How Jerry Goldsmith saved Chinatown

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Mike Gebert
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How Jerry Goldsmith saved Chinatown

Unread post by Mike Gebert » Fri Jul 10, 2009 7:58 pm

Okay, this is a long way from being music for silents, but it's an interesting piece about how Jerry Goldsmith wrote a score for Chinatown that made the film work after a disastrous preview with the original score.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 39772.html

Needless to say, it helps if you have some memory of the score in your head (hey, it's not like the article is in some medium where they could include audio!) If you don't, this has the main theme:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM-7o9zwJ_M

This trailer includes the more dissonant original score:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aifeXlnoqY
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Jack Theakston
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Unread post by Jack Theakston » Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:52 pm

Having heard clips of Phillip Lambro's original score for the film (although admittedly not synced with it), I get the impression that it wasn't the total effort of his score that was inappropriate, but the final reel's worth, which goes into a strange cacophony of Chinese-sounding music.

A composer once told me, "you've got to start your music strong, and end it strong. Everything else in between is inconsequential." And while terrible music in the middle obviously will not due, I think this is true subconsciously to a degree that what someone remembers most are the film's main theme-- usually used in the title-- and the end theme or the last thing that they heard. Lambro's opening cue in many ways parallels Goldsmith's, with a Chinese opening and sax solo, although Goldsmith's solo benefits from a smoother, sexier performance by Uan Rasey. Of course, in the end, Lambro played Saliari to Goldsmith's Mozart, as the music of CHINATOWN is unforgettable.

Lambro has been very outspoken about the score over the years and a lot of it sounds like sour grapes to me. His book CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WORST KIND is an unintentionally funny read, but does contain his (bitter) side of the story.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Jul 11, 2009 7:23 am

Just listening to those two clips side by side you can hear that Goldsmith was trying to echo the dissonance while at the same time introducing a theme of doomed romanticism which turned out to be exactly what the movie needed. As the world goes to hell in the last reel, Goldsmith didn't follow it, as Lambro did, but set it in context, which is what made the movie work for an audience (and, incidentally, worked for it as a nostalgia piece-- Lambro was approaching it like a "new Hollywood" movie, wanting us to directly experience the chaos and disillusionment of the 70s, which is in-your-face and off-putting; but Goldsmith gives us something of the lushness of old Hollywood, and thus puts the story at a distance that makes it possible to take it in.)
“I'm in favor of plagiarism. If we are to create a new Renaissance, the government should encourage plagiarism. When convinced that someone is a true plagiarist, we should immediately award them the Legion of Honor.” —Jean Renoir

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Unread post by Jack Theakston » Sun Jul 12, 2009 10:38 am

Lambro's written opinion of the film gives me the impression that not only did he not "get it", he's so tunnel-visioned about it that he honestly believes that everyone else didn't "get it", either!
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Re: How Jerry Goldsmith saved Chinatown

Unread post by kinopanorama » Sun Feb 05, 2012 8:36 pm

I met Phillip Lambro many years ago during a visit to Hollywood. All he wanted to do was to talk about the injustice perpetrated on him by Paramount Pictures in respect to his rejected score for "Chinatown." I have never heard Lambro's score, so am unable to comment on it. Whatever, Jerry's score is just plain brilliant. I can't imagine anyone else bettering it.

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