There are some who would qualify film music itself as a guilty pleasure. Let’s assume for the moment—and forever afterward—that these people are wrong. Film music is the finest, noblest, most versatile, most marvelous “genre” of music there is, and the wise listener who sows his life with seeds of film scores will reap a harvest of delight.
Within this ambrosian genre of music, however, there still remain guilty pleasures—those scores that are so sappy, so cheesy, so dated, so guilty of some aesthetic transgression or another…and yet still find for themselves a warm reception in our hearts (and usually the hearts of few others).
I want to share three such guilty pleasures. These are by no means the only three for me, but they are representative of scores that, despite being publicly maligned or rightly understood to be very uncool, are just too doggone wonderful for me to pay any heed.
My meticulously scientific criteria for the following cues were that either the cues themselves are in some way guilty, or they belong to scores (and by extension, composers, in some cases) that should only go out in public with bags on their heads.
Guilty Pleasure One: “Don’t Panic,” from I.Q.
Few people know Jerry Goldsmith’s music for the 1994 romantic comedy I.Q.—a film about Einstein’s theory of the inevitability of Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan hooking up in the American Grafitti era—save those who saw, and remember, the movie. Goldsmith concocted a kooky blend of light romance and frenetic shenanigans—stirred up with heavy doses of ’50s doo-wop and fiddled variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Sounds insane—and it is. This score has the chemical power to explode your brain with annoyance, but for me it goes down as smooth as a chocolate soda. This track, “Don’t Panic,” is the culmination of all the aforementioned disparate elements, and the result is so fun it’s breathtaking. Playful doo-wop does battle with a snaky cello line, the love theme peeks its head in, and then the saxophone takes over with jazzy authority. The cue climaxes with funky, syncopated piano hits accompanying the sweet love theme on strings. I get guilty goosebumps every time I hop aboard this joy ride of a score.
Guilty Pleasure Two: “John Henry,” from Tall Tale.
Though I owned at least three of his scores, Randy Edelman’s name was somewhat of a byword around my house growing up. His music is typically plagued with insubstantial synthetic orchestration, and most of his music tends to curdle under the same thick layer of corny homogeneity. And really, who would expect the score from Gone with the Wind for Tall Tale—a Disney-backed story about a cynical pubescent boy who comes face to face with lassoin’ Patrick Swayze and Oliver Platt and his big, blue ox? While the score to Tall Tale sounds a lot like Edelman’s other entries into the annals of saccharine ’90s family films, there are at least two real standout tracks that showcase Edelman’s creativity and gift for melody. “John Henry,” which accompanies the legendary strongman’s race against steampunk technology, opens with a typical Edelman statement of epic grandiosity. Then, an anticipatory drumroll, and the cue bursts at the seams with an infectious low piano figuration and slide guitar. A gospel choir chimes in atop a church organ, and it all makes for one of the most fun tracks Edelman has ever written.
Guilty Pleasure Three: “Dobby the House Elf,” from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
It took me years to finally swallow my pride and read the Harry Potter books, so, believe me, there’s a great deal of guilt wrapped up in admitting an affinity for anything Harry—let alone something as shameful as the theme for arguably the most annoying character in the films: Dobby the house elf. Dobby has aptly been described as the “Jar Jar Binks of the Harry Potter world,” and with his already dated CGI and excruciating ascetic antics, one can’t help but beat themselves in the head with the nearest blunt instrument whenever he’s onscreen. For the Chamber of Secrets, John Williams didn’t even clock in to put the finishing touches on this stinker in the series (which is basically a shameless, formulaic rehash of the first film), but instead trusted a handful of new themes to the guiding hands of William Ross. Yet, despite all of this reeking guilt, I find Dobby’s theme an irresistible delight. Regardless of Ross’ association with the score, this theme is all Williams. His master touch of orchestration is evident, and the theme is reminiscent of his sweet little melodies for other intended-to-be-endearing (but usually just annoying) creatures like the Ewoks or Jawas (or Lex Luthor). It has the patent Williams atonal B section, but at its heart is a small, affectionate theme for woodwinds. The accompanying strings and Christmasy bells could easily qualify it for entry into the Home Alone universe; and, as far as Williams’ music is concerned, that’s a high compliment.
What are your guilty pleasures? Is there such a thing?