Ah, the time-honored tradition of “desert island discs”–the discs, in our case the film scores, you simply can’t live without. Forget the fact that there probably won’t be any electricity. Or that heat, humidity, sun, sand, wind conditions and barometric pressure will all play a part in just how long your discs will weather your solitary tropical existence. Some people choose ten, some five, others somewhere in between, or more or less. I’m doing nine because I wanted a topic for this month’s “9 on the 9th” post.
My selections are not necessarily the “best” (whatever “best” means to you), whether in their particular genres or from a particular composer. Nor are they necessarily the scores I would recommend to people. These are the scores that I could play over and over ad nauseum and never get tired of them. These are the scores I have played over and over again, day after day, year after year. It’s my island, I can do whatever I want on it.
I hereby submit to you my 9 Desert Island Film Scores as of today, in alphabetical order. I also reserve the right to change my mind if I’m ever faced with an actual desert island situation.
BEN-HUR (Miklos Rozsa)
If I’m stuck on a desert island, you can be damn sure that I’ll be questioning God’s plan in all of this–especially considering how much I hate sun and sand. Let’s not even talk about how I wilt in the heat. (Yes, I’m a delicate flower.) And if I’m going to be talking to God, I’m going to need some help, considering my heathen sinner status. From rousing action sequences and pageantry to tender cues and visionary harmonies, Rozsa’s score embodies the best of religious epic film music.
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (Jerry Goldsmith)
Since I can’t bring along Richard Strauss to the island (this is a film music post after all), I’ll take the next best thing. Goldsmith channels his inner Strauss in this whirling dervish of a score. It doesn’t matter that the film (one of my guilty pleasures) is all about the cloning of Hitler’s DNA. A rousing waltz and heart-pounding thriller cues make for my second favorite Goldsmith cue next to THE OMEN.
FINDING NEMO (Thomas Newman)
When I first heard this score, I didn’t know what to make of it. It didn’t have the immediacy of Alan Menken’s work and yet it was heads and tails above Randy Newman’s mediocre animated scores. And it sounded like no other animated score I’d ever heard. But the more I listened to it, the more levels I heard. As sophisticated as anything Newman has written for live dramatic features, NEMO is an underwater symphonic tone poem.
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (Jerry Goldsmith)
As soft as an ocean breeze and as lush as tropical vegetation, Goldsmith’s score calms and soothes. With the undulating sounds of the musical waves, the score surges and breaks upon the shore. Even though I’d be surrounded by plenty of water on the island, I can’t imagine living the rest of my days without this Goldsmith masterpiece.
THE OMEN (Jerry Goldsmith)
C’mon, this one was a no-brainer, right? The score that started it all. My first soundtrack purchase and my ideal of everything that is right and true about this art form. The Satanic sounds of Goldsmith’s devilishly good score will allow me to rant and rave against the Higher Power that allowed me to end up in what I consider hell on earth–the beach. (Though admittedly it was probably my fault anyway.)
THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (Alfred Newman)
There’s always the chance that I will take the high road and enjoy my stay in “paradise”. Perhaps I’ll look out over the calm blue waters, feel the sun on my face, and revel in the miracle of life. It’s a long shot, but it could happen. If so, it’ll be nothing short of a miracle and I’ll need the heavenly sounds of Newman’s masterpiece to accompany that “vision”.
STAR WARS (John Williams)
To me a desert island is another world. You might as well stick me on the moon. Williams’s classic score is the first time that music took me to another world. By using the time-honored traditions of classic symphonic scoring, Williams made the unknown known. If I get into the whole adventure aspect of my situation on the island, then Williams’s classic score will be my accompaniment.
UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN (Philippe Rombi)
Stranded on a desert island, I can guarantee you that I’d probably be awash in self pity. “Why me?” would be my mantra. More emotional than any score I can think of, Rombi’s music hits a primal source deep within me and gives musical voice to the emotions behind my overactive waterworks. When I need a good cry, this’ll do nicely.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (Herbert Stothart, Harold Arlen, et al)
Of all the scores listed here, this is the one I listen to the least. Yet it has the longest association to me and my life of any film score. Even before I discovered the art form with THE OMEN, OZ was affecting me on an annual basis as I watched the film on TV as a child in the ’60s. Every year, no matter how many times I watched it, I cried and cried, thinking Dorothy would never get home again. When you’re stuck on a desert island, home, family and everything you know and loved are gone. And yet the lesson of OZ is that home is and always has been inside each of us. A lesson I’d do well to remember.