Music in the movies: a further celebration of Jerry Goldsmith
In his latest Music in the movies column, Glen returns to the work of Jerry Goldsmith, and takes a look back at his greatest compositions...
Following on from the sci-fi themes of Jerry Goldsmith article a few weeks back, here’s the promised follow-up exploring some of (well, a lot of) his other great scores. The piece is a little longer than usual, so I’ll keep the intro to a minimum and get on with the celebration of the great man’s scores.
Goldsmith’s score for this 1970 biopic about the legendary US General George S Patton, stands as one of the greatest pieces that he composed throughout his career, which is high praise, indeed.
Stirring, emotional and inspirational are but a few of the adjectives that could be used to describe this masterclass in composing, which has Goldsmith creating a suitably militaristic march to the score backed by heavy use of trumpets to accentuate the required emotions.
Sadly, this isn’t a piece of work that’s easily available, and if and when you are able to track it down it’s likely to be quite expensive, but still it’s well worth the investment for Goldsmith completists and soundtrack geeks alike.
Goldsmith was reportedly on a tight deadline when tasked with composing the score for Roman Polanski’s noir masterpiece, Chinatown. He was called upon and had only ten days to compose the entire score and the results are quite astonishing, with this being one of the finest scores of his career.
As you would expect of the source, this is an incredibly moody piece that references many classics of the genre and still retains its own identity, making this unmistakably Goldsmith.
Alongside the usual string and piano work, Goldsmith enlisted the help of Uan Ramsey to provide the trumpet work that stands as the score’s finest moments. An unbelievably good score for one of the all time great films.
The Omen, Damien: Omen II & Omen III: The Final Conflict
The score for The Omen saw Goldsmith win the only Oscar of his long career. Huge, unsettling choral parts dominate the more ominous scenes in the film with the chant of “Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani”. Like much of Goldsmith’s work, this is a varied piece that gives equal care and attention to the normal everyday encounters of the Thorn family as it does the scenes of evil for which the film and the score is perhaps most notable.
The score for Damien: Omen II largely does away with the pleasantries of the first and is the darkest piece of the trilogy of scores Goldsmith composed. The iconic choral elements return and they’re supplemented with electronic pieces that sound as though Goldsmith is taking a lot of pleasure from creating such a dark score. Perhaps not as successful overall as the score for the first instalment, but it’s without doubt the most interesting score he composed for the series.
Perhaps the weakest piece of the trilogy of scores Goldsmith composed for the series, Omen III: The Final Conflict is still a hugely effective piece in its own right. Equal parts moody and oppressive, it doesn’t quite do enough to escape the two parts that preceded it, for me.Boys From Brazil
Goldsmith was nominated for an Academy Award for his magnificent work in this classic piece of cinema. Not the most typical Goldsmith piece, by any stretch of the imagination. Unstead it bears more resemblance to the works of composers such as Strauss and Wagner, whom Goldsmith was encouraged to emulate by the director Frank Schaffner.
The two classical influences create a kind of culture clash, enhancing the depiction of conflict on screen. It’s an immensely layered and intelligent piece of work that shows off Goldsmith’s skill for crafting memorable scores, even if he’s seemingly out of his comfort zone.
Poltergeist & Poltergeist II
The score for Poltergeist finds Goldsmith in a seemingly playful mood as he uses interesting methods to heighten the tension and elicit fear alongside the traditional use of orchestration and choral elements. Of course, no stranger to such methods, having done great work on The Omen, this sees him take things to the extreme, creating stark contrasts between the passages accompanying the scenes of normal everyday suburban life and the all out nightmare accompanying the scenes where the vengeful spirits are hell-bent on terrifying the family.
Although perhaps not the most overtly recognisable piece that Goldsmith composed, it’s hugely effective in the context of the film, playing a huge role in why the film stands up so well today, and is highly enjoyable listened to in isolation from the main feature, where the subtleties of the piece as a whole can be fully appreciated.
Goldsmith also provided the score for the sequel, although wouldn’t return for the final instalment of the trilogy. The follow-up score takes elements heard in the first to the extreme, doing away with some of the more action-packed elements and instead focusing on creating a deeply atmospheric and unsettling tone.Rambo: First Blood, First Blood: Part II & Rambo III
Goldsmith introduced many elements in First Blood that would be returned to in the two other instalments of the series, for which he provided scores. At the core of his work is the main theme, which perfectly encapsulates the character’s persona, with a contemplative mood and a sense of longing permeating the piece. It’s not all solitary introspection, though, as there are plenty of balls to the wall action numbers to accompany how the put upon Vietnam vet deals with those who hunt him.
Goldsmith’s score for the sequel, First Blood: Part II, kept key themes heard previously, but it’s a much more action-orientated affair, full of suspenseful passages and rousing numbers that are typical of Goldsmith’s output
Although Goldsmith composed huge amounts of music for Part III, much of it wasn’t used and was scrapped in favour of recycled elements from First Blood: Part II. Fortunately, the material was released some years after the film, and it’s hard to imagine why it was scrapped, as it proves to be his finest work on the series. Much more complex and adventurous in scope than its predecessors, Goldsmith uses a combination of orchestral passages played brilliantly by the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, electronic instrumentation and traditional Middle Eastern instruments, making this a varied but ultimately coherent piece of work.Gremlins & Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Gremlins is an absolute classic and remains a firm favourite of mine that’s rolled out at least once a year, usually in the run up to Christmas. Goldsmith’s score captures the joyful mischievous energy of the film and bubbles over into sinister territory when required. At the centre of the score are two unbelievably catchy themes in The Gremlin Rag and Gizmo’s Theme.
Not only did Goldsmith compose the score for Gremlins, he also appeared in the movie. Alright, it’s only a brief cameo, but it’s still pretty cool. Sadly, the score for the first instalment didn’t receive a great soundtrack release. However, the same can’t be said about the sequel, which also features a Goldsmith score.
The score for Gremlins 2: The New Batch features the classic themes from the first film and provides a new twist on them, something which he did with many of the franchises he returned to, providing music for later instalments. The score sees him also have fun with themes for previous films he scored, most notably when Gizmo goes Rambo.
Like with many of his pieces, this features contrasts of moods to enhance scenes without ever being overbearing. These are playful and hugely effective scores that remain infectiously catchy and iconic to this day.Legend
This score wasn’t originally going to be included in this follow-up piece, but the recommendations in the comments section of the previous piece lead me to dig this out again and re-watch the film. I remember being quite terrified of this when I was younger and it’s easy to see why. The subject matter is quite dark for what is essentially a family orientated fantasy film. There are parts of the film that don’t stand up well, but overall it’s a solid film.
The score, however, stands up very well.
Thematically similar to some of his previous other efforts, comparisons could be drawn to the likes of The Omen and to a certain extent, Poltergeist. It still delivers more than enough to be a unique, interesting and challenging addition in his back catalogue.
Interestingly ,the US release of Legend was accompanied by an ambient score composed by Tangerine Dream, which is fine, but is in no way of the standard of Goldsmith’s work, and fails to elevate the material to the same level as what’s heard here.
This is a fascinating piece of work and not one that you would necessarily have attributed to Goldsmith had you not known he composed it. Sure, a lot of the stuff he composed is far from what you would class as typically Goldsmith, which is testament to his versatility, but this is really quite different.
There’s a yearning throughout the piece that often culminates in some of the film’s, shall we say, more notorious scenes. The piece is also very distinct in how it portrays different emotions in the film. A great piece of work that elevates the material it accompanies.
A huge thank you to Charlie Brigden (cbrigden), Lachesis, SCY385 and Tinspider for their suggestions on the previous article. They were very much appreciated and helped shape this article. And thanks to the others who commented on the scores covered in the previous piece.