Something for Thursday: Happy Birthday, John Williams!

John Williams turns 92 today…and he’s still working.

In his honor, let’s listen to some of his work!

Williams won a Grammy just the other night for this: “Helena’s Theme” from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It’s a typically gorgeous theme that manages to evoke Marion’s Theme from all the way back in Raiders of the Lost Ark without echoing it or quoting it.

Here’s something that vexed film music fans for years: the unavailability of the End Credits music that actually was heard in the film of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The suite that appeared on the album was nice enough, but the film version is longer, quoting several of the movie’s themes as the last scene in the Indian village plays out. And when we finally go to credits and the Raiders March fires up, it actually fades out in the repeat (at the 3:32 mark) so that we can here a brief quote of Short Round’s Theme. Williams’s ability to put seemingly disparate themes together into an actually cohesive whole is always amazing.

Going back even farther, here’s one of Williams’s earliest contributions to film music: his score to the law-school drama The Paper Chase. Yes, it sounds a bit dated, but you can absolutely hear the fingerprints of the Williams-to-come in this cue, the End Credits suite from that movie:

It’s the lot of most film composers to have to turn in really good work for movies that…aren’t. Hook is, for me, one of the few misfires in Steven Spielberg’s output; it fell in that weird late 80s-early 90s era when Spielberg hadn’t really transitioned into the finer drama work that was to come, but you could tell that his heart wasn’t entirely in the magic-and-fantasy flicks he was still doing. But along comes Williams with this amazing score, and this almost perfect tone-poem-in-miniature:

When Williams’s score to 2002’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones arrived, a lot of people were a bit befuddled by that score’s mix of darkness and lyrical love music. One person quipped on some message board or someplace, “It sounds like Nixon on a date.” That was pretty funny, but it seemed to highlight the fact that Williams’s score to Oliver Stone’s Nixon has never been particularly beloved. And that interests me, because I have always found it one of his most fascinating scores. He brings just the right blend of paranoid darkness and throwback Americana to Stone’s film (which I consider a masterpiece). Nixon has some of Williams’s most powerful and most overlooked music.

I do have to make an admission: I’m not always a big fan of Williams when he is scoring comedies or really light movies. For whatever reason, I always feel better when there’s a tinge of darkness in Williams’s music. (I can live quite happily without hearing Home Alone again, to be honest.) But in this wonderful march for Spielberg’s early big-budget misfire 1941, you can tell that John Williams has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. This is absolutely delightful.

I’ve never seen Seven Years in Tibet. I couldn’t even tell you right now what it’s about without Googling it, other than…a guy is in Tibet for seven years. But I love this theme:

Finally–and I’m only ending this here because let’s be honest, I could go on a lot longer about John Williams and how much he’s meant to me and to my creative life throughout my years, but I actually have to eat dinner tonight–here’s a suite of another of what seems to me an underrated score, which is all the more surprising to me because every time I listen to it, I’m dazzled anew by how new this sounds, even for a throwback score. It’s Catch Me If You Can.

Thank you for the music, Maestro Williams! 

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One Response to Something for Thursday: Happy Birthday, John Williams!

  1. Roger says:

    I was very fond of the movie and TV show The Paper Chase

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