Odds & Ends/Favorite Musical Scores (Intro)

October 04, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

A couple of minor notes for today...

First, to clear something up, the October 1 "ReelThought" was not intended to be a jab at Roger Ebert. It was a jab at Flightplan, which I believe to possess a plot that is too absurd for even the most blasé viewer to accept at face value. Roger used the word "airtight" in his review, and it seemed as good a jumping-off point as ever. I did a little re-writing on the piece to shift the focus more to Flightplan, but the intention was never to be insulting or inflammatory. Sometimes when you write something, it doesn't turn out the way it was intended to.

Secondly, I have received a few e-mails asking if I have made a final decision about The Price of Terror. Yes, I will be posting it, but I don't know when. I had originally hoped for December, but that looks unlikely. My best estimate is that I have to write ten new chapters. Given my workload, one every two weeks is likely, plus a few weeks up front to re-read everything I have already written (to come back up to speed). That likely means that it will be six months before the book is completed. So a March or April 2006 posting date is reasonable. If I can improve it, I will, but no promises at this time. It should be worth the wait. Even unfinished, I feel The Price of Terror is the best of the three.

Favorite Musical Scores: Introduction

Before I left for Toronto, I spent some time compiling a list of my favorite movie scores/soundtracks. One thing I realized is that I'm not as familiar with pre-1970 scores as I should be to compile a complete list. Many of the screen's legendary composers, including Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner, were prolific prior to 1970. Herrmann wrote a few scores in the '70s (including Taxi Driver) before dying in 1975. Steiner died in 1971; his last score was from 1965. There's a lot of great movie music that was made before 1970, but attempts to incorporate scores from that era into my list reveals the depth of my inadequacy. So I am restricting this to movies released in 1970 and later. In theory, it's a list from 1970 until 2005, but the the most recent score is from the mid-1990s.

As with all lists, this one represents personal preferences and is not intended to be objective. There are a few of ground rules that I have used in preparing it. Soundtracks from musicals are ineligible. Musicals are about songs, not scores, and the presence of tunes muddles the mix. Likewise, soundtracks laden with pop music (like Almost Famous, for example) are discounted - when such films have scores, they're rarely memorable. Scores on this list must fulfill two criteria: they must enhance the movie and be able to stand on their own. I would estimate that, for three or four of the titles on this list, I have listened to a CD of the soundtrack more than 500 times. That's an order of magnitude greater than I have seen any motion picture.

Before I begin the list with #10 (I was not ambitious to try anything longer), I want to mention three pre-1970 favorites. The first is The Magnificent Seven, which is hands-down the best thing Elmer Bernstein ever did. One could make a case that the main theme is better known for its use in Marlboro cigarette ads, but the score is solid from start to finish, and includes a lot more than the familiar opening strains. Casablanca, by Steiner, is another favorite. There's a lot more to this than "As Time Goes By." On Her Majesty's Secret Service, by John Barry, is the best of the Bond scores.

As for the "Honorable Mentions," here are titles that just missed my Top 10: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith), Aliens (James Horner), Glory (James Horner), Dead Again (Patrick Doyle), The Natural (Randy Newman), Raiders of the Lost Ark (John Williams), and Cinema Paradiso (Ennio Morricone). Of the eight Honorable Mentions, it's no surprise that nearly all are represented on my Top 100 movie list. Seven of the Top 10 scores are also on the Top 100 list. That exhibits what I perceive as a correlation between a great score and a great movie.

So I'll post these irregularly over the next few weeks, finishing before Halloween. I'm sure this will spur plenty of discussion.