Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The 85th Birthday of a Cinematic Legend

by Joe Brennan

 WARNING: I say the word "iconic" an unhealthy amount of times in this article.

Today marks the birthday of a real hero of mine (when it comes to movies) and I would like to share some insight into the genius behind so much we've come to love.

There are hundreds of individuals who have influenced and shaped the world of cinema who will forever go down in history for what they did. From Hitchcock's introduction of reincorporation to Disney's passion to entertain and front runner of the animated world, the number of iconic geniuses to leave their mark on the world keeps growing.

But I don't think any have had such an impact on pop culture, geek culture and the world as a whole than the man I'm writing about today. A man whose work is known by the majority of modern civilisation. A man who I attribute the success of some of the most important movies of all time to. A true hero of cinema, and I would argue that his legacy will rival that of Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney.

Imagine a world where Star Wars never exploded into success. Imagine if it was nothing but a stand alone movie from 1977. No sequels, no prequels, no merchandise. If the decision for that film had been to follow the trend of 60s and 70s sci-fi soundtracks and have electric and "futuristic" sounding beeps and boops (see early doctor who soundtracks) I doubt it would've had a cultural impact. Almost anyone can hum the themes from Star Wars and I don't think that is due to how successful it was but, in fact, the other way round- the success of Star Wars owes a lot to John Williams and his score. A soundtrack can speak to us on levels visuals and dialogue can only scratch the surface of.

If one was set a task to name some of the most legendary musical themes from movies, I can't think of many that wouldn't be composed by John Williams.

I feel as though to get my point across fully, the best thing to do would list the films he's provided his genius for. A similar list could be titled "Best Movie Scores Of All Time".

Home Alone
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Close Encounters of The Third Kind
Empire of the Sun
War Horse
Schindler's List
Indiana Jones
Saving Private Ryan
Harry Potter

If you can't hum at least three of these themes, you're lying.

The original Superman theme is one of the most memorable things about the character and has propelled him to be the biggest superhero since Jesus himself. Of course things like ET, Jurassic Park and Home Alone would've been successful without John Williams- their score is not their only merit. But despite these films being fantastic, they may not have been so culturally important without the scores.

I'm not sure how many people know John Williams' name and how much of what they know is because of him but most people have been impacted by his music.

The sole saving grace for Star Wars Episode I, II and III are the new themes Williams composed- Dual of the Fates takes The Phantom Menace from like a 2/10 all the way to a 4.

The world is lucky that the rise of cinema coincided with the career of John Williams, he has shaped the way music is used in film and has received 50 academy nominations (second only to Walt Disney).

Williams was born in 1932 in Floral Park, New York and his father was a jazz percussionist. When he lived in Los Angeles, he studied privately with Italian composer and when drafted into the airforce in 1952, he arranged music and conducted for The United States Air Force Band.

He studied Piano in 1955 in New York City and Williams worked as a jazz pianist in the city's many jazz clubs (like Ryan Gosling in La La Land!).

Upon moving to Los Angeles, he worked as a pianist for various composers (including Henry Mancini- composer of The Pink Panther Theme) and started composing for film in the late 60s and early 70s, gaining more attention as he scored more mainstream films. In 1974, he got attention from an up-and-coming director called Stephen Spielberg for a film called Jaws.

The motif from Jaws is a key factor to not only the fact the film was so successful (the reason everyone has been truly terrified of sharks since- I'm not sure if any original score had ever had the cultural impact as Williams' Jaws theme. Obviously that didn't last long because in 1976, Spielberg's friend was looking for a composer for his adventurous new film called Star Wars and obviously John Williams was chosen.

That was 40 years ago and hundreds of iconic pieces of music later, John Williams continues to score at the age of 85. I personally can not wait to hear what he comes up with for Star Wars Episode VIII, Indiana Jones 5 and Spielberg's next film.

I hope this celebration of his life and work has been somewhat interesting, John Williams seems to be one of the most underrated figures in modern cinema but my personal choice for most important individual when it comes to shaping the film world as we know it.

Society is shaped by the iconic films, characters and stories- I can't give all the credit to any other single man, not George Lucas, not Stephen Spielberg, not JJ Abrams- not even Walt Disney. But John Williams should always go down in history as a legend that revolutionised music in film. With Hans Zimmer, Michael Giaccino and Thomas Newman dominating modern day cinema soundtrack, it's important to know where this all came from. We owe a lot of the work of every modern day film composers to this incredible talent. And to celebrate the 85 years the world has had John Williams.

Here's a fun couple of clips that shows just how important the use of John Williams' music is. Hope you enjoyed be being a total fanboy- wasn't too witty this time. 

Note- after writing this I found out that my homie Mark Kermode was doing a Friday Night is Music Night celebrating John Williams' birthday so please do listen to that:

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