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Last Day for Goldsmith Kickstarter —and Chinatown Excerpt

The Kickstarter for Jeff Bond’s two-volume Jerry Goldsmith Companion books ends tonight at 11:59PM Pacific time, Thursday, June 15, 2023.

Incredibly, the amount is approaching $160K, with over 1,300 donors!

I’m so happy for Jeff, Creature Features Publishing’s Taylor White—and all of you who have supported the project and are looking forward to enjoying the books.

And it’s really a tribute to how much love and affection we all carry for Goldsmith’s incredible music and legacy.

If you’ve been on the fence about pledging to the Kickstarter, just keep one thing in mind: the book will be available for purchase later this year, after it’s published, but it will be slightly more expensive at that time. (How much, I don’t know.)

So your best price is through the Kickstarter—until 11:59PM Pacific tonight.

Here is just a small segment of Volume One’s section on one of all my all-time favorite Goldsmith scores (and films), Chinatown:


Robert Evans told writer Sam Wasson that he personally went to Jerry Goldsmith’s house unannounced to ask him to bail out Chinatown’s music situation. “I need you to save my life,” he reportedly said to Goldsmith: “Jerry, you’ve gotta help me. I need your music.” Evans had never worked with Goldsmith before, but it hadn’t been long since Goldsmith’s Papillon had made its impact and Goldsmith’s Patton had been the only real threat to the music for Evans’ Love Story at the 1971 Oscar ceremony, so the producer would have been familiar enough with Goldsmith’s capabilities. The premiere had been pushed back originally to give Phillip Lambro more time to add to his score, but now there was a scant ten days left for Goldsmith to deliver something that would work.

Goldsmith had a single, brief meeting with Roman Polanski. “We spotted the picture, which had already been basically spotted where the music was going to go,” he recalled in 2002. “And we had lunch. And the chief topic of conversation at lunch was amyl nitrate, and one scene where Roman said he wanted some humor in it. Bob Evans didn’t want humor. And Roman left. I’ve not seen him or talked to him since our lunch. He went to Spoleto to direct a production of Lulu. And Bob Evans took over.”

Goldsmith had discussed the experience with Elmer Bernstein in 1977. “Bob Evans had fallen in love with ‘I Can’t Get Started’ by Bunny Berigan, and he thought the whole picture and the music should really have that flavor. Well, now, that’s tangible, we can pinpoint it. I explained, ‘I don’t feel that would be right for the film because the picture is the 1930s all over again; I grew up in Los Angeles and that’s amazingly enough the way it looked. I can remember this whole ambience as a kid. It’s too much of a re-emphasis of ’30s with that kind of music.’”

In an interview for the book Film Music: A Neglected Art by Roy M. Prendergast, Goldsmith said he suggested a different approach to Evans. “I told the producer and director that what we are dealing with in the film are characters and that the time was of little significance. It could be now or 1933. The music in the film is dealing with the relationship of two people as well as providing a certain suspense element. Thematically, I tried to write a tune that could have been written during the 1930s, although I orchestrated the tune differently than they would have during those days. When I first saw the film, I immediately got a flash as to the orchestral fabric that I wanted. I, of course, had no idea musically what it was going to be, but there was a sound in my mind, and I wanted to use strings, four pianos, four harps, two percussion, and a trumpet.”

Robert Towne said in a DVD commentary that it was Evans who suggested the voice of a solo trumpet for the score’s main theme. Anything is possible, but Evans was also well-known for taking credit for any successful aspect of a movie he was involved in, and his main inspiration seems to have been the inclusion of “I Can’t Get Started.” The solo trumpet had been a key fingerprint of Goldsmith’s style going back to Studs Lonigan and before, and he had laid a lot of the groundwork for the trumpet theme to Chinatown in his 1968 television score for “The People Next Door” and even the masculine tragedy A Step Out of Line. As he had with Rio Lobo (where he honed a melody he had experimented with on the TV pilot Prudence and the Chief into a much finer composition for the John Wayne Western), Goldsmith went back to the skeleton and voicing of “The People Next Door” opening and refined it into the iconic melody for Chinatown.

The brushed harps (with a guitar pick dragged along a harp string creating one evocative texture) and piano strings, the filigree, droplet patterns of piano riffs Goldsmith had heard in his head as an instinctive reaction to the movie, subconsciously reinforce the film’s key concept of the theft and abuse of water, even as the movie plays out in the orange and tan light and desiccated atmosphere of the Los Angeles desert. Today, David Newman feels that Goldsmith intentionally built the idea of water into his score: “In about three bars at the beginning, all the pianos go from the top of the strings and they strum inside the piano as if water is falling down a little waterfall or down a trench, and then it lands and all four harps play in unison, which makes it beat because they’re not ever in nature perfectly in tune. So, it has a beat as if the water, after it’s landed, is moving. And then they’re actually playing the first two notes of the of the theme. All that in five seconds—I just gotta think he knew that. It’s too much of a coincidence.”

“Jack Nicholson was at the dam watching transactions going on and there was this very arid, dry feeling,” Goldsmith said of his memory of the screening in a BBC Film 2000 interview. “I remember the sound of a fly buzzing around and writing music around the sound of this fly and trying to capture what he was feeling in this heat and his reaction to all the strange goings-on. No matter how wonderful the actors are, music will bring those emotions to a higher level, and I think that’s what music should be used for.”


There’s a lot more in the book about Chinatown but I can’t spoil it all.

Thanks everybody!

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