Sunday, April 15, 2018

Composing Greatness: #39. John Williams - "Catch Me If You Can" (2002)

Scene from Catch Me If You Can
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: Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Frida (Elliot Goldenthal)*winner
-Far From Heaven (Elmer Bernstein)
-The Hours (Philip Glass)
-Road to Perdition (Thomas Newman)

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: 42
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Catch Me If You Can"
2. "Arrete Moi si tu Peux The Float"
3. "Come Fly With Me"
4. "Recollections (The Father's Theme"
5. "The Airport Scene"
6. "Ipanema"
7. "Learning the Ropes"
8. "Father and Son"
9. "Embraceable You"
10. "The Flash Comics Clue"
11. "Deadhunting"
12. "The Christmas Song"
13. "A Broken Home"
14. "Doctor, Lawyer, Lutheran"
15. "The Look of Love"
16. "Catch Me If You Can (Reprise and End Titles"

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:
"Catch Me If You Can"

Save for new Star Wars motifs, one could argue that this is the last truly iconic John Williams theme (to date). What's more impressive is that it doesn't go big or feature high pitched melodies on strings. Instead, it returns him over 30 years back to a more jazzy sound that perfectly fits the film, and its iconic opening credits that this plays over. It's got an antagonistic vibe to it, with the jittery strings capturing a sense of urgency. It tries to hide from itself even as the melody builds, capturing what makes Williams great with a simple melody. It's not his most showy work, but it proves that with the simple work of a melody, he can find the heart of what would make a score work very well.

Interesting Standout:

The score is one of an ebbing and flowing quality, which manages at times to make it feel inconsistent. Even then, there's the quieter tracks that reflect the struggles of a past that Steven Spielberg has explored well. If the music seems melancholic, it's to embody the struggles between father and son, finding an ennui that is somber in tone. It's probably the least memorable motif in the entire score, but its quiet nature captures a period of reflection that the film so desperately needs in order to be more than just a madcap action film. It works well enough.

Best Moment:
"Arrete Moi si tu Peux The Float"

A lot of Catch Me If You Can's appeal is that its biggest successes are established early in the score. On only the second track, it feels like a whirlwind of adventure mixed into the jazzy texture of the theme. Suddenly it becomes something greater in context, finding joy and life in the hunt. This is a great start to a ho-hum score that peaks early and unfortunately never gets too exciting in the back half. Still, it's got everything that makes John Williams a dynamo as a composer. It works at capturing a moment so nicely that it becomes one of the best tracks on here, if just for how enjoyable it all becomes.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

There is one shocking detail: this is the final stretch for John Williams' Composing Greatness. This marks the 10th-to-last nomination that he's had, and I would argue the last time he made a score with a cultural relevance that was original. Sure, he's done good music since, but it isn't the same after this. There's no Harry Potter, Jaws, E.T., or Schindler's List. His big hits are behind him now, and in that regards this score is somewhat special. I hope I'm wrong about the remaining work, if just because this score is surprisingly effective in how quiet it is. It isn't his best and sometimes feels redundant, but it works in all the ways that he's done great before. It's fine, but maybe one of the lesser Williams/Spielberg collaborations out there. 

Up Next: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003) for Best Original Score

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" - 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'" - Superman (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. "Prologue" - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
10. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
11. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
12. "Cybertronics" - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
13. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
14. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
15. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
16. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
17. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
18. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
19. "Catch Me If You Can" - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
20. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
21. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
22. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
23. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
24. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
25. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
26. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
27. "The Patriot" - The Patriot (2000)
28. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
29. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
30. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
31. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
32. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
33. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
34. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
35. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
36. "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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