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Will Composer John Williams Ruin Lincoln?

Updated on October 1, 2012
John Williams Wants you to Feeel!
John Williams Wants you to Feeel! | Source

I was at the movies recently and got excited at a trailer for the new movie Lincoln (to be released Nov. 16). Daniel Day Lewis, probably our greatest living actor, opened the trailer with a voice over, a grave passage from our sixteenth president. He was going to be Lincoln in the movie. Spielberg, a competent director who has done well with historical drama in the past, would be directing. I was also excited that Sally Field would be playing Lincoln’s wife, Mary. But as I listened to the crescendo of the music, my heart sank. John Williams was doing the soundtrack.

As director Terry Gilliam states, “ ‘John Williams is a great musician but, wow, enough John. It isn’t his choice, of course, it’s the directors who allow him to take over a film and tell you exactly what you should be feeling every second of every minute of the film.’ So very, very, true.”

I guess a horse in war against artillery wasn’t dramatic enough. Good thing we have John Williams to play us into the appropriate feelings.

To illustrate how out of touch John Williams is the audience for his movies, I give you this scene near the end of Schindler’s List. First, why is there even music? That’s on Spielberg. As you watch the scene, listen when the man from the factory gives Schindler an important letter, “In case you are captured.” Why does the music rise up and interfere with a very important moment in the movie? Is it because the composer doesn’t think the movie made the point well enough? Then we can barely hear when Schindler, choked up, says, “Thank you.” The soundtrack continues to interfere when Ben Kingley gives Schindler the ring; the maudlin Kadish style strings rise up to remind us 1) to have feelings and 2) that Jews are involved. And Shindler is sad. If you didn’t know from the acting, the music was there to push you into the emotions for you, as if it would be a crime if you didn't feel for Herr Schindler at the precise time Williams tells you to feel.

That is the worst piece of film scoring I have ever heard in a big budget, Oscar winning movie. The movie and acting stood for itself, and this movement in the film, if not ruined, was crippled by Williams’ overwrought soundtrack.

John Williams’ soundtracks take over movies. They don’t allow the audience space to have their own emotions. They are pompous and they don’t belong in a movie about Lincoln. The master of sound, Francis Coppola, would never have hired Williams. Can you imagine how Williams could have ruined The Godfather I and II with his grandiloquent compositions?

Williams may have been the perfect composer for the serialized Star Wars movies. Those moves are about action and a rousing symphony can add to the fun. Not so Shindler’s List. The arrogant music force feeding us our emotions in Shindler’s List nearly ruined a good directorial job and great acting in what was otherwise a momentous movie. Is John Williams on contract to Spielberg and would the director lose millions if he didn’t hire the composer? Or, does Spielberg like a master manipulator such as himself composing the music?

There is a difference between Williams’ compositions and Spielberg’s direction. Spielberg expertly terrified audiences with his screen adaptation of Jaws in the seventies, and he got the girls and boys to wonder and cry at a lost space alien’s plight on earth in E.T. However, in both Saving Private Ryan and Shindler’s List, he showed his true talent as a director by (mostly) staying out of the way and letting the actors do their job while putting the cameras at the correct places for the action. Williams shows no such growth or restraint in his musical scores.

There are plenty of other composers that would have given Lincoln the dignity and restraint a film with such a larger than life subject (and actor) deserves.

What about Hans Zimmer, composer for Inception? Note how he pulls back on the sound when the emotions are at their highest. He understands that what's on the screen is more important than his music at this moment.

Dario Marianelli steps it back during the biggest movements and lets the actors carry the scene. No uproar is needed.


Terence Blanchard let’s us react after the crescendo. He knows that music is a support to the movie and used when needed or to carry less dramatic moments. Music is less essential during emotional and dramatic scenes.

While it may be too late for Lincoln, let’s hope Williams reined in his need to force feed you emotion. If not, I may have a love hate relationship with this Lincoln.


Peace,
Tex Shelters



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    • cfin profile image

      cfin 4 years ago from The World we live in

      I think the movie looks promising. Day Lewis is one of the best Irish actors of all time. He really makes you feel part of the movie.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      Good point, well made. I do like John williams' sweeping soundtracks and only recently started noticing how overwrought he can be in some scenes. You've illustrated this perfectly with that beautiful scene from Schindler's list... Hope Spielberg reins him in on Lincoln just a tad!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Tex.....Ole buddy....I don't know why I read you....except you keep my blood pressure fluctuating and that's actually good for an old lady.

      YOU are way to harsh a critic.....as well as self-serving. Piss me off.

      I watched ALL the trailers......more than once.....and first of all, get yer dang ears cleaned out...The dialogue in the scene of Schindlers list, is clearly audible above the music....and the music is perfect in this scene.

      You state that another composer.."knows to back off or let up" or whatever the hell you said .."when high emotion is being portrayed."

      That is a matter of pure opinion...in terms of WHEN high emotion is being portrayed......Leonardo, (Inception) is silently SCREAMING with emotion during the scene you give us...and the music is blaring. Explain that one.........just because there is little or no dialogue?

      So, ok...this your opinion, but if your intention was to have it swallowed or to persuade another viewer...you lost me....I am not guided nor directed in terms of my interpretation of a scene by the alleged "tricks' of a composer...as you put it.......You think audiences are made up of Intellectual cripples?

      CRITIQUES are best kept to the eyes, ears & emotions of an individual......I'm done for now, but I'LL BE BACK!! Bye, Tex.

    • texshelters profile image
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      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      I can't deny Mr. Lewis, and he's Irish!

      PTxS

    • texshelters profile image
      Author

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Thanks!

      Peace,

      Tex Shelters

    • texshelters profile image
      Author

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      A critic is harsh. Self serving is part of the satire. Yes, I heard the dialogue, and the music in the Schindler's List scene got in the way of good performances. That was my point. If you needed the hint to feel at that moment (ha ha) fine. I didn't. And it's great you feel differently. Inception: at the end, when the tension is the highest, the music has back off. The screaming and blaring, yes, it was a bit much, but it didn't STAY at the same level of intensity the whole time. Williams has too few gears to write soundtrack for anything but action adventure movies. He only amps it up when the scene doesn't need it.

      Thanks!

      PTxS

    • texshelters profile image
      Author

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      F: I do not think audiences are made up of intellectual cripples, by the way. Where did you get that idea? I would say that Williams thinks the audiences are full of emotional cripples and needs assistive devices to feel. However, they need no such thing.

      PTxS

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Tex....oh, stop your damned whining. How the hell do you even pay attention to a good movie when you're picking apart the composer for his music!!? No, I don't need hints to feel...at any time.....OK let's not get into a pissing match again.....NO...the music in Schindler's list did NOT get in the way......if you are into the performance...you can barely notice the music....

      How the hell do you know what an entire audience needs and doesn't need? You don't.

      Poor Williams....his ears are probably ringing!! You're mean.

    • texshelters profile image
      Author

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      You are in a minority of my readers. Many agree with my complaints. How can I not notice over the top music in Schindler's List? The fact that I noticed it means it was too much. What whining? I guess pointing out facts is whining for you?

      You disagree, fine, but don't make it about your superiority here or elsewhere. Do I have to be wrong for you to validate your own opinion? Disagree, but why make it personal? While you're at it, you can go after Terry Gilliam and others who feel the same way I do about Williams.

      PTxS

    • texshelters profile image
      Author

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Certainly, John Williams is popular, but so were the Spice Girls. Popularity doesn't mean high quality. He's good, but NOT for movies that need subtlety. PTxS

      http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/18.234...

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      This is funny, Tex....there is not a "feeling-of-superiority-in-my-blood" never has been, never will be. YOU wrote the hub, tearing Williams down, not I. Of course you're entitled to your opinion......and I to mine. I'm neither validating my opinion or yours. I'm seriously curious what your credentials and expertise are in terms of judging what you sit in judgement of here....with what seems like the critique of a master musician and or professional movie sound-man.??

      Sorry, Tex.....I didn't know you made your fortune on the movie sets of Hollywood.

      Whoa...take it easy Tex...."stop your whining" ....I was JOKING....

      However, speaking of music.....thank you for pointing out I'm in the minority.......that is music to my ears.

      TRUCE.......5 minutes until the debates. We have bigger fish to fry than Williams.........Peace..(you're very defensive.)

    • texshelters profile image
      Author

      texshelters 4 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      I'm sorry for supporting my opinions with facts, what you call being defensive.. I'll stop now. And by the way, the majority of people in the world like John Williams, so you are in the majority, sorry to say...har har.

      PTxS

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