Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt
swashbuckler332

  • Music:

Dogs, Ponies and Old Ruins



This weekend I sort of rediscovered what I think is one of John Williams' best scores, his work on the 1972 Robert Altman psychological drama Images. The score incorporates bizarre sounds created by Stomu Yamash'ta that were achieved by him 'playing' metal sculptures as well as traditional Japanese instrumentation, including the use of a shakuhachi before James Horner ruined that instrument for everybody. The main theme, "In Search of Unicorns" (named after the book Susannah York's character is writing in the film, which was an actual children's book the actress was writing during the production of the film) is a very arresting tonal minor mode piece for strings and piano, heard in a very Baroque sounding arrangement in the track "Blood Moon." It is the tension between these two musical worlds that reflects the confusion of York's character in the film, who is undergoing a mental breakdown.

In many ways, Images is Altman working in territory normally associated with Ingmar Bergman. There are many parallels one can draw between Images and Persona, although I think it is interesting that Altman's take on the problem of identity is more wrapped up in gender distinctions than Bergman's protagonists. While York's character is clearly slipping from the beginning of the movie, much of what is causing her manifestations is the conflict between her inner feminine nature and the feminine visage that she must present to the world. As her grip on what is real and what isn't gradually slips away from her, the score turns from forbidding into harsher territory, with the exotic sounds and slashing strings and percussion. The effect is of something alien and dangerous attempting to subvert something familiar.

What I found most interesting about this score is that it has more in common with what John Williams has been composing more recently for his Steven Speilberg collaborations than it does with the neo-Romantic approach that he is best known for. In fact, most reviews of Images mention that Williams did the score in amazement, although the fact of the matter is that the more familiar one is with Williams' work, the more characteristic Images sounds. It is certainly consistant with aspects of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Witches of Eastwick, Presumed Innocent, Sleepers, A.I., Minority Report and War of the Worlds, so it is really not that strange. Unfortunately Williams pretty much means Star Wars to the general public. Nevertheless, this is sophisticated music as well as sophisticated scoring, in many ways more so than the more consonant and crowd-pleasing work that has proved so popular. I think it is a terrible shame that this score has never been officially released; there was an Oscar promo LP that was bootlegged (but was a great album), but the relative obscurity of the film as well as the challenging nature of the music might preclude a CD.

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Tags: cinema, film music, john williams, robert altman
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