The American President
Remember when Marc Shaiman scored films? Sure, he’s got a new film opening in August, teaming once again with frequent collaborator director Rob Reiner on FLIPPED. But I miss Shaiman’s pre-HAIRSPRAY glory days in the mid- to late-’90s when he scored more high profile (if occasionally awful) films.
One of Shaiman’s better films was 1995’s THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, a charming romantic comedy/drama about a widowed U.S. President (Michael Douglas) and his lobbyist “girlfriend” (Annette Bening). The film is thoroughly enjoyable with a smart script and engaging performances. Shaiman’s score is appropriately grand, sweeping, moving and, yes, presidential.
Shaiman’s music soars (just listen to those French horns at 1:39!) over the opening credits as portraits of former Presidents fill the screen. Shaiman knows how to write a melody and the dramatic theme is one of his best.[audio:americanpresident1.mp3] Click Track: Main Titles
With shades of Copland and other Americana harmonies, Shaiman crafts a solid dramatic score. A beautiful piano melody representing the growing fondness between the President and Sydney serves as the secondary theme. The main title grandly reasserts itself at the President’s last press conference as he finally fights back at the slanderers that have been mired his administration.
For the 1995 Oscars, the Music Branch in their infinite wisdom decided to split the Original Score category into two categories—Dramatic Score and Musical or Comedy Score—in an effort to stem the tide of scores from Disney animated films which had won Best Original Score four out of the last six years. The distinction between Dramatic and Musical/Comedy scoring was ludicrous at best and the experiment only lasted four years before reverting back to one Original Score category.
Because THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT was viewed as a comedy, Shaiman was nominated in the Musical/Comedy category, even though the score is more akin to a dramatic film than traditional comedic scoring techniques. The Music Branch’s decision didn’t stop the Disney juggernaut either, at least during its first year—Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz took home the award for POCAHONTAS.
I know an Oscar nomination doesn’t mean much in the great scheme of things, but I’ve often wondered if Shaiman’s career might have taken a different path with the offer of weightier films if AMERICAN PRESIDENT and his other nominated scores (THE FIRST WIVES CLUB and PATCH ADAMS) hadn’t been thrown into a category that was considered a joke from its inception. Then again, that’s probably giving the Oscars more power than they actually have, at least when it comes to music.
Either way, Shaiman’s music is tailor-made for glossy Hollywood fare, and I mean that in a good way. And because he makes it sound so easy, Shaiman has never been given his due as a film composer. THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT is representative of Shaiman at his best. Here’s hoping there are more scores like this in his future.