Poltergeist in Full Score
James Horner’s Sneakers I absolutely love. The movie holds up, too; I rewatched it a few months ago. But it’s not so complicated, technically, that I was always craving a look at it. Also, because there’s never been a complete CD release, it’s a little hard to follow the recording along with the score. (I’m still unsure which cues are in which tracks on the 1992 CD.)
I’ve wanted a look at this for years! Many years ago Ron Jones was scoring the Poltergeist knock-off episode of Family Guy, “Petergeist,” and had a copy of the full score at his house for reference. I remember seeing it sitting in his studio, but I didn’t look at it.
Here’s a clip from that episode, in great fidelity of course:
Years ago, Jerry Goldsmith almost threw me off the scoring stage to L.A. Confidential. I’ll tell that whole story one time. I was spared, and spent a little time inhaling the great man’s cigarette-cloud presence at Todd-AO Studios.
At one point the subject of Poltergeist came up and I raved, “That’s like your Rite of Spring!” I meant it as a compliment, but Jerry just glared at me, like, You are the stupidest person on the face of the Earth.
In truth, Poltergeist is more from his French period, particularly Ravel. As far as I’m concerned, it was the apex of “insane, modernist Jerry” before his transition into keyboards started the next year (beginning with Under Fire). He also had to thin out his orchestral writing in the 1980s as more and more projects sent him to record with Eastern European orchestras for budgetary reasons.
Listening to our FSM CD of Poltergeist with the full score is just an incredible experience and I’m loving every second of it. Thanks Omni!
Anybody who has studied film music, as in the written music, knows that it’s often way simpler than you might expect. It’s just the nature of the form that there are a lot of “pads” (pedal points) and repeated bars—not only so the composer can get it done on time, but because it works best with picture.
Years ago, when we were doing the FSM CD of The Satan Bug, I went to the AMPAS library to review Jerry’s sketches. They don’t let you copy anything, but you can make notes. Here’s some of the twelve-tone material from The Satan Bug as I jotted it down that day:
I looked at some of the Satan Bug cues...and even founding myself thinking, in the simpler suspense passages, “Hey, that’s not so hard.”
Then I would turn the page into an action cue and it looked absolutely insane. Just line after line of intricately plotted melody, harmony, rhythm and orchestration (you know, music).
News flash: Jerry Goldsmith was just preposterously gifted, and he had an exhaustive training—both academically (mostly in private study) and in radio and television—that composers simply don’t get anymore.
As far as I can tell, the training that composers used to get composing and arranging for live players, they now spend operating software and hustling meetings (being social). So their expertise is built in a whole different area.
Poltergeist is a masterpiece. The themes, the orchestration—I’m just going to slobber, and it won’t be very useful. There seems to be a lot of octatonic and whole-tone writing, and I wish I was better trained so I could understand the harmonies without having to laboriously, you know, read bass clef by saying, “Okay, that’s a A in treble, so it’s a C here.”
I mean, I’m such a dilettante. Forgive me, folks.
What really blows my mind is that, as with any of this incredibly complicated music, you can change one note—and it’ll become terrible. It truly blows my mind how great these composers are to build these complicated scores with such great taste and technical precision.
It’s a wonderful service having this full score available and I look forward to spending way more time with it!