Sunday, February 18, 2018

Composing Greatness: #33.John Williams - "Amistad" (1997)

Scene from Amistad
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: Amistad (1997)
Collaborators (If Available): Pamela Dillard (vocals, "Dry Your Tears, Afrika," "Sierre Leone 1839 and the Capture of Cinque," "Crossing the Atlantic," and "Going Home")
Nomination: Best Original Dramatic Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Titanic (James Horner)*winner
-Good Will Hunting (Danny Elfman)
-Kundun (Philip Glass)
-L.A. Confidential (Jerry Goldsmith)

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: 36
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Dry Your Tears, Afrika"
2. "Sierra Leone, 1839 and The Capture of Cinque"
3. "Crossing the Atlantic"
4. "Cinque's Theme"
5. "Cinque's Memories of Home"
6. "Middle Passage"
7. "The Long Road to Justice"
8. "July 4, 1839"
9. "Mr. Adam takes the Case"
10. "La Amistad Remembered"
11. "The Liberation of Lomboko"
12. "Addam's Summation"
13. "Going Home"
14. "Dry your Tears, Afrika (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:
"Dry Your tears, Afrika"

It's great to hear John Williams flexing his muscles again. I feel like it's been awhile since he's produced a score that has been this enjoyably different for him. While it's based off of a poem from centuries ago, the work that he does in creating the singing and orchestration into what it is ends up being sort of beautiful. I like what he achieves with this sound and creates a score that can be either quiet, or booming with so much emotion that it becomes something breathtaking. I'll admit that this lacks the whimsy and fun of his other scores, but it definitely has more going for it than usual.

Interesting Standout:
"July 4, 1839"

On one hand, this is very familiar territory for John Williams, if just because it returns to the traditional orchestration that defines the second half of the score. However, it's a turning point that is more interesting coming off of quieter and more nuanced tracks that capture the somber nature of the story. Here, it becomes more classical in a way that integrates the cultural differences without making one feel out of place. I especially like how the strings work within the score and create a sense of location. It's  maybe not the most memorable track, but it definitely stand out on an album full of African chants and percussive instruments. 

Best Moment:
"Mr. Addams Takes the Case"

The track allows John Williams to build to something beautiful and triumphant. Again, this falls into something more classical, but it's one that's built on patience and delivers to those willing to get lost in the tonal shift of each note. It helps that the building of melodies and orchestration hold a certain impact within that captures a sense of pride within it. It's unclear what it is about Williams' longer tracks, but they general manage to feature layers and complexities that are far greater and interesting than the average track. In a score that's lacking a lot of memorable notes, this still manages to deliver something more mature and interesting among a score that's not in a hurry to go anywhere.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

It's a bit of a tough call, in part because the overall music isn't all that memorable. It doesn't capture the heights of what a John Williams score usually is. However, there are enough moments to suggest that this is still a well orchestrated piece of music. The song by itself is one of his finest works and I feel would warrant a place on this list anyways. As a whole, it does enough to get me satisfied, but it's not particularly exciting when paired alongside his other work. Had this been almost anyone else producing music, then there's a good chance that it might have been a more emphatic yes to this decision.

Up Next: Saving Private Ryan (1998) 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. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
11. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
12. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
13. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
14. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
15. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
16. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
17. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
18. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
19. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
20. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
21. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
22. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
23. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
24. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
25. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
26. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
27. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
28. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
29. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
30. "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

No comments:

Post a Comment