Sunday, June 25, 2017

Composing Greatness: #8. John Williams - "Tom Sawyer" (1973)

Scene from Tom Sawyer
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: Tom Sawyer (1973)
Collaborators (If Available): Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, various singers
Nomination: Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Sting (Marvin Hamlisch) *winner
-Jesus Christ Superstar (Andre Previn, Herbert W. Spencer, Andrew Lloyd Webber)

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: 9
Oscar Wins: 1

Track List

1. "River Song (The Theme from 'Tom Sawyer')" (LINK)
2. "Tom Sawyer" 
3. "Gratifaction" (LINK)
4. "How Come?"
5. "If'n I Was God" (LINK)
6. "A Man's Gotta Be (What He's Born to Be)" (LINK)
7. "Hannibal, Mo (Zouree)"
8. "Freebootin'" (LINK)
9. "Aunt Polly's Soliloquy - Aunt Polly"

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:
"River Song"

As far as family adaptations of a Mark Twain classic goes, this is generally how I expected the music to sound. Its theme is a bit nostalgic and romantic for life on the Mississippi. It makes you want to sit out and run your hand in the water. It's a beautiful little song, and one that warms your heart while getting you in the mood for boys going on adventures. While it's a tad different tonally from the other songs on the soundtrack (or of those I've been able to find), it definitely captures the essence of southern lifestyles and going on simple adventures, thanks in large part to the mix of the sentimental John Williams composing and The Sherman Brothers' clever lyrics.

Interesting Standout:

It's a simple song at heart. It's about two boys just having fun and causing mischief. It's also on the simpler side of the soundtrack, capturing the fun of being young and free. It also has a lot of playful lyrics that make it easy to sing along to. It may not be the greatest song of the group, but it has the Sherman Brothers charm, and it more than makes you want to snap your fingers along and dream your own adventures up.

Best Moment:
 "A Man's Gotta Be (What He's Born to Be)"

Of the few songs that I was able to pull, this song feels the most in line with vintage Sherman Brothers. It takes a fairly mundane topic and then expands on it through comical lyrics. The fact is that it's also a whole lot of fun from a music standpoint, as the singers almost seem to be jaunting through the rhythm, casting playful winks at the listener. More than anything, this is just a song that captures the essence of having fun in spite of a potentially bad influence. You cannot help but be pulled in by the mysticisim, and it makes it one of the funnest songs that John Williams has ever been associated with.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I apologize for being unable to find the entire soundtrack. It is my goal to find every song for these lists, but some works are more obscure. With that said, Tom Sawyer has an ingenious set-up in the collaborations between The Sherman Brothers and John Williams. While Williams' work here occasionally reminds me of The Reivers (not a bad thing), I think that the real heroes here are The Sherman Brothers, who provide typical whimsy to their work, and in the process make a soundtrack fitting for a family adventure film. It's far from my favorite work of Williams', but there's still something in the partnership that makes me wish that he was more open to oddball collaborations in his later years.

Up Next: TheTowering Inferno (1974) 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. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
4. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
5. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
6. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
7. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
8. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)

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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