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Jerry Goldsmith
A personal obituary by Camus
 
"So, are you eating anything healthy yet?"
Jerry Goldsmith to the author after one of
his regular UK concerts in Nottingham

 

I have met three geniuses in my life - and, yes, I know how overused that word is. I use it very carefully, very deliberately after much thought. Each was a genius in communication, being able to touch a great deal of people very profoundly through their art and craft. One directed movies, one wrote books and the third wrote music.

Michael Powell stands as a colossus in world film-making and to my delight, he agreed with my assessment that his best film was A Matter of Life and Death. What the hell did I know? I was in my twenties. As an octogenarian, he wandered Cardiff's high street with me in tow looking for the bookshop in which he would dutifully sign copies of the first half of his memoirs. I got the wrong bookshop and chaos reigned for delicious minutes as an eighty plus year old man started to deface books (albeit his own, unknown to the staff) with great gusto while a horrified manager weighed his chances of uprooting him. Powell died in 1990 and the world is a much, much poorer place without him.

I met the second, a writer, at another book signing (mercifully, this time, in the right shop) in 1980 and stayed at his side while we discussed the up and coming TV show of his famous (now five part) trilogy. As his interests broadened into natural history, we corresponded over films I had edited, films which showcased places and people he featured in the book he was most proud of - Last Chance to See. Aside from my sharing his insane enthusiasm for Macintosh computers, Douglas Adams seemed to be my 'celebrity' sub-conscious. His was a unique voice. That voice was silenced in May 2001 at the horrifically absurd age of 48.

On Wednesday 21st July 2004, the third of my three geniuses died. I spent more time in his company and was able to see him annually when his touring and movie score recordings brought him to the UK. Through close friend and Hollywood director Richard Franklin, I even got to have a memorable meal at his house in Beverly Hills. There's more on that farcical social faux pas of mine later. The late and truly great Jerry Goldsmith was a composer of the highest calibre. It's not for me to list why he is truly a great (I'm sure his unending list of film scores at imdb.com will make you gawp with astonishment). This is to be a much more personal tribute. The flesh and blood man is often very divorced from any myth surrounding his accomplishments but Jerry was different. His vast legacy continues to moves me, excite me and reach down into places I'd only ever suspected were in me and brings them out more often than not smiling. In person, the man himself was a joy.

'The man who hated salad' with Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry worked in a much-maligned medium. Known in the classical world as 'programme music', scores for movies are and were never held in high regard despite the fact that Stravinsky himself was a film composer. It's music dictated by the images. Let's ignore that Beethoven wrote some of his best work as programme music (his 'Pastorale' anyone?) and a whole host of Mozart works are musical scores to accompany another medium. It's believed by a lot of music scholars that if there were a Mozart of the 21st century, he or she'd be writing film scores. If Schaffer's Amadeus is to be half believed, making money was a very big priority for Wolfgang. After all, Jerry lived in dollar-dependent Beverly Hills and at one live performance in London before conducting his score for First Blood, he stepped up to the podium:

"What can I say about Rambo?" - by then in the UK, a gung-ho macho American joke. His reply was typical Goldsmith. "Well, it bought my house…" And it was a great house.

TV in the 70s was awash with hummable themes. It was only when I met the man, I realised that he had written many of them (The Man From Uncle, The Waltons, Dr. Kildare). But Jerry's accomplishments are more marked in his feature film work. There are several 'Goldsmith moments' that mean a lot to me. Jerry heavily researched his scores. For Patton, he discovered that the general himself believed himself to be reincarnated. Jerry worked in to his score a glorious mythic brass evocation of past lives that - in underscore over the scene when the general kneels at an ancient battle site - sends shivers down my spine. Karl Malden asks George C. Scott after the latter's account of ancient warfare "How do you know this?" The answer (with Jerry’s trumpets) "Because I was there…"

There is no one on this planet so sorely misrepresented in the Oscar stakes as Jerry Goldsmith. I have come to the rather mean spirited conclusion that a man who is nominated seventeen times (and wins only once) has a right to concoct a few conspiracy theories. I mean, the Academy even asked Jerry to write a theme for the Oscar Show itself. Why? Did John Williams have flu? This isn't to denigrate Williams' contribution to film scoring. I think Williams' work is superlative. I just wish he wasn’t lauded and applauded for scores whose inspiration and origins had stemmed from elsewhere. All you Star Wars fans, please find a recording of Korngold’s main theme for King's Row. Thank you. You'll see what I mean. Jerry was either colossally unlucky or his fellow composers were so in awe, they felt they had to vote for the lesser scores, to 'get him back' for being so jaw-droppingly talented.

Cut to 1985. I had just been blown away by the first feature I’d managed to get work on (OK, in a very lowly un-credited capacity). The Right Stuff was a tour de force and the score won an Oscar for Bill Conti. In the Oscar race, it was up against Jerry's score for Under Fire. I was reminded by Andrew London, the editor of the film I was working on in the UK, that Conti's score was a reworking of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I was crushed. I listened to Under Fire as preparation for working with Jerry in London. It is a complex, rich, joyous and dark score. It is a true original, ethnically representative and as dramatic as all hell. It lost. I could see why the man was so disappointed but worse was to come.

I was staying with the afore mentioned Richard Franklin in London during the scoring of his film Link. I had been warned to stay off the subject of Jerry's recent work with Ridley Scott. Six years earlier, Jerry’s Alien score had become a horror score masterpiece (despite the appalling chopping and changing that went on in post production). Jerry was angered that some cues he had written for Alien had been dropped for (get this) music he had written for another movie (Freud) and a piece from Howard Hanson's 2nd Symphony. The score on CD is complete - Goldsmith in toto.

So Ridley Scott’s Legend was just coming out when I found myself as Richard's assistant, being wide eyed and puppy-like enthusiastic at the scoring sessions of Link. Andrew, the editor, had passed me a tape of Jerry’s Legend score. I remember giving two hours clear listening to this - as then unreleased - gem in a very swanky hotel room at the Athanæum in Piccadilly.

After listening I think I was in a state of shock.

This extraordinary piece of work was a movie score? This two hour, masterful, musical experience was for a mere movie? I still remember the awe I felt as I finished listening to it and knew that in about ten minutes, I'd be sitting down to have a drink with the man who wrote it. This is fan-boy territory at its most sublime. I was, as I said, in shock.

And then, something I will remember forever. I ordered a drink - large vodka and tonic. By God, I needed it. Jerry said "I'll have the same…" And yes, I know how sad it must seem but this genius of a composer's favourite tipple was my own. I told him how moved I was by Legend and how extraordinary the work had been. Both Richard and Andrew wore sad faces.

Why?

The score had been dropped - cut - excised. REMOVED from the film… Can you imagine? "Sorry, Wolfgang, your Requiem is too good to be released…"

Why? Because Jerry's score was too good for the movie? (Scott had reported that a Universal exec had called Jerry's work 'monumental'). No. Apparently Jerry Goldsmith's score for Legend was 'too sophisticated' for American audiences. Oh, no. No. It would be so, so terrible that sophistication would lie bleeding. And you know what those demographic slaves put in its place? Tangerine Dream's electronic over-score with a Brian Ferry single to sell the movie. Jesus. The movie didn't connect with an audience despite the presence of Tom Cruise but oh, the score…

Here’s the punch-line. Europe created America from Europeans. Jerry's masterpiece was cut from Legend - in America. It was retained for European distribution. Go frickin' figure. But it was subsequently butchered anyway. The full score is available on CD and the Region 1 Special Edition DVD of Legend is about as complete as you could wish for but… As another irony, a cue from Richard's own Psycho II had made its way into the final European soundtrack. Movie gods work in mysterious ways. So in 1989 I was working in California and stole a few days off to get to Los Angeles and meet with Richard who gave me a tour of Hollywood's finest. I visited the steps of Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box. I stood in awe at Universal's studio sets for Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera, still in place after many decades. But most exciting of all, I was invited with Richard to have lunch with a man whose skill and talent had touched me more than any other.

The sign on Jerry's front lawn announced ARMED RESPONSE. I didn’t know what that meant then. I do now. I was ushered in and politely sat at the dinner table as the food was served. Oh God. Salad. This was like Superman being given the key to the city - made of Kryptonite. I stared vacant eyed at Richard who knew of my food problem but accepted I would make the effort. I was served a bush of greenery that would make a carnivore blanche. I prodded at the meaty bits (four percent of the meal) and it was then that the great man intervened. Jerry asked:

"What’s the problem? Don’t ya like salad?"

I prodded at my plate and really tried to be gracious. And then Joel, Jerry's son, leaned over and said "Can I get you a burger?" and I could have kissed him. In subsequent meetings with Jerry in concert all over the UK I became the man 'who hated salad' and was glad that for that one character flaw I was remembered. He will be remembered for a lot more than that. Jerry Goldsmith. Your music will live on. I'll see to that.

Bless you.

Jerry Goldsmith
The Scores
A Slarek side note

Between the years 1948 and 2004, Jerry Goldsmith composed over 300 film and TV scores, starting with title music for the 1948 TV series Studio One.

For a full listing, and links to all of the films, go to the Jerry Goldsmith page on the Internet Movie Database (click here). In this extraordinary collection anyone who loves film music - no, anyone who loves music, period - could compile a sizeable list of favourites and every one of those selected would be a compositional treat.
I have no doubt that Camus could supply a few recommendations of his own (as far as I am aware, he has almost every available Goldsmith score on CD), but as someone who never met the man but merely admired his work, here are a few that particularly affected me:
Seconds
(John Frankenheimer 1966)
A disturbing, sometimes mind-blowing thriller, two of whose key elements are James Wong Howe's cinematography and Goldsmith's haunting music.
Patton
(Franklyn J. Schaffner 1970)
Camus says it all in his article. An extraordinary score. One of the Oscar noninations that ludicrously lost out.
Chinatown
(Roman Polanski 1974)
So much part of the fabric of the film it is impossible to imagine it without this score.
The Omen
(Richard Donner 1976)
The Oscar winner, a rarity itself for a horror film. A bit obvious, yes, but I grew up with this and loved it, and it was one of the first soundtrack albums I bought.
Coma
(Michael Crichton 1978)
A grippingly executed medical thriller - it's Goldsmith's music that provides much of the atmosphere and a good many of the scares.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
(Robert Wise 1979)
We all know that the main theme became the very recogniseable one for the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, but listen to the music during the opening Klingon ship sequence - sublime.
Under Fire
(Roger Spottiswoode 1983)
As Camus says, a bloody marvellous score for a terrific film.
Legend
(Ridley Scott 1985)
A gorgeous creation. How dould they remove it on the American version? Read the article to find out.

article posted
1 September 2004