This thread can be flooded with none other than John Williams, my favorite film and television soundtrack composer (his father was a studio drummer nonetheless), but it has to start with Williams, who scored one of the greatest film opening credits ever produced. Take the music away, and it has no life, purpose, or definition. As soon as you see the huge graphic fly into the screen, it’s not only epic seeing it, but even more heroic once you hear “Superman” with the horns announcing the hero’s arrival. This is sheer brilliance, this is why you come to the movie theater, with a arm full of popcorn and expectation of an experience one can only get with celluloid on a big screen in a darkened room filled with an audience who will all share the same moment with you. This is when you can believe a man can fly, simply because the music soars:
Of course everyone is or should be familiar with Ennio Moricone, his soundtrack to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” is ingrained into our cerebrum not just because of it’s simple melody that is deadly effective as well as evocative, but it was unavoidable given how Sergio Leone’s film’s mixed audio so brashly and in your face that really put the spaghetti into the western.
Poignancy is everything in storytelling, nuance as opposed to in your face moments are not exclusive to each other, and this soundtrack is all about remembrance of what we not only remember, but what we have forgotten, the soft moments, the intimacy of life, that is all good, not bad, nor ugly.
Note: there are only a few seconds of “Why I never went to music or film school” prior to what really matters here but…
There is an argument that without the music score in this scene, there actually is more tension and drama, which is a very valid point. That’s how well this scene was shot, acted, and edited, and the sound craft alone without the music deserves major accolades, It’s three men in a small boat, realizing for the first time that something else it out there bigger, more dangerous, and even more instinctual to it’s own survival in within it’s own true element that those three men each without a boat would not survive in, even without another species in it’s natural habitat, because this scene is about three men in a small boat who aren’t in their natural habitat, confronting a force that is just as deadly, maybe even not as deadly, as weather at sea.
This scene is the first sighting of what they are up against in the entire film. There were small glimpses of it earlier, yet the scale, the sheer power, the magnificence, and it’s beauty were all revealed in this scene. All we knew prior to this scene was what we did not know, and what gave the unknown life, motion, purpose, and reason was due to John Williams’ use of tension and release.
The use of tension and release here is an absolute study, Williams’ audible cues - his use of xylophone during the scene where the eventual, most fatal immediate action was simply tying a knot on a barrel - brings urgency and danger. Once the barrel is cast onto it’s target, you hear the release, and then you hear the pace of it, until it wanes, revealing the failure of those few key seconds of tying a simple knot, which would had been routine on any expedition, yet the old man and the sea had succumbed not to the sea his has lived his life on, but by one mistake of someone whose actions didn’t have any tangible outcome in those very few, ultimately fatal seconds.
The attaching of the first barrel - which this scene is named “First Barrel Chase” in the soundtrack album - is the most tense part of this scene, sure, the brilliant acting of Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, along with the fantastic direction and editing could be well left alone without music, yet the tension created between them at that ultimately fatal moment is due to Williams’ creating a dynamic between them in that moment, to which it’s the first time we actually hear the tension between them with music, unlike the first scene between them when they first met.
John Williams is a brilliant storyteller, because he knows how not only help bring the story to you, but makes the story memorable.
Of course the soundtracks I like are many starting from:
once upon a time in america (with stones, doors, wagner)
those good guys (with the stones)
and many other good movies
But it’s all stuff before the 2000, from then on I can hardly find a good movie.
Will the old woman be advancing ?!