On Maurice Jarre and Film Music

There must be some kind of testament to Maurice Jarre in the fact that my girlfriend can hum along to “Lara’s Theme” without having seen Dr. Zhivago.

Jarre died a couple of days ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about the movies of David Lean, especially Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Jarre scored those, and many more. They are such big films, and tangible in their scale. In those days, if the script called for an army, you raised an army. Programming a virtual one was many decades away.

We learn about films in large part by watching them, and Lean’s epics, made almost 50 years ago, are not a bad place to start. You can watch one and say, “Now there is a movie.” Part of that experience is also hearing the film, and that includes its score. Jarre’s scores are not a bad place to start, either.

Many films today opt out of the traditional orchestral score. It’s probably cheaper. Instead, they tend to have soundtracks curated by KCRW DJs, which is not such a bad way to find new artists. But I think there’s something to leaning on the symphony, with its wind section and strings and full complement of percussion instruments, to effect a mood. True, the music is never really meant to be noticed, so much as absorbed. But still, there are film scores and composers worth noticing: the clever machinations of Danny Elfman, the hypnotic patterns of Phillip Glass, or the thrilling swells of John Barry, whose work, of these three, is most reminiscent of Jarre’s.

Big Movies. Here, a bit from Lawrence of Arabia


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