Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes (Part Two)

Which movie themes to you have made the most impact? So much music and so many films to consider. I'm listing my top forty, and would certainly be curious to hear what's in your inventory.

Last time, I described and uploaded my #40 to #31.  This time I'm continuing the countdown to #21.  This is tough.

I would have liked to include certain pieces of music, but threw them out the window at the last minute. Well I did say "instrumental," and many like the main theme of St. Elmo's Fire have versions with lyrics in the soundtrack. So those didn't make the cut. I did, however, consider those themes which were given lyrics after the movies had been released, and you will note one in the list below.  And what about songs with just a few bars of words?  I included them; after all, the lyrics in these cases are almost purely ornamental.  The songs would never appear in a videoke bar's playlist.

So there. I shall be moving on soon with the next installment of this countdown.  But if you would like to listen to the music described below, simply click here: MY TOP 40 MOVIE THEMES (30-21)

#30 THE UNTOUCHABLES (Ennio Morricone)
Did you not shudder in this movie? And when you did, were not the rhythmic percussion stabs on overdrive? Morricone works wonders again, heightening the suspense in this crime drama on Elliot Ness's attempts to bring gangster Al Capone to justice. Much of the music (which earned for Morricone an Academy Award nomination) was designed to put flesh to the characters of the movie and to keep the audience clinging to their seats.  Listen the piece and you'll know what I mean.

#29 OUT OF AFRICA (John Barry)
"I once had a farm in Africa...." I can still hear Meryll Streep whisper against the lush soundtrack by John Barry.  The film narrates the events surrounding the lives of Europeans who settled in the bush country of Kenya from 1914-1931, from the point of view of a baroness who shares the same lyrical and poetic qualities of the film's music.  The main theme is subtle but full.  Barry's music ranks #15 in the American Film Institute's 100 years of film scores. Those who never got to see the film may remember the score being used in some past Pinoy afternoon weekend soap.

#28 SCHINDLER'S LIST (John Williams)
A tearjecker. John Williams was so challenged, he told director Stephen Spielberg that the film needed a better composer. Spielberg replied, "I know. But they're all dead!" Williams recorded the piano tracks himself and hired Izthak Perlman to do the violin version, as recommended by Speilberg.  The result is a grieving melody that accompanies the story of a German businessman who saves the lives of over a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.  Plot and music: equally poignant. Williams won an Oscar for his work.

#27 THEME FROM SHAFT (Isaac Hayes)
This is bound to reveal my age again.  In 1971, the main theme of 
Shaft won for Isaac Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  Hardly any lyrics though--more spoken word.  The overall score, which was nominated too, seemed to begin the trend of amping the funk and the wah guitars to accompany scenes involving African-Americans and crime.  Thanks to Eileen for owning the LP of Shaft's soundtrack.  I developed an afro as a result. Way too cool.

#26 THEME FROM THE CHAMP (Dave Grusin)
No, "What Matters Most" is not in the original soundtrack of the The Champ.  The song there with lyrics is Chris Thompson's "If You Remember Me." The lyrics to the movie's main theme were later developed by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and first recorded by Kenny Rankin (recently by Aiza Seguerra). Blame all this on the eloquence of Grusin's instrumental. Moving as always. Nominated for an Oscar again. This is the third from Grusin for me. I see a trend....

#25 THE OMEN (Jerry Goldsmith)
Awfully frightening. The polar opposite of The Exorcist in my last entry. Do not attempt to listen to this alone in the dark. Goldsmith won an Oscar here beating heavyweights Bernard Hermann and Lalo Schifrin. I guess rightfully so. I remember having had nightmares with this soundtrack playing in the background. That ought to be a proof of the music's success. Oh, there are lyrics on this too, but I hardly consider the piece a singable tune.

#24 THE MISSION (Ennio Morricone)
I remember performing "Gabriel's Oboe," one the of the soundtrack's pieces, with flutist Benito Valencia during a college event. We were both simply enchanted with Morricone's score, and I suppose many still are too, 22 years after the film's release. Recently, Kelly Sweet recorded a version of the song with lyrics--"Nella Fantasia" (and so did local balladeer Reymond Sajor). But for this list, I am voting for another piece in the movie, "Vita Nostra." I had goosebumps while listening to the song in the theater, and my eyes started to well up. Sublime, I thought. Match the music with De Niro's performance in that unforgettable scene, and you've got a movie moment. 

#23 ON GOLDEN POND (Dave Grusin)
One of my favorites of all time. The opening piano phrases easily set the mood for melancholia. And why not? Grusin is on the ivories. It's not easy explaining how you feel once confronted with music like this accompanying a drama on a stormy father-daughter relationship, a marriage in its twilight years, and a special bond between and old man and a stranger of a boy--all set amidst the splendor of the lakes of New Hampshire. "Emptying" is a good word to describe it, in a wonderfully quiet way. Too bad Grusin lost the Oscar to someone who will appear in this list soon.

#22 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Maurice Jarre)
Those familiar with old epic flicks (filmed in Super Panavision) will remember the glorious overtures during the opening minutes of the movie. Of the many overtures recorded for film, I believe Lawrence of Arabia ranks among the most memorable. I guess, with the Arabian desert as your cinematic landscape, a musician has got room to play with exotic scales and rhythms--and Jarre had just that, earning himself an Oscar for merely 6 weeks of work. Exhausted, it took him 5 months to fully recover. Listen to the track and you'll understand.

#21 MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (Giorgio Moroder)
In the late 70s, my dad gifted me with the soundtrack of Midnight Express, which he purchased during a trip to Europe. I listened, and thought: Disco. Oh, but I thought it was progressive disco--highly inventive, extremely electronic, ahead of its time. The spacey and dizzying yet gritty feel seemed to complement well the narrative of how an American student is sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey.  Moroder beat Grusin's "Heaven Can Wait" during the Oscars for his outstanding work.

No comments: