Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Tune: Jerry Goldsmith - Poltergeist (1982)

A few years back I screened Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist for CAA year 1 as part of an 'Unheimlich' film programme that also included Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), Invaders From Mars (1953), The Stepford Wives (1975), Halloween (1978) and Blue Velvet (1986).  The underlying theme was American cinema's ambivalence for perfect lawns and picket fences.  Here are shared visions of suburban disquiet and the horrors of homogeneity; here are narratives in which home and hearth become 'final girl' obstacle courses and crawl-spaces, in which domestic space is invaded - sometimes brutally, but more often with stealth and chilling, invisible haste. (They're here already! You're next!).  Indeed, with the exception of Poltergeist, all these films end uneasily with the threat to our domestic space unvanquished in the final reel; sure, Blue Velvet appears to restore order and equilibrium, but no one actually believes everything is going to be okay, right?  That happily-ever-after is about as phoney at Lynch's clockwork robin...

The nice thing about putting film programmes together is the self-serving opportunity it provides for old timers like me to revisit cherished celluloid on a biggish screen.  There is, of course, always a danger in 'going back' to something beloved.  Nostalgia for a favourite movie experience is often doomed to disappoint as the favourite movie experience in question has the temerity to not be as our memory would have it.  There is the danger too that the benefactors of our cultural hand-me-downs will fail to see the attraction; worse, that they will scoff and snigger in the darkness of the lecture theatre - or update their Facebook status instead.  I have screened many an esteemed movie in the unforgiving, bum-numbing darkness of Lecture Theatre 1 to the unmistakeable sound of deafening indifference.  (Picnic at Hanging Rock = wtf!?)

But not so with Hooper's Poltergeist, which was received with enthusiasm and elicited from its  undergraduate audience a satisfying number of 'still-got-it' shocks.  Poltergeist owes its longevity to a number of factors - not least its script and ensemble cast, which is classy and deft and resonates above and beyond the trappings of the genre in which both are situated.  That Steven Spielberg produced Poltergeist is self-evident in the film's warmth and ultimate emphasis on the restorative bonds of family. Indeed, the opening sequences of Poltergeist recall E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) with its kids on bikes and easy-going, naturalistic family on the cusp of other-worldly encounters.

Another characteristic of the film vital to its enduring appeal is Jerry Goldsmith's score - which brings me to the subject of today's The Tune.  I'll be profiling a number of Goldsmith scores over the coming weeks, and I'm starting with his work for Poltergeist because it's as good a place to start as any, and because it includes one of my favourite musical cues - 'The Light'.  Goldsmith's score combines lullabies, both sweet and uneasy, with whirling ethereal flurries and stabs of dissonance.  'The Neighborhood' cue is exuberant and notably Williams-esque (it even sounds like a Spielberg movie!), while the score accompanying the infamous 'Clown' attack has a clockwork 'wind-up' motif that foreshadows the coming-to-life of the appalling toy.  And oh, 'The Light'!  I can't listen to this without the hairs on my arms lifting all at once in a cool, silvery wave.  Goldsmith's music is magical here, so absolutely full of wonder and sadness and beauty - it swells and it shimmers.   

The score for Poltergeist maps the film's journey from sweet natured family picture to an out-and-out frightfest, as Goldsmith shifts from lyricism to atonality; compare, for example, 'The Light' with 'Night Of The Beast' - and there you have the appeal of Poltergeist encompassed, as phantasmagoria becomes menace to perfect popcorn effect.  Enjoy - and if you haven't seen the movie, this old timer recommends that you do.

The Calling/The Neighborhood

The Clown/They're Here/Broken Glass/The Hole/TV People

The Light

Night Of The Beast

1 comment:

  1. I've certainly enjoyed my two days of Jerry Goldsmith in the baseroom. :)