ISLANDS IN THE STREAM was the album I bought the day Jerry Goldsmith died. Goldsmith counted the score as one of his favorites. And it may sound silly, but on that particular day, I was looking for a score I’d never heard before that would not only assuage my grief but bring me closer to the soul of this composer who had meant so much to me and this art form I held so dear.
The 1977 film was based on Ernest Hemingway’s autobiographical novel, the first of his novels to be published posthumously in 1970. George C. Scott plays Hemingway’s alter ego Thomas Hudson, a sculptor who has retreated to the Caribbean during World War II after two failed marriages. The film is arranged in three “chapters” dealing with various people and events in his life.
For years I had been steered away from the film, but after a recommendation from my buddy Tim Greiving, I recently watched it to celebrate Film Score Monthly’s release of the long-awaited original tracks. The film is beautifully shot by Fred J. Koenekamp (who received a well-deserved Oscar nomination) and Scott, looking very much like Papa Hemingway, gives one of his most nuanced performances. But it is Goldsmith’s score that ties the film together and gives it an emotional core it might have lacked otherwise.
Goldsmith provides all the elements of the score in the memorable main title sequence. He summons the power of the sea with a dreamy clarinet arpeggio, a harp glissando, and a swelling, ominous 3-note motif in the brass. The 4-note motif in the English horn later becomes a staccato accompaniment to Hudson’s three teenage boys. The real treasure is the heartbreaking French horn main theme. The cue ends with a gently swaying calypso accompaniment to a full string treatment of the theme.
“Is Ten Too Old?” begins tenderly in the harp and flute with the question of how old is too old for a boy to kiss his father before moving into the calypso mood of the opening track as Hudson and the boys go sailing. This carefree atmosphere morphs into more dramatic fare with the lower strings and staccato violins as Hudson tries to shoot a shark that is threatening his swimming oldest son (a very young Hart Bochner). The syncopation in the brass and timpani and repeated notes in the high strings ratchets up the tension as he continues to miss the predator. You don’t have to see the images onscreen to know what is happening. Just listen to Goldsmith’s music.
The musical tour de force is the 11-minute dramatic cue “The Marlin” as Hudson helps his troubled middle son battle the mighty fish on the open waters. The cue runs the gamut of emotions–from joy, terror and emotion–as Goldsmith skillfully leads us through the bonding of father and son set against the backdrop of man against the sea.
The score was shortlisted for the Academy Award and certainly deserved a nomination over Marvin Hamlisch’s weak Bond entry THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and Maurice Jarre’s little seen MOHAMMED – MESSENGER OF GOD. We can be thankful that Bruce Kimmel of Kritzerland Records has kept a copy of these tapes so beautifully preserved over the years and shared them with Lukas Kendall at FSM. Though I won’t give up Goldsmith’s out-of-print re-recording on the Intrada label, this is the version I’ll return to again and again in the future.
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM is a Goldsmith masterpiece that has finally surfaced in all of its original glory.