The Gold(smith) standard

Notes on 8 scores by Jerry Goldsmith

Published: Feb 10 2015, 01:01:am

For nearly 50 years, his ability to find the emotion at the core of a film's story gave JERRY GOLDSMITH's film and television scores a timeless depth. Between 1957 and 2003, he scored 168 feature films, earning 18 Academy Award nominations in the process. A Film Music Society tribute to the composer, published shortly after his death in 2004, included this quote from Henry Mancini: "He has instilled two things in his colleagues in this town. One is, he keeps us honest, and the other one is, he scares the hell out of us." The notes that follow are my capsule reactions to one 1979 soundtrack LP and eight soundtrack CDs released during the 1990s that featured Goldsmith scores.
STAR TREK - THE MOTION PICTURE (Columbia LP; 1979) — In the theatre, the Trek fans buzz happily when the old TV series theme (by Alexander Courage) is briefly recalled in Jerry Goldsmith's symphonic score. A pleasant touch of nostalgia, that particular souvenir did not make it through to the soundtrack album. Sharp-earred listeners will, however, recognize the influence of Ralph Vaughan Williams (Symphonia Antarctica) and Bernard Herrmann's 1958 Vertigo score. Indeed, Goldsmith even manages to borrow from himself, identifying the villainous Klingons with echoes of his 1975 Wind and the Lion soundtrack. With more than 80 feature-film scores to his credit, Goldsmith is a musical chameleon, able to adapt himself effectively to virtually any cinematic situation. One of Hollywood's true journeyman artists, he produces reliable, evocative scores that stand up surprisingly well on this vinyl disc. [Nominated for a best original score Academy Award]

THE RIVER WILD (RCA; 1994) — Curtis Hanson's white-water thriller benefits from composer Jerry Goldsmith's unerring ability to find the emotional centre of a scene, and call it to life musically. Fresh and physically immediate, his folk-based score is shot through with adrenaline and the Meryl Streep character's domestic anxieties. In sync with it all is an end-credits ballad sung by Cowboy Junkies vocalist Margo Timmins. * * *

THE SHADOW (Arista; 1994) — The only good thing about actor Alec Baldwin's most recent bomb was its efficient score. Composed by cine-music master Jerry Goldsmith, it added much-needed class to director Russell (Highlander) Mulcahy's leaden pulp magazine adaptation. To accompany a period tale full of Far Eastern mysticism and vigilante justice, Goldsmith disguises himself as Danny Elfman, combining Batman bluster with Tales From the Crypt cheekiness. Add in a recurring rising note (borrowed from his own brilliant 1986 Link score) and the results are interesting if not inspired. Job one was maintaining some dignity in the midst of a dramatic disaster. Goldsmith has the knack of succeeding even when the picture doesn't. * * *

CONGO (Epic; 1995) — Recognizing the satirical intent in director Frank Marshall's lost city adventure, Goldsmith delivers an epic score with a big, 1930s Hollywood studio sound. Throughout, though, there's a gleam in the master's eye as he guys its killer apes and volcanic eruptions with elegantly calculated overstatement. Spirit of Africa, his collaboration with song writer Lebo M, is a dynamic celebration of the new pop interest in the musical idioms of the sub-Saharan nations. * * * * *

FIRST KNIGHT (Epic; 1995) — Recognizing the lack of subtlety in director Jerry (Ghost) Zucker's Arthurian cartoon, composer Jerry Goldsmith serves up a full-blooded Holst-like score full of sound and fury signifying medieval mayhem. Suggestions of Orff and Goldsmith's own under-appreciated work in 1987's Lionheart  lend support to Zucker's muddled adventure-romance, providing his take on Camelot with more dignity than it deserves. * * *

POWDER (Hollywood; 1995) — A modern parable, director Victor Salva's sincere if overwrought science fantasy counts among its blessings the magical music of Jerry Goldsmith. With elegant restraint, the composer suggests the isolation, mystery and potential danger of the film's title character. Performed by London's National Philharmonic, it is a work that recalls the earthy majesty of his little-heard 1985 Legend score. A brief (36-minute) CD, it left me wanting more. * * * *

THE EDGE (RCA; 1997) — Spectacular scenery and a soaring score were the best things about director Lee Tamahori's filmed-in-Alberta wilderness epic. But not even Jerry (The River Wild) Goldsmith could save this dead-on-arrival tale of a billionaire boy scout (Anthony Hopkins) in a fight for his life. Wisely, the veteran composer ignored the ho-hum human characters and musically animated the natural landscape, providing an embattled Gaia with some eloquently wrathful commentary on what fools screenwriter David Mamet's mortals be. * * *

L.A.  CONFIDENTIAL (Restless; 1997) — In a main theme redeploying the avant-garde techniques he used to create his classic 1974 Chinatown score, composer Jerry Goldsmith succinctly captures the tragic ironies in director Curtis Hanson's portrait of 1950s Los Angeles. His mock Dragnet theme, Badge of Honor, pays tribute to the late Henry Mancini. The CD's remaining 12 tracks offer a selection of upbeat period tunes performed by such artists as Dean Martin, Lee Wiley and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, as a counterpoint to the film's neo-noir mood. * * *

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL - THE SCORE (Varese Sarabande; 1997) — Released separately from the Oscar-nominated picture's pop-tune soundtrack, this CD contains Jerry Goldsmith's intense, neo-noir score, itself an Academy Award nominee. Recalling his roots in 1950s television drama, the veteran composer makes brilliant use of trumpet and keyboard themes to invoke the emotional isolation of director Curtis Hansen's characters. With a fine, Herrmannesque understanding of the darkness at the heart of L.A.'s postwar optimism, he connects with the resolve that ennobles their tragedy. * * * * *

The above are restored versions of a number of Province reviews by Michael Walsh originally published between 1980 and 1998. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

More music: You might also enjoy reading about HOWARD SHORE  (seven scores) and JOHN WILLIAMS (eleven scores).