Ever since “Scarlett’s Theme” fancied across the sound waves to my ears in a re-release of Gone With the Wind (1939), I’ve loved movie soundtracks. It happened in a matinee of our hometown theatre in the late 1950s. I imagined myself in Civil War times, living with those people, walking through their houses and sharing their happiness and tragedies. I guess that’s what we call history.
GWTW is not by any measure a documentary. When Margaret Mitchell’s husband saw the number of casualties on the streets of Atlanta in the movie, he said, “If we had that many soldiers, we’d have won the war.” But it did a lot for my desire to study the past, as it has for others.
Depicting an earlier era, Tom Hulce’s performance in Amadeus (1984) was paced by appropriate selections of Mozart’s music. And even though Jane Austen wrote fiction, her atmospheres of genteel people in the early 1800s were true. Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Emma (1996) have poignant original music along with arrangements of period songs.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Lincoln (2012) still rivet me to the screen. This could also have something to do with Daniel Day-Lewis in the middle of both. And who can forget the haunting themes which helped us sympathize with Native Americans in Dances With Wolves (1990)?
Another Civil War era classic is Little Women, of which several versions have been produced. The 1994 remake has the most beautiful music, I think. It reminds me of the mood I was in when I first read Louisa Mae Alcott’s classic in the upper elementary grades.
Describing a war of the next century and the ghouls thereof, the soundtrack of Schindler’s List (1993) is unforgettable; more recently, music from The Book Thief (2013), also helped tell the story of Nazi occupation.
When it comes to postwar America, West Side Story (1960) shows the frustration of young immigrants in New York City. A bonafide musical, it combines song and dance of the street with cultural music. As for the 60s, who did soundalike golden oldies better than Tom Hanks and his crew in That Thing You Do (1996)? Songwriting is on his long list of talents.
This is just a smattering from the talented artists who have composed and played the music behind the movies. Some have been nominated for Academy Awards and some have won. You probably have your favorites, too. What grabbed you as you watched?
The stateliness of a plantation, the broadness of the Chattahoochee River, the strong strides of Rhett, the inconsequence of Ashley, the peace of Melanie, and the frivolity of Scarlett – all are heard measure by measure in Gone With the Wind. Acting is made real through orchestrations, costumes, props, and sets. History lives for us in the sum of them.
Max Steiner’s original score for Gone With the Wind. http://www.comelovehollywood.com