A neophyte walks by the desk of a film music collector and it always happens. The case of a fine film score CD will be sitting on the corner, such as the newly released “Hardly Working” by Morton Stevens, and the comment comes: “Ew, Jerry Lewis music? You’ve got strange tastes.” Such is the ever-present and undeserved consequence of associating a soundtrack with the quality of its film.
In the latter half of Jerry Lewis’ career, it is indeed fair to say that the novel varnish of his comedy routines had gone stale in American audiences’ eyes, and the mention of his body of work will now undoubtedly trigger grimaces of derision or disinterest. However, the appeal of Hardly Working’s score with its infectious theme leaves no doubt about its quality, independent from the movie’s fate. But that independence can never be respected because A) general audiences are not familiar with the name Morton Stevens, and B) it is impossible to remove Jerry Lewis’ name and picture from the cover of the CD.
Other splendid scores receive unjust comments because of the poor critical reception of their respective movie. If a film score fan sees a copy of The Avengers lying around (the Uma Thurman/Ralph Fiennes version), they will undoubtedly say, “Oh I love this score! Whatever happened to Joel McNeely?” Whereas a neophyte will not even entertain the idea that this is music worth hearing. “Oh wow, that movie was so terrible,” will be their only remark.
Although the history of cinema is replete with similar examples (1998’s Godzilla remake, Inchon, 1996’s American Doctor Who movie), the coin flips both ways. Sometimes a critically-acclaimed film has a score that has very little to offer musically and yet becomes the object of unduly hype and attention from the music community based solely on the success of the film, sometimes going as far as raking in an Oscar. Examples of such situations are of course greatly dependant on listeners’ personal tastes, but perhaps the most universal instance is Graeme Revell’s effort on The Crow. It is by no means a terrible score, but the fact that it features in countless more CD collections than Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator seems unbelievable.
Of course, some of the most rewarding experiences in film music lie where excellent music meets excellent filmmaking; when melodies and rhythms conjure up memories of unforgettable moments of bliss spent in a darkened theatre. Both connoisseurs and neophytes can even agree about that. But sadly this common ground is lost when good movies end while good music goes on. Or vice versa.