Best of Jerry Goldsmith
( This post is being published for Best of the Best at Potpourri of Vestiges . This post is a tribute to one of my favorite music composers Jerry Goldsmith and some of the memorable scores in his career.)
One of the most abiding pleasures of watching movies in a theater, is the stage, when the lights dim out, the theater becomes dark, and then the opening credits appear on the screen. More often than not, it is the music at the opening credits of a movie, that quite often sets up the mood. James Bond movies to date remain etched in mind, not just due to the gadgets, the action scenes and the babes, but more importantly the by now legendary 007 score, which has been copied in half a dozen movies. And Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly would be the reference point for half a dozen curry Westerns, that just ripped the tune. It was John Williams heavy tension score for Jaws, whenever the shark made it’s attack, that pushed the scare factor up several notches. And if our hearts skipped a bit, every time Indiana Jones, performed another dare devil adventure feat, the pulsating background score, had it’s own part to play. Decades of watching movies, developed a passion in me not just for movies, but also for movie soundtracks. Initially i would get it from some old LP players or cassettes, however later on, with the net making things easier, would download mostly from the sites.
For me the Background music plays a major part in elevating the status of a movie. Take Predator, yeah it had the action scenes, the effects, the tension, but Alan Silvestri’s goosebump inducing score, just enhanced the scare effect. John Williams created those unforgettable scores for Spielberg movies, that just made them so memorable. Be it ET or Jaws or Raiders of Lost Ark or Jurassic Park or Schindlers List, it is not just the movies, but even the soundtracks of the movies that we still remember to date. Or the Vangelis track at the start of Chariots of Fire, the athletes running on the beach, and that soft dulcet sounds, magical and dreamy. Or the sheer majesty of Elmer Bernstein’s rousing, operatic soundtrack for The 10 Commandments? John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore, Ennio Morricone, James Newtown Howard, Maurice Jarre, Danny Elfmann some of the music composers who have over the years given some memorable soundtracks for equally memorable movies down the years. Again let me make it clear, i am not an expert on music, just a passionate movie goer, who loves listening to movie soundtracks too.
Jerry Goldsmith to me has been one of the greatest movie composers, right along with the names i mentioned. In fact given a choice, he would make it to my Top 5 movie composers list, along with John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Vangelis and Elmer Bernstein. Over the decades, Goldsmith has composed some memorable movie soundtracks down the line, spanning across a wide variety of genres. Be it war( Patton, Von Ryan’s Express), noir( Chinatown, L.A.Confidential), thriller( Capricorn One, Basic Instinct), sci fi( Alien, Total Recall) to epic movies( The Wind and the Lion), fantasy( Legend), horror( The Omen), he had just across covered every possible base. While he has not formed any special combination with a director, unlike Williams-Spielberg or Morricone-Leone, he has worked with some of the best in the business Roman Polanski( Chinatown), Franklin Schaffner( Patton), Ridley Scott( Alien, Legend), Paul Veerhooven( Total Recall, Basic Instinct). And not to forget the signature tune for the Star Trek series.
Though nominated 18 times for the Oscar, the only time he has ever won it has been for the 1976 supernatural chiller, The Omen. One of the major factors, that made The Omen scary was Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the movie. It was not just scary, it had a kind of sinister, spooky feeling. Listen to it when you are alone, when it is totally quiet around, put it on full volume and play, you just can’t help feeling spooked. Goldsmith intersperses the screeching violins, heavy piano beats with the chants in the background. Listening to those chants can be a scary experience in itself, and then later on i came to know that the verses “Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani” meant “we drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan”, whew. I believe that this entire set of demonic chants was created by Goldsmith himself, when he took a regular Gregorian chant, and inverted the Latin phrases to represent the worship of Satan. One of the best uses of this comes in the scene, when Damien, the main character is taken to the church, for his baptism ceremony, the sense of dread is already set up with the heavy handed music, and then as the car nears the church, the music gets louder, the Ave Satani chants get more strident, as an audience you are just sucked into it. Ave Satani is one of the best pieces of music for a horror movie, that would go right up there with Bernard Hermann’s score for Pyscho and of course John William’s pulse pounding beat for Jaws.
In Space no one can hear you scream, so read the tagline for Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci fi chiller, in space, Alien. Goldsmith was at his best creating scores that had that violent, dark feel, soundtracks that developed a sense of gloom, misery and fear. Scott created the fear in Alien, using a dull, depressing claustrophobic environment, a sort of atmosphere that is suffocating, where you feel pressed in from all sides. Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the movie perfectly fits in with the movie’s dark and depressing feel. If we take the main titles for the movie, the start is slow, toned down, unlike Omen’s soundtrack, which was more in the face, here, it slowly builds up, increasing in tempo, and even when it hits the high point, the effect is more of a sudden rise and fall. Even if you just listen to the soundtrack without seeing the movie, the feel one gets is of a dank, sinister landscape, filled with dangers, menace lurking at every corner.
I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.
World War II, threw up some fascinating figures on the battlefield, some of the greatest military heroes who went on to become legends like Douglas Mc Arthur, Erwin Rommel, Dwight D Eisenhower, Bernard Montogomery to name a few. And then there was Gen. George S Patton, in a different league all by himself. One of the most brilliant strategists, a passionate student of the history of War, he was also an egomaniac, who took orders from none, considered himself next to God, and believed in reincarnation. Franklin Schaffner’s 1970 biopic Patton was a fitting tribute to this man, made more so by George C Scott’s bravura performance as Patton. It was quite ironical, that the movie came at a time, when a liberal, anti war movement was sweeping the US, Patton was everything that the anti war peaceniks detested, dogmatic, right wing, conservative. Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the movie was excellent, especially the Main title. Starting off with an echo like sound, the church organs playing, the best part is the tune from the flute, just can’t forget it, and then goes into a full scale orchestra. Just the kind of Josh feeling, that is needed for a War movie, and then those flute and church organ interludes, and the fading echoes of the trumpet, unforgettable. I had heard some great War movie soundtracks down the years Bridge on the River Kwai, Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, Glory to boot, but Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for Patton, is in a different league. While it does have the typical operatic flourishes, the echo sounds, the organ chants, make it quite different.
If i had to pick up just one soundtrack of Jerry Goldsmith as my all time favorite, it would have to be Chinatown. Even going by Jerry’s high standards as a composer, the soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s 1974 Neo Noir classic, that had Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in the lead, was sheer magic. The Love theme for Chinatown being the pick of the lot, for me. The opening interlude was sheer bliss, with those haunting trumpet solos and the piano interludes . Just the kind of romantic music, that one would want to lose oneself with, on a lazy afternoon, lying back, taking it in. To me one of the most romantic melodies ever, right up there with Ennio Morricone’s ending score for Cinema Paradiso, evoking the mood of an era gone by. And to think that Jerry was not the original choice for the movie, he was a last minute replacement. And with a deadline of just 10 days, he went out and created sheer magic.
Basic Instinct had many things going for it, of course a certain Sharon Stone being the major X factor. While sold mainly on the strength of Ms. Stone’s crossed legs, her sizzling sex appeal and the steamy stuff, on it’s own the movie was quite a well directed murder mystery thriller, with huge dollops of eroticism being thrown in. Basic Instinct to me, however also represents one of Jerry’s best soundtracks, i guess it did not really get the attention it deserved. Goldsmith really does well, when it comes to whipping up the sinister, shady atmosphere needed for a murder mystery thriller. He generally does seem to revel in the dark stuff, and the main title for Basic Instinct, has that feel. One of the composers who uses the echo to a very haunting effect, just loved the OST for this movie.
The other Paul Veerhoven movie for which Jerry Goldsmith had given great music was the 1990 sci fi thriller, Total Recall. Again the heavy, starting sound, and the electronic rythms in the background slowly building up to the crescendo, contributing to the effect. The movie remains one of my favorite in the sci fi genre, effectively mixing up action, special effects, with a great story. Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the movie, helps in building up the adrenaline inducing mood needed.
Some scores, just ensure that they remain in the mind, one way or another. Even the passage of time, does not dim the appeal of those scores, the 007 title music, Ennio Morricone’s Good, Bad and Ugly theme being the best examples. And then there is John William’s unforgettable score for Star Wars, which by now has been used by almost every other cable channel in India, one way or another, and in parties, youth festivals, school concerts, you name it. And then there is the movie that went where none has ever gone before, the 1974 movie version of Star Trek, that kick started the franchise. Jerry Goldsmith goes into full ballistic mode here, not holding back, with a full fledged orchestra, blaring out in all glory. Perfectly fitting the movie’s epic, action adventure feel. If the main title was fabulous, Goldsmith comes out with another brilliant piece of music in the Klingon battle scene. Again giving that sinister, spooky feel, wonderfully building up the tempo for the battle.
Some other great soundtracks of Jerry Goldsmith
First Blood/John Rambo series– Ballistic, over the top, perfectly in synch with the series, all guns blazing mood.
The Wind and The Lion– Rousing, triumphal opening credits, for this 1970′s epic movie that had Sean Connery in the lead.
Papillion– Jerry Goldsmith does well for epic movies, and the score here suits the movie well.
Gremlins– This was one fun movie combining comedy with sci fi, and horror, and Jerry Goldsmith well captures the mood.
And to top it all, the best tribute to Jerry Goldsmith is in this fan video tribute here, with clippings from his movies.