Lost in the Shuffle XVI

Ray Charles, Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sigourney Weaver, and the great Geraldine Page…artists of one sort or another are on display in this week’s “Lost in the Shuffle.”

RAY (2004) – Della’s Theme

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Biopics have been around as long as there has been film. But few have been as entertaining as Taylor Hicks’s RAY. Its formulaic storytelling was elevated by the power of Ray Charles’s music and Jamie Foxx’s Oscar-winning turn as the legendary musician. And with all those great Charles tunes, it’s no wonder that Craig Armstrong‘s score got lost in the shuffle. Armstrong created a pair of memorable themes for Ray and especially his second wife Della (Kerry Washington). The lush string and piano melody hints at the character’s poignant storyline without overdoing it.

ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (1977) – Night Attack

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Ernest Hemingway’s 1970 novel was the first of his works to be published posthumously. Like most Hemingway stories, it suffered on film without the author’s terse prose. What it did offer was a chance for George C. Scott to channel the legendary writer, some gorgeous cinematography, and one of Jerry Goldsmith‘s finest scores. This was the score I bought the day Goldsmith died, so it occupies a special place in my heart. The main theme is a sweeping melody first heard on French horn, and can be heard in a tender flute rendition in this track. All film score fans should have this one on their shelves.

THE SCARLET LETTER (1995) – Lovemaking (Unused)

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Making films of classic literature is tricky. Making them with Demi Moore as the star just opens the floodgates to ridicule. I’m also not a fan of director Roland Joffe, who makes beautiful yet dull films (THE KILLING FIELDS, THE MISSION).¬†Elmer Bernstein‘s score was replaced with one by John Barry, not the first or the last time this would happen to Bernstein. Where Bernstein focuses on the story and the¬†Puritan New England atmosphere, Barry telegraphs the tragedy of the story from the opening chords, which was apparently what Joffe wanted. I find Bernstein’s score to be a much more pleasant listening experience. Barry’s version of the love scene contains sustained string chords and flute melody that immediately brand it as a Barry theme. Bernstein lets the scene grow dramatically from quiet chords in the orchestra through a wordless female vocal until his ravishing love theme can’t help itself any longer and rips itself from the orchestra in a surge of passionate strings. God bless Varese Sarabande for rescuing this treasure from the vaults, along with Bernstein’s replaced scores for GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN.

ALIENS (1986) – Combat Drop

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Few films have made my heart beat as fast as ALIENS. From the opening scenes, James Cameron dropped the quiet menace of Ridley Scott’s original and focused on thrills and chills. The relationship between Cameron and James Horner was so hateful that the two didn’t work together again until TITANIC. While the score suffered all sorts of butchering, in the film it serves its purpose well, backing up Sigourney Weaver’s butch performance, which racked up a surprising (and well-deserved) Oscar nomination. One of the tracks that got left on the cutting room floor was the militaristic “Combat Drop.” While it’s a bit too “gung ho” for the scene in the film, it’s still a powerful track on its own. I can understand why it wasn’t used, but it’s fun nonetheless.

THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985) – The Trip to Bountiful End Credits

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The Trip To Bountiful CD

In 1985, in the midst of grand epics (OUT OF AFRICA) and grand stinkers (THE COLOR PURPLE) came a quiet, low-budget adaptation of a long-forgotten Horton Foote TV teleplay from 1953, THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. Geraldine Page, who had racked up seven Oscar nominations in the 30 years since her first for HONDO in 1953, finally took home the gold with arguably the finest performance of her career. Page kept her Method mannerisms to a minimum in this sweet story of a lonely old woman who wants nothing more than to go back to her hometown of Bountiful once more before she dies. J.A.C. Redford‘s country-flavored score is anchored by Will Thompson’s hymn “Softly and Tenderly,” tenderly sung by Cynthia Clawson. The score amounts to only 22 minutes of the film, and yet the simplicity of the hymn’s melody and Redford’s spare orchestrations of guitar, harmonica, and strings never overwhelm the sweet story. In presenting Page with her Oscar, F. Murray Abraham (who won the previous year for AMADEUS) fells to his knees with the proclamation that she was “the greatest living actress in the English language.” A tad overbaked for sure, but it’s hard to argue with the beauty and Page’s work. One of my favorite films.

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