Thursday, April 28, 2016
There were many things I enjoyed in the Star Wars prequels, but the parts could never quite match the whole of what I was hoping for. Among the bits I enjoyed - Williams' scores stayed up to snuff. But I figured when Disney picked up the franchise, he'd be retired. Little did I know.
I was delighted that, in his 80's, he was willing to come back to Star Wars. He's not a kid, and we should be quite grateful that he's not just alive, but still, if the Force Awakens score is any indication, still as good as ever.
I loved Rey's theme.
It's difficult to talk about, as I lack the vocabulary for discussing music properly, but it has a Williams-ian adventure hook, but it's also got some lighter bit in the woodwinds, "feminine", lighter, more "humble" than anything. She's a - as the track is called on the soundtrack "Scavenger". She's one of these desert people scraping by. She doesn't even have an Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and pleasantly domestic existence - but she also can't leave, even if she doesn't entirely understand why. Luke sought the great expanse beyond his twin suns. Rey wants someone to come to her, but, instead, she has to go.
The music goes from simple woodwinds to orchestral sweeps, just as she goes out upon her adventure. It's a complex piece, to my ear, as Rey is perhaps a more complex character than Luke was before her - at least at the beginning of her story in comparison to his own in Episode IV. There's a lot more going on there for her here in Episode VII, with 6 movies of history preceding her, and a history that's taken place between those films.
As Luke's theme was what we think of as "The Force" theme, Rey's theme merges with The Force, and the next part of the Star Wars saga begins in earnest.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
You're gonna need to block out fifteen minutes for this one. Sorry.
A few years ago The Alamo Drafthouse was running a series based on a local radio show, "Film Score Focus", where the host of the show came, talked a bit about the score for the movie you were about to see, and I think maybe again afterwards. The screening we attended was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
It's a fascinating score, one that saves a movie that could have been terrifying and turns it into a work of wonder. After all, it's a movie about communicating with beings from another world/ plane/ what-have-you, via the power of music. We may not have a similar written or spoken language, or other form of communication, but we can peacefully share notes back and forth to show our good intentions.
Host of Film Score Focus, Brian Satterwhite, rightfully pointed out that - if one listens - the score is constantly blending a few things. Yes, that child-like piano riff we all think of with Close Encounters, but also Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star", which makes itself heard fully at around the 10:50 mark of this clip.
It's a nice bit of work, that.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Ah, the primordial terror of the theme to Jaws. That low sound of the monstrous heartbeat quickening, joining with strings and woodwinds and horns like the sound of alarm over the whole thing, and giving way to Williams' fanfare of adventure for Roy Scheider.
As a kid, this was among the first songs I knew that wasn't a nursery rhyme, disco hit or the Star Wars Theme, or Queen (I don't know why, but we had some Queen in the house). It was also the one you could plunk out on the family's upright if you messed around long enough to find the right combo of keys.
Yeah, this is the one you can find people shouting at each other about - "did Williams steal from Dvorak?" - and I don't doubt there's influence there. You can do worse than to borrow concepts from a famed composer, and it seems disingenuous to suggest someone with Williams' background wasn't familiar with Dvorak and it's all a coincidence. But, they are two different pieces in the same way everything out of Nashville for the past two decades has been essentially the same three songs, but nobody seems to mind much.*
Anyway, it's maybe the first Williams score that I'm aware of that became cultural shorthand around the planet, that you can still hum in a swimming pool to produce an unwarranted sense of danger.
*seriously - how can you even listen to New Country? Bleh. I am judging you, Country Music fans.
Saturday, April 16, 2016
The best thing about this is that when I was picking a clip to use, Jamie added in her own brontosaur calls from the other couch at pretty much exactly when they appear against the music in the movie.
It was kind of amazing.
I love me some Jurassic Park, and the theme to the movie is filled with the sense of wonder I think we all felt the first time we saw those dinosaurs rambling into view, sharing in Dr.'s Grant and Sattler sense of awe and amazement. As impactful as we all found the visuals, Williams soundtrack captured and amplified that sensation, the majesty of nature and science giving birth to astounding life - and whether you mean cloned dinosaurs or what CGI accomplished, either way, it works.
Friday, April 15, 2016
One of the curious things about watching all 16 hours of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle of operas was realizing (a) Williams may have had some idea how he could pull this thing off by looking at an old pro dealing with a multi-generational story, magical themes and heroic quests and (b) how themes and motifs can really work to convey story in ways both overt and subliminally. In short - the music tells the story.
That's not a knock on Williams. Too few composers have applied this hard won knowledge effectively in the world of film. In fact, I think we should be quite satisfied with applying the term "Space Opera" when it comes to Star Wars.
"The Force Theme" is not the fanfare of the titles or the finale awards ceremony. "The Force Theme", to me, rings with a certain melancholy, maybe that same look that's all over Luke's face there at the end of The Force Awakens. There's greatness there, but it comes with a sense of tragedy, perhaps derived from the weight of responsibility and the gift's inherent "otherness" that will set you apart now. There's a swelling undercurrent in the music, a ring of promise that comes after the opening bars, but it's muted, expressing something beyond joy or anger or sorrow.
It's a hell of a piece, and it's the tear jerker of the Star Wars music for nostalgic reasons, sure, but there's something there that hits you dead center as it pushes the story along.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Yesterday I way overslept and slid into my desk at 9:26 AM. I was panicky, because Nathan Cone was DJing the Spring telethon for Texas Public Radio out of San Antonio, and he'd promised he'd play the Superman theme just for on my B-Day at 9:30 AM sharp. I fired up the website, and in a couple of minutes, I got to hear Nathan give me (and the site!) a shout out, and then he played selections from the score to Superman: The Movie (1978).
As much as the movie defines Superman for me in a multitude of ways, I'll never get over the score. It's got all the drama and adventure and fun of a Superman comic at its best built right in. And for that, we need to thank John Williams.
We all love John Williams. He provided the score to our film-going lives and is, arguably, the most important composer of the age. He's certainly taken up more of my headspace than nearly any other composer, and I've bought more of his work than nearly any other musician.
So, we're going to start posting some of Williams' work here for a bit. Nothing to overwhelm you, just something to listen to and enjoy yourself.
And, yes, I re-upped my membership with Texas Public Radio. Nathan is diabolical that way.