Thursday, March 21, 2013

Random Top Ten Post - The Scores of John Williams

The nominations for the last Academy Awards made John Williams either the first or second most nominated person for Oscar with 48. He certainly passed costume designer Edith Head, but he’s behind Walt Disney who had 59. But how much was Walt really involved with say, the animated short “Three Orphan Kittens” from 1935? Williams certainly has the most noms of anyone who’s living.

One summer, I was changing shingles on my parents’ house and amused myself by trying to hum Williams’ scores. There are similarities between some scores. Many are big, romantic, with themes tailored to film characters that will stick in your head. Some people dismiss film scores, I think it’s the best orchestral music being written today.

But these are my ten favorite film scores (leaving out the Olympics and his fine work on TV’s “Lost in Space.”)

10) “The Cowboys” (1972) This was the western where John Wayne was killed by Bruce Dern (Wayne warned Dern the public might never forgive him.) I love western film scores (every real man does), could listen to them for hours. They should always be simple but inspiring (Elmer Bernstein did the best one ever, “The Magnificent Seven”.) This was a good year for Williams, he also scored “The Poseidon Adventure” (which wasn’t nominated for best score, but won for best song “The Morning After”, which Williams didn’t write.)

9) “Home Alone” (1990) A score that had to accommodate violent slapstick as well as potentially maudlin sentiment. But Kevin reuniting with his mom and family can bring a tear to my eye and Willaims had a part in that. I listened to this score several times on Youtube last Yuletide.

8) “Jaws” (1975) Everybody knows the “NaaNuh, NaaNuh” just before the shark attack. People remember the film’s scares. But there’s also an adventure element that the score captures just as well.

7) “E.T.” (1982) Yeah, this score can make me weepy too. But it earns its emotions, especially in the big goodbye finale.

6) “Schindler’s List” (1993) Written the same year as another film on this list. This is a much different score. It doesn’t have as full an orchestra as most Williams scores, often a single violin is heard. But it’s powerful, and like the film, tears out your heart.

5) “Superman” (1978) This musical theme was responsible for making many young boys think they could fly off their roofs. Inexplicably, there were no successful lawsuits.

4) “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) I could have chosen another of the series quite easily. The score is a wonderful thing in midst of the awful prequel, “The Phantom Menace”. I happen to like “Return of the Jedi” a lot, but that Ewok song could lead to madness. So I go with film that preserves that goose bump inducing opening fanfare as well as introducing the sinister Empire March.

3) “Jurassic Park” (1993) It’s amazing Spielberg made this the same year as “Schindler”, but Williams accomplishment is amazing as well. The incredible sense of wonderment one feels when the dinosaurs are revealed isn’t just the work of the special effects team, Williams played a part as well.

2) “1941” (1979) – A great score for a rotten film. The comedy doesn’t work, but the score blends a forties big band sound with military marches for something unique and inspiring. I listened to this soundtrack again and again, though I saw the film only once. I love that you can hear the late, great John Belushi on the final track.

1) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1941) I worked at a theater that played this film for a year, and I never tired of it, or the music. As Spielberg wrote on the soundtrack cover, the score tells Indy what to do every moment of his adventure. The Raiders March fills the listener with hope and energy and makes one able to take on anything…Nazis, boulders…even snakes.

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