Since movies are a big deal to me. And scores an even bigger deal, here are some recommendations.
Now before we begin, let me tell you what I think is the measure of a great film score. A great score is one that, if you took it away, the movie would fail. Or, put another way, the movie only works with that particular score.
Patton – Jerry Goldsmith
From the opening echoed trumpets to the end Hindemith-like reverie, this one has it all: memorable themes, great orchestration and the ability to enhance the mood of every scene.
Fantastic Voyage – Leonard Rosenman
The best example of twelve tone (atonal) music ever used in a major Hollywood movie. It’s pretty good popcorn sci-fi too—you get to go inside a human body along with Raquel Welch. (Admittedly not as good as going inside Raquel Welch, but hey it’s a family show, pal.) Most people reflexively cringe when they think ‘twentieth century concert music’ but Leonard showed that you could use contemporary techniques that were beautiful, accessible and a perfect fit for a wide variety of moods.
Superman – John Williams
Although I have to say that the opening to Star Wars may be the greatest opening theme since the 20th Century Fox, as a score, I much prefer Superman. The themes for individual characters are better and the credit roll is the best (and probably longest) piece of it’s time in movie history.
Schindler’s List – John Williams
Was there ever a more memorable set of themes?
BTW: If you doubt how crap music in film has begun, just look at how great it used to be–even in television. Remember ‘Lost In Space’? Check out all the music on that show by Johnny Williams. Compare that to the silliness that passes for ‘music’ on today’s shows.
The Kubrik Mashup – 2001 A Space Odyssey
Who can even imagine the opening shots in 2001 without the two Strauss pieces Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard and then The Blue Danube by Johann. And then the Ligeti choral pieces? Has anyone ever matched pre-existing music to picture better? Well, perhaps Kubrik himself with the Bartok and Khatchaturian pieces in The Shining?
Clockwork Orange – Wendy Carlos
To date, the only certifiable masterpiece of electronic music in film. Period. How come, with all the technology we’ve developed since 1968, we can’t do any better?
Solaris – Cliff Martinez
This movie ushered in a whole raft of imitators using Hang Drums and Gamelans as atmospherics. It’s a lot like Steve Reich, but with more soul. This is mood music raised to the level of art.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – Danny Elfman
A score so fresh and inventive at the time that it still sounds great; even though Danny has repeated all the manic tricks over and over.
Punch Drunk Love – Jon Brion
A great example of minimalism and camp. The toy pianos and found percussion really give one a sense of the neuroses of Adam Sandler’s character and the tenuous sincerity of his love.