Friday, August 02, 2013

The Tune: Jerry Goldsmith - The Omen (1976)





You might think this is a bit weird, but I've got Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score for Richard Donner's 1976 horror film, The Omen on my iPod.  You might think it weirder still if I were to admit to you that I listen to Goldsmith's score frequently.  Like some aural thermostat, the music to The Omen is able to dial down the innocuousness of any situation and instil instead a palpable sense of foreboding and dread.  I like listening to it on long train journeys and casting my eye around my fellow travellers, relishing how Goldsmith's score lends sinister intent to their otherwise ordinary behaviour or gives terrible significance to the way the train rattles unsteadily on its tracks, shuttling me at break-neck speed to an inglorious messy end...

In short, listening to The Omen compels me to make movies in my mind - and not very nice ones.  Indeed, there's something about the promise of doom and impending catastrophe captured in Goldsmith's score that applies a Final Destination filter to the world around me; as I listen, scaffolding seems fraught with murderous potential and plate glass windows wink at me like guillotines.  Of course, it's not Goldsmith's score alone that encourages me to predict elaborate expirations at every turn of the road. The spectacular 'accidents' that light up Donner's hugely successful movie like macabre fireworks haunt my imagination too, but just like John William's score for Jaws, The Omen owes a huge debt to the power of its music.

I first saw The Omen when I was much too young.  A relative showed it to me because I begged to see it and, on that occasion at least, my mum wasn't around to throw a spanner in the works (when I feature Goldsmith's score for Alien, there'll be more stories of an underage boy badgering relatives to see unsuitable material - and winning!).  One of my most vivid childhood memories is the drive home after watching it and having to keep the experience a secret from my mum.  I sat in the corner of the backseat of the car not speaking, mum driving, the events of The Omen re-playing over and over in my imagination and the world feeling changed, altered, shifted into a darker hue.  In short, I was traumatised by the movie.  I felt endangered suddenly - at risk - as if the invisible membrane between the happyish sphere of my childhood and another, more sinister realm had thinned precariously.  The Omen is a film in which bad things happen to parents.  The film's stars, Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, are not bubblegum teens intent on wandering off into the woods in their underwear.  Peck and Remick are grown-ups and perhaps it was this - the film's attack on the ability of adults to 'make things okay' - that so imperilled my nine year old self.  Goldsmith's score - doomy, dissonant, terrifying - played no small part in my existential unnerving.  It continued to throb, chant, whisper and shriek in the silent dark of my council house bedroom, where no amount of Starwars duvet pulled over my head could keep me truly safe from the prospect of demons, dogs and decapitations....






Often confused with Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Goldsmith's Ave Satani is The Omen's famous signature theme: a blasphemous inversion of phrases from the Latin Mass (it means 'Hail Satan').  Unfortunately, due to the capricious nature of YouTube, I can't cherry pick particular musical cues for you, but the following anthology should be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and give you a flavour of Goldsmith's achievement.  If you're up for a bit more anxiety, you can find the entire soundtrack here...


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