In celebration of the imminent release of Tadlow’s new re-recording of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, I’m devoting this month’s “9 on the 9th” post to three-time Oscar-winner Maurice Jarre. I’ve always had a love it/hate it relationship with much of Jarre’s music. I often put him in the same category as Dimitri Tiomkin. When he’s good, he’s very good. But at times the music overwhelms a scene or seems completely out of place, drawing unnecessary attention to itself.
I can do without most of Jarre’s purely electronic output in the ’80s. much of which (WITNESS, for example) would have benefited from more acoustic instruments. Still, there’s still no denying Jarre’s inimitable style. His unique use of percussion and his woodwind writing are particularly noteworthy. And few composers have the same facility with a melody. Like it or not, a Jarre score sounds like no other. Here are nine examples that show off Jarre’s strengths (and occasional weaknesses).
9. A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (1995)
Keanu Reeves stars as a married man who poses as the husband of a young pregnant woman (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) who must face her domineering father (Anthony Quinn). While the Mexican-American ethnicity is largely missing from Jarre’s music, it’s a lovely score with a memorable main theme. The score won Jarre his fourth Golden Globe.
8. A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984)[audio:passagetoindia.mp3]
I’m of two minds about this score. Adapted from an uninvolving novel by E.M. Forster, I find David Lean’s final film to be a pompous, turgid, overrated waste of celluloid. And I think Jarre’s music, especially the main theme in its dance band arrangement, is entirely wrong and anachronistic, and the score was undeserving of its Oscar. (Wouldn’t this have been a wonderful chance to honor Alex North for UNDER THE VOLCANO or Randy Newman for THE NATURAL? I guarantee you if Ennio Morricone’s people hadn’t missed the filing deadline, he would have won for ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.) Yet, I have to admit Jarre’s music is catchy, and I enjoy the score on its own, even though it dredges up memories of the excruciating film. As you can see, even after 25 years, I still waffle back and forth on this one.
7. RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970)[audio:ryansdaughter.mp3]
Sarah Miles gives a lovely performance as a young woman who, bored with her marriage to humdrum schoolteacher Robert Mitchum, has an affair with a dashing English soldier in World War I Ireland. Long and leisurely paced to say the least, the film contains some of the most beautiful cinematography you’ll ever see. You’re never not aware of Jarre’s music, but the score deserves inclusion for that infectious main theme.
6. SUNSHINE (1999)[audio:sunshine.mp3]
This epic, muilti-generational tale of a Hungarian Jewish family through the 20th Century was positioned as prime Oscar bait. With three Golden Globe nominations–Best Picture (Drama), Director (István Szabó), and Jarre’s score–the film’s international story obviously made an impression on the Hollywood Foreign Press. But U.S. audiences weren’t interested and neither was Oscar. I’ve never seen the film, but this lovely, classically tinged score deserves more notice from film score fans.
5. THE BRIDE (1985)[audio:bride.mp3]
Jennifer Beal’s talents in FLASHDANCE were more evident in her dancing stunt double, while Sting’s screen charisma in DUNE proved that he should stick to singing and songwriting. So casting these two acting dynamos in this modern remake of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN probably doomed the project from the start. Yet, the Gothic environment allowed Jarre the opportunity to write one of his lushest, most romantic scores, with a soaring main theme. The Varese Sarabande release a few years ago was snapped up quickly (not PREDATOR quickly, but still relatively fast for the good old days). If you can ever find a reasonably priced copy on eBay, grab it. You won’t be disappointed.
4. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)[audio:doctorzhivago.mp3]
Sure, Julie Christie suffers through the Russian Revolution in beautiful ’60s white lipstick and eyeliner, but this adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s far superior novel is still entertaining thanks to David Lean’s storytelling skills and Jarre’s memorable score. You’ll probably get sick of “Lara’s Theme” a third of way into the film, but don’t blame Jarre. It was Lean’s idea to cue up the famous melody at every turn. The film practically defines “sweeping epic,” and Jarre’s Oscar-winning music–with that insistent balalaika–has a great deal to do with its success. The male voices of the Russian chorus give the music a proper dramatic heft.
3. LION OF THE DESERT (1981)[audio:lionofthedesert.mp3]
For my tastes, Jarre seems to be most inspired when he’s baking in the desert sun. This time it’s the African desert as Anthony Quinn stars as Omar Mukhtar, an Arab Muslim rebel who fought against the Italian conquest of Libya in World War I. I’ve owned this score for years, but usually only listened to the score it’s often paired with, THE MESSAGE. But Tadlow’s excellent release of the expanded LION score reveals new riches buried in the sand, in particular a haunting French horn main theme that burrows under your skin. And like sand mixed with sweat, this is music you just can’t shake it off.
2. MOHAMMAD: MESSENGER OF GOD (1977)[audio:mohammad.mp3]
It’s odd to make a film in which your main character cannot be seen or heard on screen, but such is the case with this surprisingly interesting film about the birth of Islam. (By Islamic law any physical depiction of the prophet is considered a sin within the faith.) The film, more commonly known as THE MESSAGE, contains one of Jarre’s strongest, and yet least known, scores. With its prominent use of percussion, zither and Ondes Martinot, the music owes more than a little debt to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Yet it’s a strong entry in the Jarre canon on its own, and a surprise (and worthy) Oscar nominee.
1. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)[audio:lawrence.mp3]
What else could occupy the top slot? The film is the perfect match of director, actor, scriptwriter, cinematographer, and composer. With a famous main theme that practically screams “film music,” this is a film and score that need to be seen and heard on the big screen to be truly appreciated. Jarre’s use of percussion and ethnic instrumentation give the music a flair that still excites nearly 50 years later. This is Jarre’s masterpiece.