Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Bridge Too Far - John Addison

Sorry I've been gone: as you can probably imagine, listening to scores is always more fun than writing about them, and lately I've been paying lots of attention to some old Bond scores by John Barry ('Moonraker' and 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' in particular), immersing myself in Shore's Lord of the Rings (again!), and paying attention to new works by Andrew Lockington and David Arnold ('Quantum of Solace' is a great score, trashy song notwithstanding). But here I am.

This is going to be an inherently biased review. I've loved the movie in question ever since I first saw it at age twelve or thirteen. It was at that stage where a good war movie was just my cup of tea: I was an avid Call of Duty/Medal of Honor aficionado, free-time student of the M-1 Garand, a fan of Robert Mitchum, was reading any and all books I could find on Gen. Patton, Arnhem and Bastogne. Thanks to this phase of my life, William Wellman's 'Battleground' is a Christmas tradition.

And so this particular film, 'A Bridge Too Far,' a film detailing Operation Market Garden (the aAllies' attempted paratrooper invasion of Holland) fit the bill nicely when I first saw it: an all-star cast, directed by an extremely capable Richard Attenborough, and a terrific script by William Goldman (of 'Princess Bride' fame), delivered the goods without fail. Robert Redford, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins... the immense collection of talent in this picture make it into one of the most severely underrated war pictures I've ever seen. It made quite impression on me.

And so did the music. I was not a fan of film music in any sense during this period of my adolescence, but every time I watched the movie I ended up humming the overture for days afterward. When I found there was an actual release of the score (albeit obscure), I finally tracked it down. Not easy to find, so you may find the Imeem playlist here to be you easiest bet for listening to it for now. I had never heard of John Addison before searching out this score, and I've never heard any of his other works. But this score is enough to make me admire him.

From Hollywood's silver age, the album shows a bit of age in the recording quality, but like any score for a favourite old movie, this only adds to its attraction value for me. In terms of orchestration, recording quality, and general mood of the score, I think the closest thing I can compare this to is Henry Mancini's 'Without a Clue,' parts of which are also provided on the Imeem playlist for you to compare. Maybe the similarities are a bit far-fetched, but 'Without a Clue' strikes me as just a slightly more comedic, English-sounding extension of the same style. Maybe I'm alone on that one, but it's the impression I get, for what it's worth. Let me know what you think...

There was only one theme I ever remembered (and was able to hum) after watching the film back in the day, and that was the grand march theme from the 'Overture.' It's a surprisingly upbeat and cheery march, given the tragic end of the film, but it never fails to hit that old sweet spot in my subconcious. The theme is basically ingrained in my memory, and it's the one that begins playing in my mind whenever I hear the words 'War Movie.'

There are at least two other themes which I've come to recognize since listening to the score on album, though. Actually, 'themes' is a misleading term here. They are actually just two variations on the march theme which are different enough to stand out as individual melodies. One is merely the B-theme for the opening march, a rising figure for brass which almost resembles a fanfare (heard in the second part of 'Overture', on woodwinds at the beginning of 'Before the Holocaust', in an inspiring extended treatment in 'Air Lift'). The other is a mellow, minor version of the march, which descends at the end of the statement instead of rising. It receives a wonderfully moving treatment on solo piano in 'A Dutch Rhapsody,' soon joined by woodwinds and light strings. A particularly tragic rendition of it appears in 'Arnhem Destroyed.'

Together the three melodies constitute the bulk of the score. Rarely is there a moment during the running time (about 39 minutes) when one of these themes is not getting used in some form or another, which partly explains my growing admiration for the score: Addison's endless manipulation of these three variations on a simple march never gets tired. The melodies sound fresh every time they appear, and they are (above all) MEMORABLE. I like nothing better in a good soundtrack than a distinct theme which I can remember and whistle, especially after hearing the score only once. Scores like THAT are getting fewer these days, even in fun, splashy orchestral powerhouses (Hellboy II...), so something classic and hummable like 'A Bridge Too Far' will fit the bill any time. This is a fun score for a classic movie, and I'm glad to have it on the shelves.

Listen to the aforementioned Imeem playlist of the full score here. Enjoy!!