Obituaries

GOLDSMITH & BERNSTEIN – THE MAGNIFICENT TWO

By • Aug 25th, 2004 •

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Jerrald Goldsmith, 1929-2004

Elmer Bernstein, 1922-2004

GOLDSMITH & BERNSTEIN – no, not a firm of cheap lawyers or jewellers (though they probably are somewhere), or even two characters in the latest TV buddy-cop show. Nor are they a couple of Washington Post reporters on the case of a beleaguered and (allegedly) corrupt President. The two to whom I refer of course are Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein, the prolific and inarguable filmusic giants who have composed the themes and scores to some of the most memorable movies and TV series of the last 50 years, and it is a great sadness to me that they are no longer with us.

You can easily do an internet search for biographies and filmographies for both of these great composers, so I will not bother to provide either here. I’ll just write about the music, which is, after all, the enormous legacy they have left us.

The sheer diversity of Goldsmith’s work defies belief. Compare and contrast for example his compositions for the movies OUR MAN FLINT, FIRST BLOOD, LOGAN’S RUN, and PLANET OF THE APES, and his themes from TV’s THE MAN FROM UNCLE, THE WALTONS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, BARNABY JONES and numerous others in both categories. You couldn’t pin down or pigeonhole Jerry. You can usually spot a John Barry, Bernard Herrmann or Miklos Rosza score from almost any decade a mile off. Not so Goldsmith. Some would say this displayed a lack of personal style or technique. I disagree. The man wrote for his subject and was adept at changing his style accordingly. To him, and paraphrasing the Bard, the film was the thing, whether it be the silliness of GREMLINS, the wondrous, awesome spaciousness and grandeur of his STAR TREK scores, the fairy tale magic of THE SECRET OF NIMH and LEGEND (European release – how they could replace a Goldsmith score with one by Tangerine Dream is beyond me) or the brooding terror of THE OMEN and ALIEN, he would come up with the goods.

He was a ‘jobbing’ composer. He worked with a sort of ‘You tell me what you want and I’ll do it’ attitude, which probably came from his early work on TV and radio, a realm that probably gave him strict criteria to which to adhere. Audiences also weren’t so sophisticated back then. If they needed to be scared then there was traditional scary music you had to play. The same applied to action or comedy cues. There was normally no room for any airy-fairy experimental stuff: you either came up with what was required or you were out of a job. But, not only did he come up with the goods, but also he did it with panache and flair and, ever the experimentalist, he even created new expectations of what filmusic should sound like. He re-educated the audience.

Much of the above also applies to Elmer Bernstein, who was of the same school, and who too had an extensive grounding in television and radio. Again, if you look through a Bernstein filmography, you’ll see an amazing diversity of film genres and consequently different musical styles, from the brash jazz of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM to the light musical comedy of his only Oscar winning score THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE; the majesty of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS; the British Victorian whimsy of the children’s ghost story THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN; the goofiness of the AIRPLANE movies; the black comedy horror of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON; the poor Irish working class world of MY LEFT FOOT, and of course, the themes that will forever be his anthems, THE GREAT ESCAPE and, in particular, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

This column cannot sum up the debt we owe to these two brilliant composers, and none could. They have inspired, and been emulated by, many and their passing is a great loss to the filmusic world. It’s a much-used cliché, but an apt one – The world may be a poorer place without them, but it will always be a richer one because of them.

Please do check those filmographies. You’ll be amazed. And please, please, please – keep listening to their fabulous music.

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