By now it’s no secret that I believe that the composer-director relationship is one of the most important in film. I’ve studied it, actively and passively, for as long as I’ve been aware of film music.
Film music is as much about collaboration and relationships as any other part of the art. And that goes beyond the work a composer and filmmaker do together. So today, I’ll be looking at one particular relationship that spanned only two films, but cast a wide shadow.
As a composer, Jerry Goldsmith enjoyed working with featured musicians, such as Branford Marsalis on The Russia House and Lebo M (the first voice you hear in The Lion King) on Congo. He loved the challenge of finding a musican’s strengths and composing to them, and moreover, he was BRILLIANT at it. (Of course, if you’ve ever heard The Russia House, you’ll have discovered that already – it’s some of the best work from both Goldsmith and Marsalis, and that’s saying a LOT.)
One of Goldsmith’s earlier collaborations was with Paul Williams, that great American songwriter, on Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH. The film and its score are both regarded as classics today, but there were quite a few challenges getting there.
As Williams admits, he himself was one of them. At the time he was working on the film, he was a full-blown alcoholic, and this naturally made him much more difficult to work with. But Goldsmith worked with him, stuck with him.
And the result was “Flying Dreams,” the gorgeous lullaby that forms the musical heart of the film. It’s a highlight in both their careers.
Many years later, Goldsmith called on Williams again, this time for Phil Alden Robinson’s adaptation of The Sum of All Fears. This was an important film for the composer, because it would be one of his last – Goldsmith was battling cancer, and he knew that he was facing the end of at least his career. But he didn’t let up, and produced some of his most powerful music for Jack Ryan’s first reboot.
Early on, Goldsmith knew he wanted a song to open the film – an elegaic, haunting melody. And that’s where Paul Williams came in. But this time he was sober, and had been for twelve years. So he was eager to make up for his behavior on The Secret of NIMH, to a man he considered a great mentor and a friend.
This time, Williams looks back on the experience much more fondly. And again, the result is just beautiful. You hear it at the beginning of the film, as “The Mission,” and you hear it again in the end titles as “If We Could Remember.” Together, they form a perfect end to an unsung partnership.
That story’s in Jeff Bond’s liner notes to The Sum of All Fears (and since he has Williams’s own words, he tells it far better). It genuinely moved me when I first read it. That Williams, after 20 years, would still want to do right by Goldsmith, and that Goldsmith would give him the chance, says a lot about the character of both men.
Both scores are now available as limited edition CDs – The Secret of NIMH from Intrada, and The Sum Of All Fears from La La Land Records. Of course, I highly recommend both of them, but they might not be around much longer, so act quickly.
Thanks as always for hanging out with me on Film Music Friday. Until next time…