Sunday, October 22, 2017

Composing Greatness: #22. John Williams - "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987)

Scene from The Witches of Eastwick
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 Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Last Emperor (David Byrne, Cong Su, Ryuichi Sakamoto) *winner
-Cry Freedom (George Fenton, Jonas Gwangwa)
-The Untouchables (Ennio Morricone)
-Empire of the Sun (John Williams)

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: 23
Oscar Wins: 4

Track List

1. "The Township of Eastwick"
2. "The Dances of the Witches"
3. "Maleficio"
4. "The Seduction of Alex"
5. "Daryl's Secrets"
6. "The Seduction of Suki & The Ballroom Scene"
7. "Daryl Arrives"
8. "The Tennis Game"
9. "Have Another Cherry!"
10. "Daryl Rejected"
11. "The Ride Home"
12. "The Destruction of Daryl"
13. "The Children's Carousel"
14. "End Credits (The Dance of the Witches Reprise)"

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:
"The Dances of Witches"

I have been under the impression that it would be difficult for Danny Elfman to exist without John Williams. There's been traces over Williams' career to show where this jaunty love of whimsical marches comes from. In the case of The Witches of Eastwick, it comes through so blatantly that it's surprising that this isn't a Tim Burton soundtrack. With that said, it's got a fun and upbeat vibe to it that captures a sense of supernatural adventure to follow. Much like the best of his work, this score's biggest success is in finding a simple and hum-worthy melody that gets the audience engaged quickly. This is definitely one of the best themes that Williams ever produced outside of Steven Spielberg, and it's a shame that it doesn't get talked about more.

Interesting Standout
"The Tennis Game"

A large part of the score is a haunting whimsy based around the theme. Here, there's a moment of levity in which there's some comedy in the music. It's a nice pastiche of things that John Williams has played with throughout his career. It even becomes borderline vaudeville at points, reflecting just how diverse this score can possibly get. Even then, there's an excellent mixture of string and wind instruments that create a song that is a bit busy, but manages to capture a sense of play that only a master can successfully turn from novelty into a memorable and catchy tune of its own. This score is so strong that it's hard to really find a song that goes against the norm, but this comes the closest.

Best Moment
"The Seduction of Suki & The Ballroom Scene"

If there's one area where John Williams excels the most, it's in his ability to build a score. Over the course of this soundtrack's longest track, he manages to convey every motif and tone in a way that is astounding. It builds to the central theme, finding a way to turn ominous quiet into a thundering cry of terror. There's plenty of melodrama and elegance in here as well, proving that everything is compatible. It just takes a little more effort to make it blend together. It is also the best distillation of everything that Williams does best, even if he occasionally sounds like Danny Elfman. This is an excellent score, and this is the best example of why that is.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

While there's plenty to enjoy about the rest of the score, I think that the best way to determine how great a John Williams score is to try and hum the melody after the album's complete. While this isn't quite as iconic as Steven Spielberg's best work, Williams doesn't whimper in the realm of horror. If anything, he shows that there's plenty of other elements to love that he doesn't get to do too often. This is the upbeat and marching style that he's always done, but with a nice twist. The Witches of Eastwick may not be remembered as the most recognized score in his catalog, but it more than deserves to be among the all time best work he's done. It's immediately recognizable and works as a horror season score that could be put on out of context.

Up Next: The Accidental Tourist (1988) for Best Music, Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 
2. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
3. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
4. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Jaws (1978) 
5. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
6. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
7. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
8. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
9. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
10. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
11. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
12. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
13. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
14. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
15. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
16. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
17. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
18. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
19. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
20. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
21. "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)
2. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
3. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
4. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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