Tag Archives: Jerry Goldsmith

Rocks In The Attic #743: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘L.A. Confidential (O.S.T.)’ (1997)

RITA#743Last week the Academy Awards were heading to a disappointing conclusion. As much as it seemed possible that Roma could be awarded Best Picture, Hollywood likes to congratulate itself too much to admit that it could be bettered by a film outside of its remit. That’s what Cannes and Venice are for, right? It seemed implausible that Best Picture would to go to any film other than Bohemian Rhapsody.

The Favourite was one of the strongest contenders, but perhaps too off-kilter (and also too un-American). A Star Is Born was the other contender, but you have to wonder what proportion of the Academy is comprised of menopausal women. BlacKkKlansman? Too left-wing. Vice? Too real-life.

The other strong possibility of course was Black Panther, the Marvel film that nobody was looking forward to. Upon its release, everybody slowly realised it wasn’t the snoozefest they were expecting – thanks partly to a great turn by Andy Serkis, as the most threatening villain the MCU has ever seen. But Oscar worthy? Surely not. If you’re going to award Best Picture to a superhero / sci-fi film, at least choose a good one.

It’s probably not even worth discussing Green Book. Surely a film with such broad strokes on racism wouldn’t show up on the Academy’s radar…

No, I hate to say it but it had to be Bohemian Rhapsody (or Bo-Rhap, as annoying Queen fanboys call the song). The film may have taken too many liberties with timelines – “Freddie, you’ve got AIDS, now go and perform at Live Aid. You’re on stage in an hour!” – but it also seemed to remind everybody how good Queen were. Then Rami Malek defied all odds – acting ability, charm, charisma, presence – and won Best Actor. Surely this would lead to the film winning Best Picture.

What? Green Book? Are you mad? Are Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway giving out awards again? How is this possible? Mahershala Ali might have won Best Supporting Actor for it, but I thought that was a sympathy vote. He looked so bored in the film, working with such a paint-by-numbers script, which even more unbelievably also won an Oscar. I thought he was doing that thing when hostage victims come to the door and try to signal to Police with their eyes that somebody’s pointing a gun at them. “No officer, everything…is…fine!”

Film Title: Green Book

The film was so on-the-nose, I’m surprised Viggo Mortenson wasn’t asked to record a painfully inane narration over the establishing scenes: “Hey, I’m Tony Lip, and I’m a racist. Gee, I sure wish I could meet one of those negro fellas. He could really help me out. It’d be real swell and maybe I could help him out with his problems too.”

No, The Favourite should have won. It was truly original, it had humour, suspense, three great acting performances and it transcended its usually stuffy, stale genre.

But it’s not the first time a truly great film has been overlooked for Best Picture in favour of a piece of dross, and it won’t be the last. At the 1998 awards, James Cameron’s Titanic tied with Ben-Hur for the most Oscar wins: eleven, including Best Picture.

It was a strong field – As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting would have won in any other year, but the academy decided to recognise Cameron for preventing the largest flop in Hollywood’s history. After what seemed like a doomed production, the film was eventually released, costing approximately a million dollars per minute of screen time.

Film and Television

Cameron won Best Director for his efforts, and despite all other wins being awarded for technical categories, Titanic bizarrely also won Best Picture. Yes, a film with no wins in any of the acting or writing categories was considered to be the best overall film of the year.

I don’t know about you, but I really question the ethics of a film that uses a real-life major maritime disaster as the background for a soppy romance. Where’s the line between good and bad taste? What’s next, a rom-com starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson set in Auschwitz? Tagline: ‘This summer, even their love couldn’t keep them together.’ Or maybe one set in the World Trade Centre? Tagline: ‘Aviation fuel could melt steel beams, but could Jack melt Sandy’s heart?’

Maybe I’m just sore. But the film that really should have won Best Picture that year was L.A. Confidential, co-written and directed by the late Curtis Hanson.

I persuaded some friends to go and see it with me, on a tip from Barry Norman (remember those days?). At first, like most audience members, I regretted the decision. A relatively slow start made the film seem like it was going to be a bit of a chore. My friends would blame me for the bad choice. Thoughts immediately turned to how much I could hold Barry Norman accountable.

But then something unexpected happened. A seemingly innocuous housecall by Guy Pearce’s inexperienced detective turns into a tense shotgun chase through the neighbourhood. One of my friends literally moved to the edge of his seat, leaning on the row in front. I was saved. Thank you, Barry.

RITA#743cWhat follows is a work of art. Two opposing archetypal detectives, played by the then-unknown Guy Pearce (the brain) and Russell Crowe (the brawn), join forces to fight the corruption at the very heart of the city’s police department. Kevin Spacey, fresh from his Swimming With Sharks / The Usual Suspects / Outbreak / Seven breakthrough of ’94 / ‘95, turns in a great understated performance as the charismatic Sgt. Vincennes, leading to one of the most unexpected – but poetic – on-screen deaths of the decade.

Of course, any film noir set in old-timey Los Angeles will always draw comparisons to Chinatown. It almost seems a little forced that Hanson would employ the services of Chinatown’s composer, Jerry Goldsmith, to score his film. As always, the workhorse Goldsmith knocks it out of the park, basing his soundtrack on a motif from Leonard Bernstein’s score for On The Waterfront (perhaps in an attempt to avoid the Chinatown comparisons). The exciting, uptempo sections remind me of the pulsating parts of Morricone’s Untouchables score.

Despite nine Academy Award nominations, the film only went home with two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson). It almost seems like a fool’s errand, but I wonder what might have happened had Titanic not been released in 1997. That hypothetical game could be played every year – what would the Best Picture have been in the absence of the actual winner? Or, perhaps more relevant these days, if the nominated films were pared back to a choice of just five in the category?

Hit: Bloody Christmas

Hidden Gem: Rollo Tomasi

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Rocks In The Attic #709: John Williams – ‘Jurassic Park (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#709What does William’s score to 1993’s Jurassic Park have to do with Dies Irae, a latin hymn from the thirteenth century?

After watching the latest disappointing Jurassic Park sequel, it’s refreshing to wash my brain out with the score to Spielberg’s original film. At this point in his career, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Williams would be washed-up. Surely the composer of Jaws, Superman, the Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters, the Indiana Jones trilogy – and many, many more – would have nothing left. Somebody that prolific can’t keep on being prolific, can they?

The answer seems to be a resounding Yes. Not only does Jurassic Park contain two distinctly memorable main themes – Theme From Jurassic Park and Journey To The Island – but the rest of the score is just as strong as his ‘70s and ‘80s output. But what’s all this about Gregorian Chant?

The answer is in a descending motif in the ancient hymn. For centuries, this doom-laden melody has been used as short-hand for evil or foreboding – Dies Irae itself translates to Day Of Wrath. A host of great composers have used the motif in their works – Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Holst, Liszt, Mahler and Rachmaninoff, to name but a few – but it’s its use in modern film soundtracks that interests me the most.

The tune is easiest to spot in the first few notes of The Shining’s opening Main Title, played by Wendy Carlos on the Moog Synthesiser. Here, the melody isn’t even disguised, it’s as clear as the day in which it’s used to soundtrack, as the Torrances drive up the mountain approaching the Overlook Hotel.

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Williams uses it to great effect in Jurassic Park, throughout the cues entitled Incident At Isla Nublar (from 3:32), and High Wire Stunts (from 0:00). But this isn’t the first time he’s referenced it. It can be found a couple of times in his iconic score to 1977’s Star Wars. Here it plays as the accompaniment immediately before Luke’s Force Theme rises up in The Burning Homestead (from 1:28), and is echoed in the doom-laden brass line (from 1:43) as Luke’s fate realigns.

And it’s not just John Williams sliding it into his scores, the musical equivalent of directors inserting the Wilhelm Scream into their sound mix. Other famous composers have “borrowed” the melody too. In 2001’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, Howard Shore uses it as the bassline thoughout the cue entitled Weathertop (from 0:18), as the Ringwraiths attack the Hobbits. Jerry Goldsmith utilises it in his 1982 score for Poltergeist, Hans Zimmer uses it briefly in 1994’s The Lion King, and Bernard Herrmann used it back in 1963 for Jason And The Argonauts. Unsurprisingly the tune also makes for good horror music fodder.

RITA#709aEven back in 1927, Gottfried Huppertz inserted the motif into his Dance Of Death cue for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (from 1:17) – confirming that the appropriation of Dies Irae in cinema is as old as cinema itself.

Interestingly, John Williams does something sneaky with Dies Irae in Jurassic Park. Usually the sequence of the first four notes in the motif is enough to suggest doom and despair, but Williams takes just the first three notes and does something unexpected with them. They serve as the starting point for the Jurassic Park’s main theme – as positive and upbeat a film theme as could be, even when played on a Melodica.

Hit: Theme From Jurassic Park

Hidden Gem: Dennis Steals The Embryo

Rocks In The Attic #698: Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ (1972)

RITA#698Put something happy on next, my kids said. I can’t blame them. Making them listen to Jerry Goldmsith’s Alien score first thing on a sunny Saturday morning doesn’t exactly scream golden childhood memory.

Who doesn’t like Simon & Garfunkel? Surely it’s impossible to like their brand of impossibly cheerful folk-pop. They should pipe this album into the waiting rooms of psychiatrists and mental institutions. I predict the world suicide rate would drop off a cliff overnight.

RITA#698aSpeaking of Simon & Garfunkel, I’ve finally got around to finishing the excellent BBC comedy Detectorists, written and directed by Mackenzie Crook. Two of my favourite characters are the antagonists played by the always excellent Simon Farnaby and the wonderfully underplayed Paul Casar. The recurring joke that the pair look like a poor man’s Simon & Garfunkel is one of my favourite things in the show, and it’s a shame – although completely understandable – that Crook won’t be bringing it back for a fourth series.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson

Hidden Gem: America

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Rocks In The Attic #697: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Alien (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#697Is there a more immersive experience than a video game? Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been playing Alien: Isolation on the PS4, and generally shitting myself with fear as a result.

Set fifteen years after the events in the 1979 film – itself based in 2122 – Alien: Isolation follows Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she visits a spaceship to find out what happened to her mother. The game is designed to look like the 1979 film, with the events unfolding on the same class of mining ship as the Nostromo.

I started off playing the game in the middle of the night, wearing my gaming headphones, but this proved too scary – wandering around a dark spaceship full of blinking lights and music akin to Jerry Goldmsith’s original score. Subsequent plays have been made without headphones, and with my trusty Great Dane, Abbey, by my side.

If there’s one thing I love the most about the 1979 film, it’s the production design by concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss. The spaceship looks so grungy and atmospheric, and so far removed from the clean aesthetic of the Star Trek universe. H.R. Giger’s design of the alien itself is one thing, but the ship almost feels like another living and breathing character.

Duncan Jones’ Moon got close to a similar look, and other sci-fi films have tread a similar path since, but Alien feels like the first mainstream film to do this. Comparisons can be drawn with the production design of John Carpenter’s 1974 Dark Star – itself starring future Alien creator/writer Dan O’Bannon.

RITA#697aJerry Goldsmith’s score, presented here on acid-blood green vinyl, courtesy of Mondo Records, is a wonderfully creepy soundtrack. Although the score ends up sounding more like a traditional horror soundtrack towards the end – tense strings and booming brass, complimented by high-register plucked violins – it starts off a different beast altogether. Main Title, Hyper Sleep and the rest of the music throughout the first act just sounds otherworldly. Not particularly scary, just lonely and isolated; grim and despondent.

I have a very clear memory of being faced with my first images from the Alien film. I couldn’t have been older than a toddler, and I remember bring walked into a living room to say goodnight to people, and the film was playing on the television. For whatever reason, the film wasn’t turned off, probably because it looked like quite a benign, harmless scene – and I was probably only in the room for less than a minute. But I distinctly remember looking at the screen as the face-hugger emerged from the egg and launched itself at John Hurt’s face. Obviously at that age – three or four – I didn’t know what it was. For some reason I thought it was rope – perhaps the uncoiling of the face-hugger looked like a length of rope – and I presume the film was swiftly turned off and I was rushed to bed.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Hyper Sleep

Rocks In The Attic #622: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Gremlins (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#622.jpgGremlins is such a great film; one of those movies from my childhood that was a little bit scary but a whole lot of fun. I would have only been six years old when I first watched it, half laughing, half watching through my fingers. I re-watched it recently just to check whether it was as good as I remembered. Perhaps the special effects would have dated the film, or maybe I hadn’t noticed if the acting was hammy back when I was a kid.

Watching the film in 2017, it’s still a joy to watch. The special effects – made before the age of computer effects – hold up really well, and all of the performances are as good as you’d expect from what is essentially a B-movie picture. I couldn’t help but thinking that with Hollywood’s sometime lazy approach to filmmaking, surely a remake is on the cards at some point. A truly terrible thought as such a project would probably involve a lot of CGI and a cast of bland stars.

RITA#622aMost of the laughs in Gremlins comes from the creature effects, and you can tell that the team behind these had loads of fun coming up with disgusting ways for the little critters to behave. It almost feels like two projects on the screen at once – one, a film of a smalltown hero battling the odds to save the day, and a second project, led by the creations of special effects artist Chris Walas, ultimately aimed at innovating ways of showing the gremlins causing mayhem. At one point, the special effects crew had a list on the wall titled ‘Horrible Things To Do To Gizmo’.

RITA#622bAs well as the obvious nostalgia factor, a re-watch of the film also pays off to spot small parts from actors who went on to bigger things. Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop, Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Corey Feldman (Lost Boys, The Goonies) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Beverly Hills Cop) all put in appearances, but it is the film’s location that feels the most familiar. Filmed on the same Universal Studios backlot as the following year’s Back To The Future, the small town terrorised by the gremlins is essentially a modern-day Hill Valley. Even the cinema, where the gremlins gather to watch Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, is in the same location as the one showing The Atomic Kid in 1955 Hill Valley.

RITA#622cRe-released by Mondo Records in 2016, this double LP is an incredibly well thought out package with design elements by Phantom City Creative reflecting the events of the film. The records – one disc on brown and white swirl mogwai vinyl, and one on green swirl gremlin vinyl – come in a UV sensitive gatefold jacket; when exposed to daylight, the cover reveals additional artwork. The inner sleeves are water sensitive as well, revealing additional artwork when exposed to a damp cloth.

Hit: The Gremlin Rag

Hidden Gem: The Shop

Rocks In The Attic #437: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Poltergeist (O.S.T.)’ (1982)

RITA#437It was Halloween last weekend, which meant, living in the New Zealand, the sight of young children dressed in vaguely scary clothes in broad daylight. There’s something about living the southern hemisphere, celebrating Halloween just as spring is turning into summer that just removes any aspect of horror from the proceedings. Trick or treat, you say? Ah, I know you, you’re the kid who lives four doors down.

Poltergeist is an odd film. Essentially a big-budget horror from one of the studios (MGM / UA), in response to the wealth of independent horror that had crossed over into the mainstream in the prior decade, the film feels less like a horror, more like a family-friendly adventure film.

Listed as directed by Tobe Hooper, the film stinks of the touch of Steven Spielberg – the listed writer and producer of the film – but most likely the director by proxy. At the time, Spielberg had a clause in his contract forbidding him to direct another film while he was making E.T., so rather than a genuinely scary film about spirits attacking a family, we get something that could almost be happening on the same plot of suburbia as E.T. It’s almost impossible to consider that the “director” of this went from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to this fluff in eight years.

The music also stinks of Spielberg. It might not be John Williams, but it’s Jerry Goldsmith doing his best John Williams impression at least.  I can’t imagine Williams writing anything as whimsical as Carol Ann’s Theme but the rest of the soundtrack’s cues for the film’s more exciting moments could definitely have sprung from his baton.

As a sidenote, for the last three years I’ve also been celebrating Guy Fawkes in broad daylight with my kids. Again, fireworks and sparklers also don’t have that same effect in the glare of the early evening sun.

Hit: Carol Anne’s Theme

Hidden Gem: The Light