Sunday, January 26, 2020

James Horner and Will Jennings - My Heart Will Go On

The Queen Of The World strongly believes that there is great classical music in modern film.  I've posted on this a number of times, but she challenged me to think more broadly about "classical" music. It was the popular music for the theater, and so why shouldn't today's popular music for the theater fit that same category?  She (rightly) says that I've been discriminating against perfectly fine music just because it's recent.  And so today will be a step further out than I've done before in these Sunday classical music posts, with a choice that literally everyone reading this will have heard (and may even be able to hum along to).

This is a song that was almost never made.  James Cameron is a filmmaker with a reputation for swinging for the fence,  In 1997 his film Titanic worried pretty much everyone in Hollywood, because it was fabulously expensive and in fact was the most expensive film made to that date.  Cameron obsessed over each detail, including the music.  He and composer James Horner had collaborated on the film Aliens but had hated working with each other.  Cameron convinced Horner to write what would be the Academy Award winning score.  Horner sensed that with the financial risks facing the film, it needed a signature song.  He wrote this, and Will Jennings wrote the lyrics.  Cameron didn't want a song with lyrics, but Horner convinced a reluctant Celine Dion to record it which she did in a single take.

Horner waited until Cameron was in a good mood to play the song to him.  Cameron listened to it several times and then gave the go ahead.  It may be that he thought that having what seemed like a potential hit song would help him calm the Studio executives who at this point were convinced that the film was going to lose $100M.

Of course, it didn't.  It became the first film ever to gross over a billion dollars, and spent 12 years on the top of the all-time earning list (only being surpassed by Cameron's Avatar; he always swings for the fence).  This song has been massively popular, and in fact is the second best selling single by a female artist of all time.  It also won the Academy Award for best original song.

But Borepatch, I hear you ask: sure it's pretty and everything, but why is this classical music?  well, it's music of the theater.  It uses the same instrumentation that Beethoven used.  It's really as classical as Wagner.  I think that this compares nicely with the Liebestod from his opera Tristan und Isolde.  There are a surprising number of similarities: nautical theme, doomed love, hauntingly beautiful melody, emotionally gripping.

The Queen Of The World* suggested this particular song to show that classical music is alive and well at the box office.  She's right about that.  Boy, howdy.

She's way more than just a pretty face, although I sure like that.  I'm a lucky man.


libertyman said...

Haven't seen the movie, but certainly has been a lovely piece of music.

SiGraybeard said...

Somewhere in our indoctrination, er, public education, we were implanted with the idea that "classical = old." As QoTW points out, this was theater music; this was dance hall music.

There's no reason the "classic rock" radio stations can't be considered to be playing classical music.

ASM826 said...

I agree. The first ones I thought of was the music from Gladiator and the Vangelis theme for the original Blade Runner.

Ted said...

The list gets really long. but in no particular order:

Top Gun
West Side Story
Chariots of Fire
Phantom of the Opera
Almost anything that John Williams has Done.
Bridge over the River Kwai
Crimson Tide
Lawrence of Arabia
Danny Elfman's Batman
Pink Panther
The Good , The Bad and the Ugly
Dr. Zhivago

Does the music add to the Film ? … or overwhelm it? …. or did they just tack onto the end credits?

Was it written for the movie ? Or did they make to movie to match some existing piece of music?
will the music stand the test of time?

when you hear the music without the movie, do you see the movie?

Glen Filthie said...

It's wizardry really. When you combine music with cinema you are really talking about 4 dimensional composition. The background music can make or break the scene.

I just lifted this one off American Digest about "The Nightmare Machine". When you hear the music and sound effects - you KNOW the guy in the red shirt is going to die, or the pretty girl with the big hooters is going to get slashed or eaten, and that the monsters are preparing to take the stage.

Dark sorcery for you, gentlemen - if you have the courage! ;)

ProudHillbilly said...

James Horner has a distinctive style and I have loved him since the 80s and "Cocoon."