Music In Film...Robert Redford
Welcome to the third installment in a series of hub articles dedicated to music in film. Each article focuses on one director, and the composers and songwriters he or she has collaborated with over the years.
The link to the introduction of this series and the first installment (Steven Spielberg) appears below:
“I don't know what your childhood was like, but we didn't have much money. We'd go to a movie on a Saturday night; then on Wednesday night my parents would walk us over to the library. It was such a big deal…to go in and get my own book.”
--- Robert Redford
In the above excerpt from an interview, Redford was referring to the days when he was an only child, growing up in a struggling Irish Catholic family during the WWII years in Santa Monica, CA. Possessed of a strong work ethic, they didn’t complain about things; feelings and thoughts were largely communicated by storytelling which became part of his life.
The war years of Redford’s youth were intense, patriotic times. As he grew into the world he wanted to tell stories about the America he had observed. Somewhere, “between the black and white, and the red and blue,” there exists what he calls the “gray zone” in American life where feelings were more complicated.
The phrase, “movie star turned director,” hardly quantifies this complex and deeply caring filmmaker. Frustrated by the lack of compelling stories and characters in Hollywood films, Robert founded the Sundance Institute in the spring of 1981. The Institute has since grown into an internationally renowned resource for independent film and music artists. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences awarded Redford an honorary Oscar in 2002 for his accomplishments with Sundance and other contributions to film.
“The importance of music to film is the new hybrid that is growing stronger.”
--- Robert Redford
In creating the fusion of music and film, composers are faced with a myriad of difficult decisions; they must reach a collaborative agreement with the director and write a score that complements and/or enhances the tone of various scenes.
Most of Redford’s films center on conscience regarding changing family dynamics and values, respect for the natural world, and the soul-searching quest to find answers that reside within us. To Robert, storytelling is an important part of humanity. Music is an integral part of his artistic synergy and collaboration with other artists that realize the story through film.
· Ordinary People
“Feelings are scary. And sometimes they're painful. And if you can't feel pain... you won't feel anything else either.”
In 1980, Redford surprised the Hollywood community with his directorial debut, Ordinary People. Adapted from Judith Guest’s novel, this timeless story centers on three members of an upper-middle class family living in an affluent Chicago suburb. The film opens after the tragic drowning of the older teenage son during a boating accident, and the suicide attempt of his brother who is beset with grief and survivor guilt over his death. Beneath the struggle to maintain normal outward appearances, Beth, her husband, Calvin, and their son, Conrad, are compelled to confront their feelings when love -- which has been unexpressed and taken for granted -- is inordinately and painfully tested.
Ordinary People is an intelligent and deeply moving motion picture that garnered critical acclaim. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture; Redford won for Best Director; and Timothy Hutton, Best Supporting Actor:
The music we hear in the above trailer is a combination of Marvin Hamlisch’s original scoring and Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Both support the narrative in a beautifully understated theme. The Baroque Canon opens the film in a melancholy setting with deserted docks at the water’s edge, a solitary bird, and the drifting leaves of fall. Redford’s intuitive sense with music in film is further exemplified by his knowing when not to use it. For example, we don’t hear Pachelbel’s Canon again until the close of the poignant, final scene that takes place during the following winter:
· A River Runs Through It
“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.”
A River Runs Through It is a period drama adapted from the semi-autobiographical novella written by Norman Maclean. Set on the Blackfoot River in Missoula, Montana, the story begins in 1910. It follows the life journey of the steady and thoughtful Norman, his rebellious and talented brother, Paul, and their father, a strict Presbyterian minister. For a family with unfulfilled dreams and emotions seldom expressed, fly fishing on the river becomes their uniting metaphor. Man’s spiritual affinity for the natural world bonds these men, and helps them to recognize their unconditional love for each other regardless of their differences.
Redford narrates this Oscar-nominated film that is grounded in traditional family values. Speaking for Norman who is an elderly man, Redford brings his written words to the screen with a lyrical and profound sense of poetry. Like the haunting waters, the striking cinematography and musical scoring emphasize a part of all that has gone before him while sustaining the mysteries of life:
Composer Mark Ishman’s rich, melodic themes pull us in with the same measured poetry…from the rhythmic currents of the river and the casting rod to the rainbow’s rise. Isham’s soundtrack was also nominated for an Academy Award.
“As part of the collaboration process, Bob describes his thoughts and observations about his films very much from an actor’s perspective. He talks about the character’s emotional arc, the emotional high points, and the evolution of emotion over the length of the film – all very precisely and elegantly expressed. He has great taste in music.” --- Mark Isham
Norman Maclean (Craig Sheffer ); Paul Maclean (Brad Pitt); Reverend Maclean (Tom Skerritt).
· The Horse Whisperer
“They could see into the creature's soul and sooth the wounds they found there with secrets uttered softly into troubled ears. These men were known as the Whisperers.”
Following a tragic accident on snowy country road, a young teenage girl on horseback loses her best friend and riding companion when she is hit by a large truck. Grace and her beloved horse, Pilgrim, survive but are seriously injured. The physical and emotional trauma of the incident cause them both to withdraw from life. Pilgrim exhibits dangerous behavior to anyone who approaches him; Grace is remote and distant from her parents and friends. Her mother, Annie, is desperate to help her daughter. Leaving New York and a troubled relationship with her husband behind, Annie drives Grace and Pilgrim to the Montana mountains. There, she seeks the help of Tom Booker, a Montana horse whisperer with mystical gifts. It is a cross-country odyssey that brings them to an extraordinary journey of healing and redemption.
In the video that follows, Tom tells Grace that there is a point when she and Pilgrim won't need him anymore. “And we’re there,” he says. The rising of the horse with Grace culminates in life altering realizations for Grace, her parents and for Tom, himself. Thomas Newman’s beautiful score echoes the film’s theme with the traditional and elegant melodic form that is Redford’s signature:
Tom Booker (Robert Redford); Annie MacLean (Kristen Scott Thomas); Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson); Robert MacLean (Sam Neill)
The original song, "A Soft Place To Fall," by Allison Moorer and Gwil Owen was nominated for an Academy Award.
· The Legend of Bagger Vance
“It's hard and you stand out there on that green, green grass, and it's just you and the ball and there ain't nobody to beat up on but yourself.”
The Legend of Bagger Vance is based on the 1995 novel by Steven Pressfield. The story takes place in Savannah, Georgia in 1931.
Rannulph Junnuh (Matt Damon) was an exceptional amateur golfer until his harrowing experiences on the battlefield during World War I. In the years following the war, he retreats into a world of self-imposed exile where his spirit and confidence are consumed by alcohol and cynicism. Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron), Junnuh's former love, inherited a golf course from her father. To help revitalize Savannah, she organizes a high-profile golf match between two celebrated golfers. Junnha is quickly enlisted to play in the tournament. When Junnah loses hope of playing with any semblance of skill, he is visited by a mysterious gentleman, Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who offers to be his caddy.
Many viewers theorize that the mysterious caddy is either Bhagwans from Hinduism or a guardian angel. Regardless of what we believe, Bagger Vance represents our teacher, spiritual guide and conscience. The golf game – with every swing and drive – actually serves as a metaphor. It is a search for, and connection with, one’s soul and calling. Similar to A River Runs Through It, it is that place and moment in time where everything comes together…when feeling and listening reconnect us to what we knew and loved:
The inspirational score (one of my favorites), was by composed by Rachel Portman. In the above video, the piano first establishes the base rhythm. It is soon joined in a spiritual harmony by strings, then the chorus, all floating upward to meet Junnah’s ball in the air as it soars across the field.
Composer, Mark Isham, once remarked…
“Robert wants to show us that we must learn from life – from history, nature and from the other lives around us. And from those lessons, to try to do the right thing. What the music adds to that is to see the beauty in all things – even the sadness.”
This writer couldn’t agree more.
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Note: My apologies for omitting such films as Lions for Lambs and The Conspirator. (Redford did not direct The Natural.) Several hubs would be needed, at minimum, to encompass Redford’s entire body of work.
- Dark Horizons: Interview: Robert Redford for "The Legend of Bagger Vance"; November 3rd 2000
- Robert Redford Interview – Music in Film; Sundance London; 2012
- Film Music; Interview With Composer Mark Isham; by Danial Schweiger; April 7, 2011
Written content has been copyrighted, 2014, by Genna Eastman (Genna East). All rights Reserved. Said copyrights do not extend to the videos that are utilized solely for learning purposes.
More by this Author
Welcome to the final installment in a series of hub articles dedicated to music in film.
Welcome to the sixth installment in a series of hub articles dedicated to music in film. Each article focuses on the collaboration between the director and the composers/song writers who create the film soundtracks.