With the sad, sad news of his untimely death, James Horner has brought tears to our eyes yet again. If you have heard the music from films like Glory, Aliens, Cocoon, or Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, then you have an appreciation of Horner. Off the top of my head, I would remind you that his scores on films like Deep Impact, Enemy at the Gates, Willow and Searching for Bobby Fischer are also excellent in their own ways. One of the finest and well-known film musicians of the last thirty years. I will try not to ramble as I know you all have such an array of music to choose that you would like to listen to today, but let me offer some of my own thoughts on his influence on me.
In 2010 my now wife flew from Athens, Greece to live with me in England. A brave, bold move temporarily leaving those warm, wonderful people, and that year-round sunshine. Avatar was the last movie we both saw in theaters in our respective countries before being united. Movies hold places in your memories like that. Horner’s score for Avatar is classic action versus emotion score. True, he taps into his own old works here from time to time (The Perfect Storm being prominent), but so do many other composers (as Marshall Flores also mention in his fine farewell).
Many of his scores impressed me, too, in the context of the movie’s tone. The House of Sand and Fog was compellingly heavy in places, and superbly acted – Horner was not a composer I was expecting to hear. But then I thought that when I was also blown away by his haunting, beautiful score for A Beautiful Mind. A relentless swirling of music brilliance. Around that time I forgave myself for not fully appreciating Horner’s diversity. I was, I admit, not a fan of Titanic or it’s Oscar sweep. Horner’s score there is classic stuff, but like many, many other artists out there, he has not won awards for better, more substantial works.
Being the film nerd that I am (I prefer the term movie enthusiast – I think) I have always considering film composers my friend. Predominantly while I write movies myself. I could write a book on how listening to film scores has aided my love for screenwriting. Helped me write scenes, create characters, moods, help me bring the story to life. James Horner has always been one of those composers. I mean, look at his list of works, I was spoiled for choice. His gentle, poignant score for The New World was like having a second mind while writing Ruby Fischer, and those melodic pieces have become the soundtrack for every scene I write. And synonymous with every thought I have about every aspect of the screenplay.
Before I was writing movies seriously, I was something they call a teenager with angst and worries and disproportionate views on the world. The magnificent Braveheart score brought me back to reality while also allowing me to drift someplace else. It remains one of Horner’s accomplished works to date, and a soundtrack I (and the wife) will return to again and again.
Going further back still, the music from Field of Dreams has been with me the longest. A classic example of film music bringing your emotions to the surface. I mean, I was a kid then, with a love for film, and James Horner made me truly appreciate (like John Barry with Out of Africa / Dances with Wolves) the place music earns in film. That final piece, when Ray meets his dad is unforgettable in every possible sense. Sometimes I wake up and that piece of music is already playing in my head. It’s playing now, thankfully.
I could list a hundred more examples of James Horner’s influential contribution to cinema and us all, but unfortunately I have to go to work. The big decision now is what music should I listen to on the journey?