Composer John Williams has received award after award for his musical scores. He deserved them all, and more.
Writing, orchestrating and recording the scores for (nearly) all the films of cinematic giants Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, in addition to his work on many other memorable films and television shows, John Williams has made an incredibly deep impression on the world of cinema.
One might argue that Williams is as influential as any other figure in cinema today – or ever.
Usually when we think about the most influential figures in film we consider names of directors and producers. We think of the powerful people who have shaped Hollywood over the decades through backroom decisions and the corporate leverage of deep pockets.
We think of the people behind the camera directing and the people behind the closed doors of the studios pulling the strings.
We think of the big names, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and Orson Wells – the figures of Hollywood legend that rose to considerable stature and power.
Yet, there is another side to the cinema that has little to do with power. There is a side that includes the auteur and the artist.
Spielberg and Wells, each got their start on this side of cinema, the creative side, as did George Lucas and Woody Allen. It is in this sphere of creativity and artistry that John Williams has had his special impact.
John Williams helped to open the door to a style of score composition that was grand, sweeping, and which moved along with the movie. Bringing intricate and delicate composition to film scores, Williams went beyond the five bar ditty that would be interspersed and dropped in at funny moments. Williams wrote scores that were stories in themselves, with high and low points, dramatic tension, and a heroism that remains unsurpassed. All of this garnered 5 Academy Awards, 18 Grammy Awards and many more distinctions.
Reading a short list of films that Williams scored, you may be surprised at how many of your great film-music experiences have been owed to Williams over the last thirty years. The scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Jaws, Shindler’s List and Jurassic Park were all written and conducted by John Williams. This is only a hint at the extensive body of work that John Williams has put together in his career. (Internet Movie Database lists Williams with an astounding 133 composition credits for film and television!)
Focusing on this brief list, even if you can’t remember the music itself specifically, you probably remember the sense of being wrapped up in the moment, in the romance of these films. That engagement with the world of the story was aided significantly by the film score on each movie.
John Williams’ compositions are clearly influenced by Dvorak who wrote very cinematic symphonic pieces for audiences before movies were around. Part of Williams’ special talent is his ability to blend the pre-existing classical themes and movements with a story-line, fusing them into a single statement.
The sway Williams has had over audiences has not been his only influence on the world of cinema. His scores have shaped the practices of many composers, most notable Danny Elfman who has risen to a prominence to rival that of John Williams today.
The example that John Williams sets is a powerful one for artists and it is this – you don’t have to be invited into the inner-circles of power to be one of the most influential figures in your medium. You still have to know people and get your work out there, but you don’t need the power of the “green light” to be heard.