Sunday, May 14, 2017

Composing Greatness: #2. John Williams - "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969)

Scene from Goodbye Mr. Chips
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: Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969)
Collaborators (If Available): Leslie Bricusse (Music and Lyrics), Boys Chorus (Singers "Main Titles/Fill the World With Love", "When I Am Older", "Fill the World With Love","Schooldays", "Fill the World with Love (Reprise)"),  Peter O'Toole (Singer, "Where Did My Childhood Go?", "What a Lot of Flowers", "What a Lot of Flowers (Reprise)", "Fill the World with Love (Reprise)", Petula Clark (Singer, "London Is London", "And the Sky Smelled", "Apollo", "Walk Through the World", "Fill the World with Love", "And the Sky Smiled (Reprise)")
Nomination: Best Score ofa  Musical Picture (Shared with Leslie Bricusse)
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Hello, Dolly! (Lennie Hayton, Lionel Newman) *Winner
-Paint Your Wagon (Nelson Riddle)
-Sweet Charity (Cy Coleman)
-The Shoot Horses, Don't They? (John Green, Albert Woodbury)

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: 2
Oscar Wins: 0

Track List

1. "Overture"
2."Main Titles/Fill the World With Love" (Link)
3. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" (Link)
4. "London Is London" (Link)
5. "And the Sky Smiled" (Link)
6. "Apollo"
7. "When I Am Older" (Link)
8. "Walk Through the World" (Link)
9. "Fill the World With Love"
10. "Entr'Acte/What Shall I Do With Today?"
11. "What a Lot of Flowers" (Link)
12. "What a Lot of Flowers (Reprise)" 
13. "And the Sky Smiled (Reprise)"
14. "Schooldays"
15. "You and I" (Link)
16. "Fill the World With Love (Reprise)"
17. "Exit Music - You and I"

*Note: This isn't a complete recording of the soundtrack. It is however the most available one at the moment of publication. The songs used have links following their titles. 

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:
"Where Did My Childhood Go?"

The one unfortunate issue about early John Williams music is that it's not readily available outside of buying soundtracks (some of which are on the rare side). As a result, this week's entry may skewer a bit more towards the song exploration, which was handled by Leslie Bricusse more than Williams according to various sources. Still, they shared the nomination, so it counts. As far as introductions to the themes go, this is a pretty solid example of what's to follow. It features Peter O'Toole reminiscing on his youth passed and wondering what the future holds not just for him, but for the people that are the age he remembers fondly. It's a lovely song and one that has all the ennui of a man in his autumn years. It manages to avoid being too nostalgic in a hokey way, which helps to elevate its overall work. Bricusse's song craft is especially strong for this movie, and it manages to feel optimistic without being hollow.

Interesting Standout:
"London is London"

While I have not seen the film, I am sure that the song fits within the context of the film. It comes across as an overtly-patriotic send-up of British exceptionalism. It's full of bombast that is antithetical to the other songs' tenderness and often quiet nature. Still, it's a catchy tune that establishes the atmosphere that this school wishes to put off. It may be a little too excessive in spots, but that may be the point. It captures the youth that the opening song wished to capture. It's merely a standout because there's nothing else like it on the soundtrack. Thankfully, it's a whole lot of fun in the process.

Best Moment:
"When I Am Older"

Much like how Peter O'Toole's music captures the essence of nostalgia, the boys choir portions capture the optimism of growing up. This is an ensemble song that exists mostly to explain how much these kids want to grow up and change the world. It manages upbeat without straying too far from the tone of the music. It's also the most clever lyrically, as it plays with rhyming patterns and quick jumps between the various singers. It's a great showstopper, and one that works as a counterpoint to "Where Did My Childhood Go?" On another note, the lovely and simple "You and I" deserves some credit for managing to be a tender closer to this list, as it feels like a solid completion of the music conceptually. 

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

It is tough to say if John Williams deserved the Oscar nomination, as I haven't been able to track down the score portion of this movie. With that said, he does share it with Leslie Bricusse, so it opens up how I perceive the nomination. I was not familiar with this version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips prior to this column. However, I found myself enraptured by the music almost immediately. It has so much personality and makes me want to sing along. The music in this is so good and feels thematically perfect enough that I don't question any of it like I did The Valley of the Dolls last week. Even if this may benefit from hearing the entire soundtrack, for now I think that this is evidence of Bricusse's talents, though I'm still waiting to find the first exceptional John Williams score.

Up Next: The Reivers (1969) for Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical)

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
2. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)

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