John Williams's Film Music
Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Return of the Classical Hollywood Music Style
Publication Year: 2014
Combining accessible writing with thorough scholarship, and rigorous historical accounts with insightful readings, John Williams’s Film Music explores why Williams is so important to the history of film music. Beginning with an overview of music from Hollywood’s Golden Age (1933–58), Emilio Audissino traces the turning points of Williams’s career and articulates how he revived the classical Hollywood musical style. This book charts each landmark of this musical restoration, with special attention to the scores for Jaws and Star Wars, Williams’s work as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and a full film/music analysis of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The result is a precise, enlightening definition of Williams’s “neoclassicism” and a grounded demonstration of his lasting importance, for both his compositions and his historical role in restoring part of the Hollywood tradition.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Series: Wisconsin Film Studies
Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Quote
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List of Illustrations
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There are many people who have accompanied me throughout the preparation of this book. My appreciation goes to the Dipartimento di Storia delle Arti at the University of Pisa, Italy, where I completed the three- year doctoral program in which I had the chance to refine and complete the necessary research work. Special...
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It has been twenty years now that I have been studying John Williams’s music. Along the journey, one thing has kept striking me as extremely odd: there was no English- language book on John Williams. So, I resolved that I should try and fill the gap. The book you are about to read is, hopefully, my answer to the...
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John Williams is probably the most successful composer in film history. His name is associated with many of the major Hollywood box- office blockbusters of the last forty years. In a career spanning more than fifty years, John Williams has won four Golden Globes, five Emmys, twenty- one Grammys...
Part I: The Classical Hollywood Music Style
1. “The Classical Hollywood Music”: A Chronicle
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The regular presence of music as an accompaniment to film projections during cinema’s infancy— between 1895 and 1905—is not certain.1 At that stage, cinema was seen as a kind of carnival amusement, a low- brow draw based on “attractions” presented in simple single- shot tableaux running a few minutes.2 Music...
2. “The Classical Hollywood Music”: A Stylistic Definition
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What exactly is the “Classical Hollywood Music”? How can we distin- guish a classical Hollywood score from, say, a coeval Italian score? To answer the first question, we have to detect the typical characteristics that define the “Classical Hollywood Music.” In short, we have to define its style. To...
Part II: John Williams and the Classical Hollywood Music Style
3. The “Modern” Hollywood Music Style: The Context of Williams’s Restoration
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The change in contractual arrangements between musicians and studios in 1958 can be seen as the end boundary of the classical style. Film music underwent such changes in terms of language, techniques, musical means, and functions that the new style blossoming in the 1960s can be called “modern...
4. Star Wars: An Oppositional Score
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After his not very convincing debut with the Orwellian Sci- Fi film THX 1138 (1971), the emerging film director George Lucas hit the box office with American Graffiti (1973) and became powerful enough to carry on with a big project that he had been contemplating for several years: The Star Wars.1 The idea was to make a film that blended sci-fi with mythology, technology...
5. Williams’s Early Years: Spotting the First Traces of Neoclassicism
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John Towner Williams was born in New York on 8 February 1932. His father, John Towner Williams Sr.—known as Johnny Williams— was a percussionist in the CBS Radio Orchestra and a member of the Raymond Scott Quintette.1 Young Williams studied music and learned to play the trumpet...
6. Jaws: Williams’s Neoclassicism Floats Up to the Surface
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John Williams reached stardom in the mid-1970s, a period in which Holly- wood cinema was recovering from the previous decade’s debacles. In those years, a new generation of filmmakers and screenwriters— among them George Lucas and Steven Spielberg— was building their reputation, launching...
7. Williams’s Neoclassicism: Style and Habits
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What is musical neoclassicism? In art- music historiography, neoclassi- cism was a trend that brought back the clarity of past forms as opposed to the excesses of contemporary music: [ It is a] musical trend that arose in the second half of the nineteenth...
8. Williams’s Naysayers: A Deconstruction of Classical and New Criticisms
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Classical Hollywood composers were typical targets of highbrow critics. For example, Miklós Rózsa saw his credibility as an art composer prejudicially questioned: “Only a light- headed critic would suggest that Rózsa’s chamber music and his symphonic works sound like ‘movie music,’ although...
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark Background: A Neoclassical Film
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May 1977. Mauna Kea Hotel, Hawaii. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are on vacation together. Star Wars is just coming out in theaters. Lucas, thinking it would be a commercial flop, decided to flee California, away from the expected box- office disaster— which, on the contrary, would...
10. Raiders of the Lost Ark Analysis: The Return of Max Steiner
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Like all the chapters of the series, the film opens with the Paramount logo, a mountain, which dissolves onto a visually similar form.1 In this case, the Paramount mountain becomes a real mountain, the profile of which is then blocked off by the entrance of a character donning a fedora hat and coming into the...
11. Beyond the Films: Conductor John Williams
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Each year in spring, Boston’s Symphony Hall undergoes a major transfor- mation. The rows of seats on the main floor are replaced with tables; the walls are decked with flowers and lit in cheerful colors. The orchestra plays light symphonic pieces spanning from famous opera overtures to selections...
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As previously explained, the impact of neoclassicism was quite limited. Jeff Smith stated: “And despite a major revival in the Korngold- styled scores of John Williams, Romanticism’s hold on film scoring was further weakened by the incorporation of rock, folk, and soul elements in the 1960s and 1970s, and...
Appendix 1: Completing the Picture
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Appendix 2: Film and TV Scores, Concert Pieces, and Arrangements
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Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 12 b/w photos, 10 illus.
Publication Year: 2014
Series Title: Wisconsin Film Studies