Sunday, July 2, 2017

Composing Greatness: #9. "The Towering Inferno" (1974)

Scene from The Towering Inferno
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 Towering Inferno (1974)
Collaborators (If Available): Maureen McGovern (singer, "We May Never Love Like This Again")
Nomination: Best Original Dramatic Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Godfather Part II (Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola) *winner
-Chinatown (Jerry Goldsmith)
-Murder on the Orient Express (Richard Rodney Bennett)
-Shanks (Alex North)

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: 10
Oscar Wins: 1

Track List

1. "Main Title" (LINK)
2. "An Architect's Dream" (LINK)
3. "Lisolette And Harlee"
4. "Something For Susan" (LINK)
5. "Trapped Lovers"
6. "We May Never Love Like This Again" (LINK)
7. "Susan And Doug" 
8. "The Helicopter Explosion"
9. "Planting The Charges – And Finale" (LINK)

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"

Going in, I was expecting this to be a retread of The Poseidon Adventure. Thematically, they are very similar films. However, I think the one most interesting thing about this score is that it actually improves upon my issues with the other. For starters, it relies more on melody and the theatrics that John Williams usually puts into his work. There's the familiar builds and moments of tension that engages the listener and makes them feel invested in seeing something special. In terms of original themes, this is probably the strongest that Williams has made yet, as it has the big production that we'll come to associate with him (especially with the next nomination, Jaws). For now, this is a great piece of work that shows the master finally at home in his style.

Interesting Standout:
"Something for Susan"

It is unfortunate that I wasn't able to find every piece of score from this movie. I feel like had I done so, I would've gotten a better sense of the music and progression. Even then, there's something different about this track. It is more soothing, lulling the listener into peace. I have not seen the movie, but I can assume that this is one of the more romantic and intimate scenes in the movie. It is tepid, but inoffensive. I don't love the song, and it's on the weaker side of things. However, it's still a decent filler track that captures the peaceful ambiance in the middle of a powerful inferno.

Best Moment:
 "An Architect's Dream"

Again, I don't know what scene this would play over in the movie. However, I like to think that it is one overlooking a skyscraper and the camera lunging up in awe. This music may be the most assured piece of John Williams score to this point. It has the perfect melodic build as well as featuring intricate production that allows everything to capture an emotion. The listener is left feeling intense from the swelling music, wishing to go on. There's some cautionary undertones to the score, but this is possibly a perfect balance of the edgy and uneven first few nominations of Williams, and the honed in perfection of the period he is about to enter. 

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

As I have mentioned before, I definitely think that this may be the moment that John Williams went from being another composer to being THE composer. As much as I have liked his work before, you get the sense that he is still experimenting and trying to figure out what his style will be. It's worked out, as with Fiddler on the Roof, and not so much with Images. Here, he manages to finally make a score that feels suited for a big movie. You're left listening to a towering work of awe that makes you believe in the power of score. It doesn't distract from whatever's on screen, but works to build on the emotion. I'm confident that this one being among his best work won't last long (especially considering the next few nominations), but it's definitely a work that shows growth. Thankfully that Maureen McGovern song doesn't count, as it one of the worst songs to ever be nominated for Best Original Song. 

Up Next: Jaws (1975) 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" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
3. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
4. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
5. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
6. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
7. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
8. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
9. "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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