Sunday, January 28, 2018

Composing Greatness: #31. "Nixon" (1995)

Scene from Nixon
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: Nixon (1995)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Dramatic Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Postman (Il Postino) (Luis Bacalov)*winner
-Apollo 13 (James Horner)
-Braveheart (James Horner)
-Sense and Sensibility (Patrick Doyle)

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: 34
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "The 1960's; The Turbulent Years"
2. "Main Title... The White House Gate"
3. "Growing Up Whittier"
4. "The Ellsberg Break-In and Watergate"
5. "Love Field; Dallas, November 1963"
6. "Losing a Brother"
7. "Making a Comeback"
8. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
9. "Track 2 and The Back of Pigs"
10. "The Miami Convention, 1968"
11. "The Meeting with Mao"
12. "I am That Sacrifice"
13. "The Farewell Scene"

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:
"Main Title"

As I've mentioned before, I really like the partnership between John Williams and Oliver Stone, as I feel it has helped the composer explore some of his most mature themes musically. However, I think that this may be one of the few that I personally didn't care for. It's not bad by any fault of its own, but it's a tad boring and exists in the ominous middle-ground where atmosphere takes prominence. Williams is good at that and he does a decent job here, but there's nothing that's immediately memorable about the work on Nixon that he hasn't done better elsewhere. If anything, this is a nice little hodgepodge of themes and styles that he's done better before and after.

Interesting Standout:
"The Miami Convention, 1968"

It's a bit of an odd track given what's around it. The music tends to be more somber and ominous, creating the controversial president's life into a Greek tragedy epic. However, this song fully embraces a different tempo for the entire track. It wouldn't be wrong to think of this as more of a theme you'd hear from Star Wars or Harry Potter, but here it is used almost as an adrenaline-inducing track after a series of quieter music that is used almost to express a more internal story. Even more than that, it's a track that uses melodies and themes to a better effect than most of the music around it.

Best Moment:
"The 1960's: The Turbulent Years"

If there's one thing that John Williams is exceptional at, it's introducing the world of a movie with almost too much ease. Here, he manages to throw in dozens of instruments into an orchestral tune that is lively and exciting. It's full of espionage and wonder, recalling the mystery that surrounds this president's career. It is the type of music that could've lead way to a better thriller soundtrack, but instead is the storm before the calm. It's plenty fun, even if it's far from the best work that he has ever done. Still, it's a perfect example of how he can use music to get under the viewers' skin and make a world that is defined by its musical accompaniment.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

As much as I love the idea of John Williams and Oliver Stone working together, this one was a bit of a disappointment. It is a fine score that achieves its ominous tone nicely within the context of the movie. However, it's far from his best work and captures him trying to be more of a James Newton Howard than a full on John Williams score. It does the trick, but it doesn't capture the zest of his other work for the sole fact that there isn't distinctive melodies or recurring motifs that elevate it to something exciting and fun. I know that this film should be more mature, but even with Stone he has done more mature themes for his work. Imagine what he could've done with a catchier motif to ground the drama. It could've been something exceptional.

Up Next: Sleepers (1996) for Best Original Score (Drama)

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Jaws (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
10. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
11. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
12. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
13. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
14. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
15. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
16. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
17. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
18. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
19. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
20. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
21. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
22. "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. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
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. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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