Monday, June 5, 2017

Composing Greatness: #5. John Williams - "Images" (1972)

Scene from Images
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: Images (1972)
Collaborators (If Available): None
Nomination: Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Limelight (Charles Chaplin, Raymond Rash, Larry Russell) *winner
-Napoleon and Samantha (Buddy Baker)
-The Poseidon Adventure (John Williams)
-Sleuth (John Addison)

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: 5
Oscar Wins: 1

Track List

1. "In Search of Unicorns"
2. "The House"
3. "Dogs, Ponies & Old Ruins"
4. "Visitations"
5. "Reflections"
6. "The Killing of Marcel"
7. "The Love Montage"
8. "Blood Moon"
9. "land of the Ums"
10. "The Night Witch Ride"
11. "The Waterfall/Final Chapter"

*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:
"In Search of Unicorns"

Part of me is very curious to live in a time before John Williams was John Williams. Honestly, we are five nominations deep at this point, and I don't really feel like I have heard an authentic masterpiece from him yet. While The Reivers and Fiddler on the Roof were fun, they don't sound like a composer who would define the profession. With that said, there are moments here where I both feel he's made progress and is even more isolated from what his legacy would become. There's a beautiful piano melody that centers the piece, but it is surrounded by strings and ambient instrumentation that adds a schizophrenic element to the music. At times, I feel like he is going for a Bernard Herrmann vibe here. Other times I'm convinced that he's influencing composers like Jonny Greenwood with his violent strings. Even then, this doesn't strike me as a Williams score, and the sparse elegance at the center of this piece does little to change my mind that this is probably his most frustrating Oscar nomination so far.

Interesting Standout:

It is hard to pick a moment in this score that stands out, especially since they all share a similar atmospheric quality. Most of the tracks here sound like clanging pipes mixed with weird string combinations. In this case, I could swear that we hear a lot of what sounds like haunted house music. As it stands, the lack of continuity in melody annoys me, and it may be with intent. The disconcerting vibe is definitely the defining feature of John Williams' score. With that said, I think that this score's only redeeming quality is that it connects this composer to the world of creepy scores. In another life, Williams probably would've composed The Exorcist. Instead, he has this style of contribution, which is more interesting to dissect than it is to actually listen to.

Best Moment:
 "Blood Moon"

I admit that this score is largely not my type of thing. I am more of a classical and rhythmic guy who prefers traditional instrumentation. Nowhere does that shine through best than on this track, which returns the melody to its romantic core. It's whimsical and manages to surface over the insanity around it. I'm sure it's intentional, but out of context it works as a piece of music with a melody that captures the listener and makes them want to keep listening. It isn't bogged down in weird choices such as clanging pipes, men grunting, and even a hokey part on "The Love Montage" that sounds like a redneck version of the Jaws soundtrack. It's a good piece of music in an otherwise mediocre score, especially if judged as a nomination.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I can understand why Williams would want to do something so different from his previous work. He was coming off of the impressive Fiddler on the Roof, and could experiment with whatever he wanted. That whatever he wanted appears frequently on this score. It bugs me a bit and it doesn't work too well as actual music. I'm only thankful that the album falls on the shorter side of things. Otherwise, I can see how this influences composers who want to capture madness through music. It definitely has a lot of melodramatic tension that I'm sure works within context. On its own, it sounds like an album that you play in a haunted house, and not one that I'm particularly wild about as it is. 

Up Next: The Poseidon Adventure (1972) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
2. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
3. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
4. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
5. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score

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