May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 09 April 2009 11:03
When Academy Award-winning composer Maurice Jarre died last week, he left a legacy of beautiful music created for a gallery of films. His death offers an opportunity to spotlight this most important element of the movie experience. This week, the Reel Dad salutes the music and movies of this marvelous movie composer.
For many, the background music in a movie may be something to overlook rather than notice, a minor part of the cinema experience that doesn’t make a great deal of difference. But in the Schumann home, where one son is a composer and the others love music, the contribution of a film’s score is a frequent topic of discussion.
Maurice Jarre, who died last week at age 84, defined the contribution that rich music can make to the movie experience. Through a series of epics (most directed by David Lean) as well as other, smaller films, he constantly challenged the boundaries of film music, constantly introducing new sounds and instrumentation, and discovering new ways to musically support a film’s visuals. Here are some highlights of his career — all available on DVD.
Lawrence of Arabia. The secret to scoring for a film is to create a musical experience that enhances — without detracting from — the visual experience. Through all of film there is, perhaps, no better example of a perfect marriage of picture and theme than Jarre’s Academy Award-winning score for this 1962 epic from director David Lean. Never does the music get in the way of the narrative; Jarre magically creates images of the vast desert through his score to supplement the striking Lean visuals.
Doctor Zhivago. Another great film achievement is Jarre’s Academy Award-winning score for this magical 1966 adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel. The score resembles a symphonic work with great passages of melody supplemented by variation of theme and rhythm, highlighted by the memorable strains of “Somewhere My Love.” Most important, the music adds a great deal to the emotional intensity of the romance as well as the sweeping scope of the epic.
Ryan’s Daughter. Even though critics were not generally happy with David Lean’s 1970 epic — and audiences stayed away from the box office — Jarre’s score is a musical masterpiece. The film begins with an overture of classic scope that beautifully captures the Irish instrumentation perfectly suited for the film. For music lovers, check out the DVD of the film and listen only to the score, without dialogue; it is a lesson in how to use music to bring visuals to life.
A Passage to India. Jarre often said that to score a film by David Lean was a creative pleasure and challenge. Their fourth collaboration, in 1984, brought Jarre his third Academy Award, and perfectly captured the sounds of India to complement the film. As a film composer, Jarre always believed his work to be secondary to the director; in this film, however, the relative contributions of the creators could be debated. The score is a musical masterwork.
Fatal Attraction. Jarre didn’t excel only at the classic dramas of David Lean. He could create sleazy scores with the best of them, as he proved in 1987 with the jazzy sounds of this romantic thriller. In this surprisingly rich score, he combines what he studied as a young composer in jazz, percussion and harmony at the Sorbonne in Paris. The result is a perfect contribution to this fun, “guilty pleasure” of a film.
Witness. When a composer works on a film, he or she does not begin work until after the film is completed. At times, when the final film is a magical surprise, the composer’s work can highlight the film’s special attributes. For this Peter Wier film from 1985, Jarre created a magical sound of acoustical instruments that perfectly complements the rustic themes of the film.
So next time you are looking for a unique family film experience, check out one of these films with scores by Maurice Jarre, and focus on the music. You will treat yourself to a marvelous movie menu.
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