For as much as the Academy Awards are deservedly chastised for some of their choices, occasionally they shine a light on a film that otherwise might have fallen through the celluloid cracks. Such a film is CROSS CREEK.
Based on the memoirs of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yearling, the film details her years in the Florida backwoods in the late 1920s and her relationship with the locals who inhabit the region. Filled with thoroughly engaging characters and performances, and vivid cinematography, one of the film’s chief assets is the lush score by Leonard Rosenman.
The score’s main theme is a memorable oboe melody that floats on a tender bed of harp arpeggios, conveying the mystery of the moss-covered swamp and Marjorie’s burgeoning love for her new home. A winding, modal theme serves as an introduction to many of the musical moments.
Lighter music captures Geechee’s (Alfred Woodard) trusting nature. Rip Torn’s gruff backwoodsman is accompanied by an oscillating French horn interval over dissonant strings. Brass finally get their chance to shine during the energetic syncopated work montages.
The beautiful playing by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (under the direction of Lionel Newman) wrings every last ounce of simple, genuine emotion out of the score, and none more so during the funeral and odyssey sequence. After Marsh is mistakenly shot, a depressed Marjorie drifts on a skiff through the marshes to dissonant harmonies, pizzicato strings, and piccolo flutterings. As her depression lifts, the main oboe melody returns, the flute countermelody cries “Miz Rawlins” and the orchestra surges with tearful joy as Geechee (Woodard) welcomes Marjorie home where she belongs.
From a composer who was more well-known for his more jagged harmonic structure, CROSS CREEK is refreshingly tonal. And in a year of higher-profile releases like TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and THE RIGHT STUFF, the underrated and little-seen film snuck in under the radar, garnering four nominations, including two for Torn and Woodard, costume design and Rosenman’s lovely score. Discover this lovely Oscar-nominated gem if you haven’t already.