Probably no other composer inspires more dedication and passion in film score fans than Jerry Goldsmith. A word to the wise: say a bad word against Jerry on message boards at your own risk.
I’ve already written about my favorite composer, Alfred Newman. So for this month’s “9 on the 9th” list post, I thought it only appropriate to recommend some favorites from a very special composer, one whose music first made me sit up and take notice.
9. HOOSIERS (1986)
When I played soccer as a kid, my best friend got a concussion when he ran smack dab into me. And I lasted exactly one hour of football practice, crying to my mother after about how much it hurt. (She’s mortified to this day.) So needless to say, sports movies do not particularly appeal to me. Yet Jerry Goldsmith’s name was enough to get me in the theater to see HOOSIERS. This rural basketball tale features Goldsmith’s unique mid-80’s blend of electronics and orchestral timbres. The electronics simulate the slap of the basketball on the court and the music captures the quiet beauty of the Indiana farmland and ultimately propels you through the excitement of the game. If all sporting events came with a Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack, I might be a bigger fan.
8. MAGIC (1978)
Ira Levin’s original novel about a murderous ventriloquist dummy seemed a bit more ludicrous onscreen than on the page. But credit Goldsmith with creating a suitably creepy musical atmosphere. The score’s main theme plumbs the psychological depths of Corky’s (Anthony Hopkins) mental instability but it’s the seesawing harmonica motif that truly unsettles you. The year 1978 was particularly impressive for Goldsmith, which also included scores for COMA, CAPRICORN ONE, THE SWARM, DAMIEN: OMEN II, and THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. Even if some of the films aren’t particularly memorable, that’s six Goldsmith classics in one year.
7. PATTON (1970)
With only 30 minutes of music in this 3-hour epic, Goldsmith makes every note count. The judicious economy of spotting helps emphasize the isolation of George C. Scott’s legendary general. From the jaunty march to the famous echoplexed trumpet effect, Goldsmith emerges victorious, even if Oscar voters didn’t think so. (The score inexplicably lost to the far more famous tune for the far less worthy LOVE STORY.)
6. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Goldsmith contributes a groundbreaking score that is almost primeval in its sound. Contemporary wind techniques and inventive uses of percussion (such as playing on upturned metal bowls) characterize the music. The orchestra is turned into a simian beast and the score is as dry and brittle as the arid land it inhabits onscreen. The music may not be to everyone’s taste as a stand-alone listening experience. But for those who appreciate that rare foray into atonal and experimental film music, it doesn’t get any better than this.
5. STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)
The main theme may be overly familiar from its use on the STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION television series, but the score constitutes much more than just that main theme. The first listen to STTMP (as film score fans call it) in 1979 was thrilling, and it just got better and better with each repeated listen. Goldsmith soared above Robert Wise’s lumbering film to create an out of this world space symphony that was exciting, beautiful, even awe-inspiring. STAR TREK is considered by many to be Goldsmith’s magnum opus. The fact that it lost the Oscar to Georges Delerue’s adaptation of Vivaldi in A LITTLE ROMANCE makes many film music fans bristle.
4. UNDER FIRE (1983)
The war in Nicaragua was a tough sell at the box office. The film has its fans but I’m not one of them. And Goldsmith’s score within the film is poorly recorded and performed. Thankfully, Jerry rerecorded the score for a near-perfect album presentation. The score’s Latin rhythms and soaring melodies convey tension, fear, and hope in the war-torn country. The CD was only available as an import until Film Score Monthly released it domestically last year, improving the sound on an already flawless recording.
3. THE WIND AND THE LION (1975)
One of my favorite high school and college band memories comes from playing the concert band arrangement of a suite from THE WIND AND THE LION. As a clarinet player, we got all the incredibly difficult violin runs, yet the arrangement can only hint at the complexities in this exotic, exciting score. Intrada’s 2-CD set premiered the complete original soundtrack as well as improved sound on the excellent LP re-recording.
2. THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978)
As I wrote in April’s post, this film is a guilty pleasure and I’ll stop and watch it anytime it’s on TV. Goldsmith’s score, with its belching brass and that sweeping Viennese waltz, overcomes the goofy implausibility of the story and adds to the enjoyment of the film even more. Like their release of THE WIND AND THE LION, Intrada’s 2-CD set showcased the completed original soundtrack as well as the LP recording, which had been a limited edition on Varese Sarabande and out of print (hence, prohibitively expensive on eBay) for years. By far, my favorite release of any film score from 2008.
1. THE OMEN (1976)
I have written so much about THE OMEN elsewhere on this site that writing any more seems superfluous. Suffice it to say that as the first soundtrack I ever bought, THE OMEN jump-started my love of film music and will always have a special place in my heart. I’d like to think I know every note of this score backward and forwards. And yet, 30-plus years later, I still find new things in the music to appreciate. Such is the genius of Jerry Goldsmith.
While his projects deteriorated in the late ’80s and ’90s, there was usually something to enjoy out of nearly every Goldsmith score. When Jerry passed away in 2004, I remember finding it difficult to explain the sense of loss to my therapist. I had never met the man, but his music had provided—and continues to provide—me with many hours of listening pleasure. I guess you might say on some level I owe him my career. Not a bad thing to be remembered for.