Sunday, May 7, 2017

Composing Greatness: #1. John Williams - "Valley of the Dolls" (1967)

Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Collaborators (If Available): AndrĂ© Previn & Dory Previn (Songs), Barbara Perkins & Dory Previn (Singer, "Theme From 'Valley of the Dolls'"), Gaille Heidemann (Singer "It's Impossible", "Give a Little More"), Tony Scotti (Singer, "Come Live With Me"), Eileen Wilson (Singer, "I'll Plant My Own Tree"), Dory Previn (Singer, "Theme From 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise")
Nomination: Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Camelot (Alfred Newman, Ken Darby) *Winner
-Doctor Dolittle (Lionel Newman, Alexander Courage)
-Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Frank De Vol)
-Thoroughly Modern Millie (Andre Previn, Joseph Gershenson)

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 1
Oscar Wins: 0

Track List

1. "Theme From 'Valley Of The Dolls'"
2. "It's Impossible"
3. "Ann At Lawrenceville"
4. "Chance Meeting"
5. "Neely's Career Montage"
6. "Come Live With Me"
7. "I'll Plant My Own Tree"
8. "The Gillian Girl Commercial"
9. "Jennifer's French Movie"
10. "Give A Little More"
11. "Jennifer's Recollection "
12. "Theme From 'Valley Of The Dolls'- Reprise"

Listen to the Score here.

Exploring the Music

The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Theme From 'Valley of the Dolls'" 
"Theme From 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise"

It is tough to really judge this as a John Williams piece, largely because he received sole credit for the nomination, but isn't credited with writing any of the songs. It's especially strange that he even was involved with such a campy movie like Valley of the Dolls to begin with. But, I guess that you have to start somewhere. In this case, I have to admit that seeing the movie alters how I perceive this song. I initially liked it and felt that its introspective text was beautiful. However, the Reprise is especially ridiculous in that it builds existentialism around areas that are supposed to seem profound, but actually sound a little vapid. With that said, it's hard not to see what Williams probably could've brought to the song. The melody, both vocally and rhythmically, have a heartfelt eagerness to them. The song soars and goes through patterns that make it stand out. With that said, I do feel like it's almost too different from what his actual compositions for the film actually were, which feel largely like filler. For the sake of argument, I am not going to be covering the songs from this movie. They would improve my overall perception of this nomination, but I feel would be of disservice to correct analysis.

Interesting Standout:
"Neely's Career Montage"

The score for this movie is actually kind of boring and lacks the eclectic nature of Williams' later work. With that said, he does manage to pack a lot of energy into this track. He adds a peppiness that elevates the joy and creates a sense of urgency. It's probably a standout solely because it's the only track that goes above tepid pacing. With that said, it still feels like Williams is imitating something. It could just be the era, but it does feel like a TV commercial jingle that does little more than sell a product. True, it works within context. However, it doesn't do  much to necessarily stand out as a promising piece of work from one of movie's greatest composers.

Best Moment:
"Chance Meeting"

Again, this score is lacking for anything that is above just good. However, there is something about this track that actually works. It could be the sound of the drum brushes, or the melodic horns. In fact, this whole part has a sense of ingenuity for what Williams will become later on. It isn't entirely there, but he actually has an interesting way of playing with melody and making what is essentially elevator music into an elegant form of the art. The one note is that this is the tempo for which most of the score does and it does it poorly. It's in large part because it's missing the rhythmic potential of this track.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

If I had included the songs in this consideration, I may be persuaded to say yes. However, I do think that credit should be given where it's due. Williams wrote the score, and it's honestly nothing extraordinary. Nobody is likely humming any part of this score while walking out of the theater. At best, they will be singing "Theme From 'Valley of the Dolls'," which is fine even if it's a mediocre song at best. The only logic behind this nomination is that either the film was popular enough (though this is its sole nomination) or that Williams had been doing incredible work up to that point to warrant a nomination. Either way, it's so unmemorable and scattershot stylistically that I cannot find much value in it. I can't believe that I'm disliking Williams music on the first outing. That was completely unexpected. But, on the bright side, there's nowhere to go from here but up.

Up Next: Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969) for Best Music, Score of a Musical Picture (Original or Adaptation)

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)

No comments:

Post a Comment