Sunday, May 21, 2017

Composing Greatness: #3. John Williams - "The Reivers" (1969)

Scene from The Reivers
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: The Reivers (1969)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical)
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Burt Bacharach) *Winner
-Anne of the Thousand Days (Georges Delerue)
-The Secret of Santa Vittoria (Ernest Gold)
-The Wild Bunch (Jerry Fielding)

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: 3
Oscar Wins: 0

Track List

1. "Main Title/First Instruction/The Winton Flyer"
2. "Family Funeral/Lucius' First Drive"
3. "The Road To Memphis"
4. "Corrie's Entrance/The Picture"
5. "Reflections"
6. "The Sheriff Departs/The Bad News/Ned's Secret"
7. "Memphis"
8. "Ned's Trade"
9. "The People Protest"
10. "Prayers At Bedtime"
11. "Lucius Runs To Corrie/Back Home"
12. "Finale"

*Note: 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:
"Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer"

It doesn't take long to understand why John Williams is peerless. Whereas the first two nominations featured collaborations with him in minor roles, he's on full display here. While this is very much a western score with plenty of cues to more traditional music, there's something ambitious and sweeping about Williams' contribution. It not only has the familiar sweeping sound that makes it elegant as well as memorable, but it never feels boisterous. The way that the string mix with the harmonica and other instruments throughout this score is excellent, if at times borderline novelty. Still, it's the sincerity in the simple but effective core melody that drives this score to be an early standout for Williams.

Interesting Standout:

Of all things that I didn't expect to hear John Williams do throughout this column is use a kazoo. While the other instruments help to give this a bluesy bayou sound, it's hard to deny that the kazoo stands out. It grabs the listener and sets them off from the otherwise traditional score. What's more impressive is that the melody and the instruments accompanying it are able to turn this into a show stopper number that is fun and full of life. It's weird in a way that shows signs of an iconic composer in the making. If he had done one too many turns in the opposite directions, he would've been Randy Newman. You wouldn't believe that with Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark, but you can believe it here.

Best Moment:
"The Sheriff Departs/The Bad News/Ned's Secret"

One of the attributes and issues with this score is that most of the soundtrack is suites of several music selections. It makes it tough to judge one piece of excellent music that shifts tempo for the next. With that said, no suite better shows just how adventurous John Williams' music would be until this one. It starts off slow with an excellent use of bass and guitar. You are drawn in, wondering what the hook of the music is going to be. Then it builds to an elegant return to the motif before going into player piano-style fun. Add in that the horns and strings are having a lot of rambunctious fun, and you get the potential of Williams in a nutshell. This isn't his first nomination to display his variety (that would be Valley of the Dolls), but it's the first to feel like his own work.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

If one were to assess what makes John Williams an iconic composer, it would mostly be on display here. While it's true that The Reivers doesn't feature any piece of music as iconic as Star Wars, it does feature his signature ability to make memorable melody. This is the ambitious turning point to a composer who would only grow in stature over the next decade. His ability to use almost every instrument at his disposal - including banging on pipes - is inspired. Even if this sounds more like traditional western scores and not like the Williams that we know, it's the first sign that he would become a genius who would change movie music. For now, he did one admirable job in creating western ear worm music.

Up Next: Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
2. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
3. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)

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