Five years ago today, one of the greatest melodists to ever pick up the baton left us.
Jerry Goldsmith was not only a master interpreter of film, but also one of the greatest creators of film music to ever grace the medium. Goldsmith’s music, whether by accident or pure purpose, was a major influence on many of us in our decisions to take on this career and try to reach even a fraction of the height that he was able to during his time at the podium.
I am of the opinion that when Jerry Goldsmith passed, so did something else… the
matic writing. It will surely be argued that John Williams is perhaps the last “living legend” in film music. However, I felt that once Jerry was gone, even Williams began to rest on his laurels a little, and with the latest Indiana Jones film, trail a bit into what I’ve heard termed as “smash-and-grab” scoring.
I first heard the term “smash-and-grab” in a lecture during my second year at USC. The lecturer was referring to the types of scores that emphasize bombastic and chaotic “noise” over carefully-crafted, thematic writing. You know, the kind that almost every big-budget studio feature has affixed to their tent-pole summer films these days!
It seems that now, more than ever, that the recipe for “scoring” is to hold down a key on a controller to loop a gigantic taiko sequence, then, on the second pass, hold another key down and add the Absynth pad to give the new “cue” some depth. Furthermore, with the advent of things like “Symphobia” and the forthcoming “Hollywood Strings” libraries, it is easier than ever to be lazy and still sound amazing. It seems lately that even with the most effort put forth, a composer might write a bare theme, but nothing that is hummable as you walk out of the theater or attaches any kind of musical memory to the film for the audience.
In the wake of Deane’s question from yesterday about a score’s affect on a film, I wonder what it is that has made the “smash-and-grab” score so trendy lately. Who started the downward spiral and why are the studios so happy to buy in? Is it because audiences have been dumbed down so much that they really do not care if a film’s music leaves any kind of lasting effect? Or is it because we have passed the point of being able to truly enjoy a film for “entertainment’s sake” and we therefore do not have the capacity as humans anymore to appreciate a visual stimuli that has an aural one accompanying it?
When I browse The Reporter or read Variety and see which composers are working on which films, I see a new group of composers who are making a name for themselves as “smash-and-grab” film composers. It saddens me greatly to see poster after poster at the theater with any of these composers’ names in the block because I cannot help but think that once I get my shot at a large feature, their method of churning out these awful scores is going to be the norm. Will that mean that I am going to be asked to imitate a cheap sounding score? What will that do to my value as a new guy trying to get my career out of first gear? There are many composers who are basically not hirable due to that very syndrome already!
In my memory, there has not been a truly hummable theme that has come out of a film score in the last five years. If you can think of one, please speak up, because I honestly cannot. My hope is that someone here, in the SCOREcast community, will be the next great writer to give us a memorable theme along the lines of Goldsmith’s Patton, The Blue Max, or even his later work on the Rambo series and Star Trek franchise.
Is there a market for thematic writing in film today, and if so, for those us who are realistically 5+ years away from entering the industry in earnest, will it still be there when we finally arrive and need it to be?