Thursday, May 15, 2014

Personal Heroes: Jerry Goldsmith

(This one's still for Warren...)

This falls under the category of "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Suffice to say that any attempts will be nothing but empty metaphors and vacuous hyperbole.

Jerry Goldsmith is my favorite composer. He wrote film scores--an odd little art not too different from the usual classical commissioned pieces but also having to fit the limitations of the medium, both mechanical and dramatic. Such was my appreciation that when I heard he was giving a series of concerts for his 70th birthday in Scotland (and realizing that he was getting "up there") I was determined to see Goldsmith in concert before one of us died ("Hey, honey, ya wanna go to Scotland?" was how I approached K.) It's one of the best decisions (for the most trivial of reasons) I've ever made. We spent 10 days in Scotland, primarily Edinburgh, which was absolutely wonderful. Truth to tell, the Goldsmith concert, though terrific, was a bit anti-climactic. Still, it was an opportunity to see Goldsmith conduct, and a symphony orchestra play, his wildly-weird music for the first Planet of the Apes movie -- piano players pounding on the strings, brass players playing with their mouth-pieces reversed, percussionists hammering on metal mixing bowls bought that afternoon at Harrod's. And its also important, in this world of recorded music, to see your favorite music performed live, and FEEL it--feel the power of the orchestra pushing against your body. I had a great time.

It hit me hard when he died (July 21, 2004—at the age of 75). He was still composing up until a few months before his death from cancer (His last film, incongruously being
Looney Tunes: Back in Action--a bizarrely eclectic and technologically challenging score for someone weak from chemotherapy).  I was inspired to make a compilation of some of my favorite music of his, combined with some of his most challenging pieces--and for the booklet, this is, in part, what I wrote:

Notes on Jerry Goldsmith

So, why this? And why these selections?

It came purely as a reflexive move upon hearing of Goldsmith's death, and as sad as that was, came another thought, purely selfish--well, that means no more new music (And with that, the remembrance of the story about the two directors leaving
Ernst Lubitsch's funeral. "Well, no more Lubitsch." said the one. The other--Billy Wilder-- replied: "Worse! No more Lubitsch movies!"). The canon stops right here on this date. No more surprises. No more smiles of recognition. No more new music because the source of that music is no more.

Goldsmith is over.

From the time when I bought my second soundtrack album (with my own money), I have had a great love for the music of
Jerry Goldsmith. I bought the Patton LP just to have a record of the Patton "speech." I played that a few times, but once I went beyond the words, I found the music spoke more eloquently of the man, and more importantly, had a life beyond the subject matter. It spoke of depths of time and emotion, and I was hooked for the rest of Goldsmith's output. I started to seek him out in record stores.  Papillon came out, and upon the first hearing I was disappointed--this wasn't the same music. It was undoubtedly Goldsmith, but he was doing different things. This music was more wistful, and also savage. I didn't know whether I liked it. But upon putting needle to record a second time, this "new" Goldsmith spoke to me. After the shock of the new, the appreciation took over, and each new release had its own shocks and new discoveries.

And that's what made Goldsmith so interesting. It wasn't the same old wine in new bottles ala
Mancini and Horner and, yes, even Bernard Herrmann. This was new wine. As if he went back and re-constructed his career and experience for the sake of the next film. Sometimes, masterpieces would emerge:  The Wind and the Lion;  QBVII;  Islands in the Stream;  Hoosiers. But there would be the failures, also: the  I.Q.'s  and  Mr. Baseball's, and the Mom and Dad Save the World's. Interesting failures, to be sure, but sometimes in the quest for a solution to the film's problems, the music itself would suffer. And for some reason, the essence of film-comedies seemed to elude Goldsmith.

It was fun anticipating new works. What was he going to do for
Logan's Run? He's doing Chinatown? When did that happen? Oh, man! Goldsmith landed Star Trek: the Motion Picture!! The new wine flowed and in amazing quantities, from a seemingly inexhaustible and eclectic vineyard. Sometimes it would be good. Sometimes bad. Sometimes magnificent. He reportedly didn't like science-fiction, and claimed he didn't understand it. Yet he scored seminal science-fiction films. Each had its own signature sound: whooping electronics for Logan's Run; High-flying nautica for Star Trek;  Filigreed textures for Alien. All were different. They were, in fact, worlds apart. Goldsmith did not write for the genre. He wrote for the drama and the story. Rather than overlay a double dose of emotion to tell the audience how it should feel, he wrote inside the story. His music told you how the characters feel.

And he could be counted on to bolster up the infrastructure of the film as well, the perfect example being Planet of the Apes. A cheap-jack story with obvious ape make-up filmed at the Fox Ranch.  But Goldsmith, in the film's first twenty minutes, sets up the crucial mystery and strangeness and other-worldliness. His music distracts us from the Utah locations these "astronauts" are hoofing over, and it's not some cheesy lightning mattes telling us that it's an alien planet. It is Goldsmith's tentative, echoing, uneasy music that takes us off Earth and someplace "not here." All those cooing notes, poinking mixing bowls and cracking balsa wood blocks tell us that despite all the apes speaking English, despite the silly suggestion of a reverse-Darwinism, despite everything on screen and in the story telling us (look, folks...) we're still on Earth.  The ending still comes as a shock. And it's Goldsmith--nothing else--doing that.

There's another example in a later minor film called
Malice. It opens with a girl on a bicycle, and a sweet melody that evokes naive innocence. In fact, it's too sweet, in a morose and saccharine kind of way. It's icky-sweet, and you wonder if Goldsmith has fallen off his rocker. Well, the girl in the bicycle becomes a victim of a serial killer, but the sweetness of the melody stays, now tinged with regret and tragedy; what might have been. And it sets you up for the surprise ending of the film two hours later. The melody returns with its hints of victimization and a cruel world, and it blinds you to the fact that the villain of the piece is, in fact, the female lead. You should have seen it coming a mile off. But Goldsmith musically and intellectually trips you up. These movies needed Goldsmith desperately and he made them better than they were.

Well, that's the films. But, as to the selection of the music for the 2 disc overview, I'll admit to leaving off some standards. The Theme from Star Trek is there in the form of "The Enterprise." There's no Alien to speak of (but you could count the Freud selection which Ridley Scott and his editor chucked into the film's mix). No Papillon. There is none of his essential (and endlessly reused) music for the TV version of "The Twilight Zone." You don't even hear the cascading trumpets of the Patton march.

No. What I was going for was artistry. This is Goldsmith at his characteristic best. His way of taking a melody, adding an off-rhythm and punching up the adrenaline. There are themes that thrill or make you cry - music that may clobber you with its brio or savagery. It's music that bolsters the spirit, or dresses you down. I dare you to listen to "A Game of Pool" from
Studs Lonigan, one of Goldsmith's very early film scores, and not have your eyes widen at the turns, cartwheels and jaunts that the young Goldsmith throws at his orchestra (and mention should be made, too, of the incredible performance of session musician "Johnny" Williams at the piano. I'm surprised Williams and Goldsmith remained friends after the rigors of that cue!). His themes for The Omen aren't here, but the horrors evoked from Goldsmith in "Jadwiga Revisited" from QBVII are more real, and unsettling.

There are very familiar pieces, too:
The Blue Max, Chinatown, Basic Instinct and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." But there are some that aren't heard enough--or simply have not received the release they should, for example the amazing action writing from Lonely Are the Brave that features some kinetic writing for percussion--then followed by a similar technique used in his score for Under Fire, with a completely different sound. Goldsmith's plaintive melody for solo-guitar for Rio Lobo is far removed from the celebratory Copland-like Americana the (now) late Elmer Bernstein wrote for John Wayne. His music for the little-seen John Huston romp The List of Adrian Messenger sounds like it was written for Mr. Scratch himself. And a couple of his concert pieces--"Fireworks," "09-11-01," and "Soarin' over California"--are also included. If only there was room for his fanfares for the Academy Awards and for Universal pictures.

But, alas, that's the limitations of CD's. This compilation actually started out as one CD of some of my favorite Goldsmith music, and it was impossible. My first cut included an extra twenty minutes of music. So, a second CD was planned--and it was soon filled to overflowing as well. There are many things I'd wished I could include on this--"The Invaders" from "The Twilight Zone," for instance--but it would've gobbled up twelve precious minutes of CD-time. Time better spent on Goldsmith's masterful Prologue music for
The Agony and the Ecstacy. This is a pretty good overview: Goldsmith at his most celebratory and introspective. Musical moments of high adventure and deep despair.

It's odd, though. There is a curious thing about the sequencing: it goes from a light mood to dark on both discs. Perhaps it's just my sadness at Goldsmith's passing, but it's actually the way I preferred the music to flow. One would wish to end on a note of triumph, but at the end of the day, it's the end of the day. For example, I felt that Goldsmith's triumphal music to
Omen III: The Final Conflict was absolutely necessary, but once it soared announcing the Second Coming, it transitioned back into a dark section, and served as the lynch-pin between the two sections of celebration and darkness. That seemed to work naturally, just as the sad triumph of QBVII's End Titles seemed the perfect way to end Disc 2. And there was no better way to end disc 1 than the Patton coda. All glory is fleeting.

Long after the gold plating on Goldsmith's sole Oscar for The Omen flakes and cracks, the music will remain: constant and eternal.

Bravo, Maestro. Though I understand there'll be no encores, I'll keep applauding anyway.

Some Goldsmith video's: The first, a part of the featurette on the score with interviews with the participants on the creation of the movie Star Trek theme, that would go on to be the signature theme for the movie series.

The second: Goldsmith's cue from The Planet of the Apes—"The Hunt." You think it's frenetic here, you should see an orchestra playing it live (as I did in 1999)!

The third: Goldsmith's devastating work for orchestra and chorus for the End Titles of the "ABC Novel for Television" QB VII.

The fourth: Goldsmith's quick turnaround composing the music for Chinatown belies its complete perfection for mood and nuance. A detective noir involving L.A.'s water supply, Goldsmith makes it drip with heavy romance and interesting tonal waves.

Finally, The Main Titles for Howard Hawks' Rio Lobo. The director must have really liked the music.

Jerry Goldsmith On-Line -a pretty definitive fan-site
Jerry Goldsmith at imdb-Wow! He got nm0000025
Jerry Goldsmith at Wikipedia
FSM's tribute to Goldsmith
NPR (All Things Considered) report remembering Goldsmith
NPR (Weekend Edition) Aprreciation of Goldsmith
Extended video interview with Goldsmith (ostensibly about The Sand Pebbles but is fairly wide-ranging)

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