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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!