Criminal Law (Jerry Goldsmith, 1988)

Dangerous Liaisons (George Fenton, 1988)

Dead Ringers (Howard Shore, 1988)

Henry V (Patrick Doyle, 1989)

 

His picks for the 1970s:

 

1. Michael Small: Klute (Alan Pakula, 1971). Tingling and instrumentally very original suspense music combines with a mellow love theme to make this score work particularly well for Pakula's thriller. Warner Brothers had scheduled a release for this score (WS 1940) and I have even seen it listed; but I have never seen the album, which was also brought out on a pirate label, I do believe.

 

2. Jerry Fielding: Straw Dogs (Sam Pekinpah, 1971). The Fielding/Pekinpah collaboration peaked in this brutal but brilliant film. Although owing a great deal to Stravinsky at certain points, Fielding's score beautifully captures the various moods of the film. Recording: Citadel: “Four Film Suites by Jerry Fielding“ (CT/JF-2/3). Close second: Fielding's even more varied, part-jazz score for Michael Winner's 1978 The Big Sleep.

 

3. Ennio Morricone: Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone, 1971 ; also known as A Fistful of Dynamite). Although Morricone has had immense success in all possible genres, his greatest efforts are perhaps the scores for the so-called “spaghetti westerns.“ The warmth of the Rod Steiger/James Coburn friendship in this film is but one of the many elements beautifully expressed in Morricone's often almost operatic music. Recording (original domestic): United Artists LA-302G. Close second: the much more surrealistic music for Tonino Valerii's much more surrealistic My Name Is Nobody (recorded by General Music Rome in Italy and by Ariola in Germany, 87582 IU).

 

4. John Williams: Images (Robert Altman, 1972). Although the Star Wars music indisputably works marvelously for George Lucas' space epic, it cannot touch, musically, Williams' ingeniously gripping theme and much more original avant-garde percussion effects for Images, both of which perfectly second the psychological violence of this Altman near-masterpiece. Recording: Sound/State C.I.F. 1002. Close seconds: The Fury (Brian De Palma, 1978; Arista AB 4175) and Dracula (John Badham, 1979; MCA 3166).

 

5. Bernard Herrmann: Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1972). Most film-music buffs seem to prefer Herrmann's lusher score for De Palma's very forced Obsession to the earlier Sisters. I find the music to the former excessively self-derivative, while the irony that permeates much of Sisters, both musically and filmically, is much more my cup of tea. Recording: Entr'acte ERQ 7001-ST.

 

6. Richard Rodney Bennett: Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974). From what I have heard, Bennett has never penned a bad film score, from Far from the Madding Crowd to Equus. But with its delightfully anti-stereotypical waltz for the train itself, and with its many-faceted symphonism to complement the movie's changing perspectives, Murder on the Orient Express has something utterly special about it. Recording: Capitol ST-11361.

 

7. Jerry Goldsmith: The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976). With his brooding, chorus-and-orchestra Satanism, Goldsmith came up with a perfect sound to accompany a scare film that was nowhere nearly as bad as many people made it out to be. Recording: Tattoo BJL1-1888. Close second: Capricorn One (Peter Hymans, 1978; Warner Brothers BSK 3201).

 

8. Nino Rota: Felllni's Casanova (Federico Fellini, 1977). While director Fellini's talent continued to wane, the late Nino Rota continued to produce witty and, well, Fellini-esque scores for the Italian director, even in such duds as Amarcord. But for Fellini's Casanova, Rota added a touch of the other-wordly to his Fellini-profiled scoring, perfectly rounding out the film's lush photography and contributing an out-of-sync ambience to the film, which would have been considerably less effective without Rota's sonorous backing. Recording: CAM SAG 9075.

 

9. Miklós Rózsa: Providence (Alain Resnais, 1977). If one can be grateful to recent film composers for sometimes sacrificing personal style to meet the needs of a given picture, one can be equally grateful to Rózsa for continuing, over the last 30 years, to sound like himself. The composer's moody, sometimes even morbid romanticism works especially well in adding a musico-temporal stratum to the French director's extraordinarily rich vision of the creative process. Recording: DRG SL-9502.

 

10. Howard Blake: The Duelists (Ridley Scott, 1978). I have little idea who Howard Blake is other than that he has scored such whoppingly obscure films as All the Way Up and, would you believe, An Elephant Called Slowly. My guess is that he is English and of the same musical persuasions as Richard Rodney Bennett. Wherever he comes from and whatever his background, Blake produced for The Duelists an immensely sensitive, romantic score with one of the loveliest melodies ever to grace a soundtrack. The music forms an inseparable part of Ridley (Alien) Scott's exquisite and terribly neglected adaptation of the Joseph Conrad tale. Can't somebody give us a recording?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.