Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jerry Goldsmith's 80th Birthday

Legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith would have been 80 years old today. Goldsmith (1929-2004) is one of the most prolific film composers (second only to Ennio Morricone) ever. His best-known work includes: (*Oscar Nomination; #Won)

Lillies of the Field (1963)
A Patch of Blue (1965)*
Our Man Flint (1966)
The Sand Pebbles (1966)*
In Like Flint (1967)
Planet of the Apes (1968)*
Patton (1970)*
Papillon (1973)*
Chinatown (1974)*
The Omen (1976)#
Alien (1979)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)*
First Blood (1982)
Poltergeist (1982)*
Gremlins (1984)
Basic Instinct (1992)*
Rudy (1993)
L.A. Confidential (1997)*
The Waltons (theme)
Barnaby Jones (theme)

Goldsmith (or "Jerry", as we devotees call him) was the consumate professional, best at scoring "emotions", though his action cues were (and are still) second to none. He was nominated for the Oscar 17 times, but won only once, for 1976's The Omen. It's arguably the greatest horror score ever composed. Goldsmith was also renonwned for not composing a scene when it would work better without music. A great example of this is the ending of the original The Planet of the Apes. Most composers would try and milk the moment with bombast but Jerry knew when not to score and as a result, the film's denouement is all the more devastating. However, such was Goldsmith's ability that his most frequent director and colaborator, Franklin J. Schaffner, allowed Jerry to score a seven-minute scene from Papillon (which happens to be my favorite score of his) with nothing but musical underscore! No dialogue, sound effects, or even the sound of the ocean. The scene has Henri Charriere (Steve McQueen) making his way off Devil's Island and while he is at sea Goldsmith's music comes forth and the composer provides his most beautiful musical acomplishment. It's hard to imagine any directors today trusting their composer and giving them that kind of... freedom.

Most people, including movie buffs, don't pay attention to film music, unless it's over-the-top and annoying, or a song that happens to be memorable in a positive way. Goldsmith wasn't known for his songs and catchy themes like his contemporaries Henry Mancini and John Williams, but Goldsmith's marches to Patton and Star Trek: The Motion Picture are his most recognizable and enduring compositions. Star Trek: The Next Generation used Jerry's theme because Trek creator Gene Roddenberry loved it so. It's Goldsmith's lasting musical legacy.

Reinventing Himself: Composer Jerry Goldsmith through the years.


  1. So many great scores. I would have to say my favorites are Gremlins and Star Trek.

  2. I think his work from 1965-75 is among the most interesting of his career. Goldsmith also did well in TV scoring and did no less than nine scores (IIRC) in 1974 alone. Prolific!

  3. As a major WALTONS fan I especially appreciate his theme music for that show...it was perfect. :)

    Best wishes,

  4. What a legend and icon. Happy Birthday to him. I raise a toast. Cheers!

  5. I was out of town last week and missed this post until now. He's my favorite film composer and I cannot imagine life or movies without his music to enhance them. Thanks for a nice birthday tribute.

  6. I love his score for the original Mummy. He had such a marvelous way of repeating the main melody for various appropos parts of the film but with such different orchestration it never became repetitious, but was always new and interesting! In my opinion, he is definitely one of the greatest modern composers for film, along with Tiomkin and Herrmann.

  7. I came across this post by accident, and share with you my amazement at Goldsmith's output. I should mention, however, that Goldsmith, while impressively prolific, is not second only to Morricone; I believe Max Steiner might have that distinction.


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