What Meryl Streep and Jerry Goldsmith Have In Common

On Saturday I watched The River Wild with my children (12 and 10). I hadn’t seen it since its release in 1995, but I remembered it being above-average in more than one regard – among them its outstanding score by Jerry Goldsmith. I was very curious if my kids would appreciate it as well, and in the end they did, rating the film at a 9 out of 10. But that’s not what this post is about. What’s interesting is three things that happened while we were watching:

  1. During the main title sequence my daughter, impatient as ever, said “uaah, this is long, when does the film begin?!”. I’ll speak about that in a minute.
  2. During some scenes she said: “I don’t like the music here. It makes ME feel uncomfortable!” My first thought: How can she say such a thing! Jerry Goldsmith was the master of subtle underscoring! My second thought: She’s actually right. If you watch it with fresh eyes and ears, the music actually sticks out. Interesting notion.
  3. On several occasions my daughter said things like “That kind of looks staged” or “that woman” (Meryl Streep) “is so overacting”.

It took me a few hours before I realized why she’d say what she said. Meryl Streep and Jerry Goldsmith definitely have something in common. They are both geniuses and both did a masterful job at that time. As I put myself in her position, I remembered reacting similarly to films of the golden age that I watched when I was her age. I, too, was impatient over the main titles (they were boring as hell), I too found that Elizabeth Taylor & Co overacted and I too thought that the music, be it Rozsa’s or Korngold’s, seemed strangely “detached” from the visuals.

What does that tell us, if anything? My guess is: Accepting a given combination of film and music as a consistent whole and not be distracted by it might be something that we learn – and unlearn. Films have changed significantly – pacing, acting, dialogue and also music. Music taste of audiences influences film scores, and film scores influence taste of audiences. And here’s the question: Where does that lead us for the next 30 years? Can we expect audiences to accept film music in the tradition of Rozsa, Goldsmith and Horner as part of a film? Or will that kind of music – complex, melodic, thematically rich – eventually die because audiences will consider it inadequate for films?

Let me know your thoughts, right here in the comments or on Twitter!

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