Sunday, December 17, 2017

Composing Greatness: #28. John Williams - "JFK" (1991)

Scene from JFK
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: Hook (1991)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken) *winner
-Bugsy (Ennio Morricone)
-The Fisher King (George Fenton)
-The Prince of Tides (James Newton Howard)

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: 30
Oscar Wins: 4

Track List

1. "Prologue (JFK)"
2. "The Motorcade"
3. "Theme from JFK"
4. "Eternal Father, Strong to Save"
5. "Garrison's Obsession"
6. "The Conspirators"
7. "The Death of David Ferrie"
8. "Garrison Family Theme"
9. "The Witnesses"
10. "Arlington"
11. "Theme from JFK (Reprise)"

Note: Listen to 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:
"Theme from JFK"

It's easy to give Steven Spielberg all of the credit in terms of great John Williams collaborations. Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark are all incredible works. However, I think there's a good argument in suggesting that Oliver Stone is a great rival in that category, in part because Born on the Fourth of July and JFK both have a more mature sound, of which challenges Williams to do bolder compositions. They are allowed to be more somber, but also use instrumentation not often associated with his bigger numbers. This is an incredible theme for another great soundtrack. In fact, it does feel like The West Wing ripped this off wholesale from its drumming to its somber horns. It feels iconic upon the first few notes, and it's the type of music that perfectly captures the uncertainty that this movie conveys. Williams has released another masterpiece, and what's more shocking is that it wasn't with Spielberg.

Interesting Standout:
"The Conspirators"

While the soundtrack is largely fueled by marching drums and horns, it's interesting to hear the score go into an espionage corner for a track. The sound drips as the piano builds, creating an unnerving, almost Bernard Herrmann-style intensity to the music. It's a fun track that shows John Williams' ability to capture a moment and make the action memorable - even if you can't see what it is. For an album that is largely soaring or somber, this exists somewhere in the middle as a moment that drives panic and insecurity into the score. There may be other places where a walking piano line is featured, but none are executed quite as effectively as this one, especially given that it doesn't sound that out of place either from the rest of the score.

Best Moment:
"Garrison's Obsession"

Again, this score is full of tangential moments of thrills and chills. However, John Williams' finest piece is one that evokes Bernard Herrmann almost deliberately. The music is nauseating in that it manages to create a dizzying sonic effect on the listener as it takes them into the world of Garrison's obsession. It's hypnotic how the instruments sound like they're bending apart, creating a delusional landscape that is hard to describe, but with music like this it's easy to envision. The allure of this track manages to be one of Williams' bigger standouts in general for this era, in that it manages to challenge him in ways that haven't really been explored since the Images days. In fact, he's never quite committed to being this experimental in a mainstream score ever again.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

As I've mentioned before, John Williams' work with Oliver Stone may be one of the most underrated collaborations. Stone's more mature and epic work challenges Williams to write music that isn't driven by poppy rhythms, but more mature elements that build upon each other to create a landscape of despair and uncertainty. There are moments where he's allowed to be fun, and it shows in the final track. However, I think that JFK is one of his best yet again - and I would be angrier of it losing the Oscar if it wasn't beat by Beauty and the Beast. In that case, it's almost hard to argue against Alan Menken, who just had a better run at the time than Williams did.

Up Next: Schindler's List (1993) for Best 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. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
7. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
8. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
9. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
10. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
11. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
12. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
13. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
14. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
15. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
16. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
17. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
18. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
19. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
20. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
21. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
23. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
24. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
25. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
26. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
27. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

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

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "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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