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Comments about the soundtrack for Born on the Fourth of July (John Williams)
Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review

Todd China

  Responses to this Comment:
R.E. Groter
Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review   Sunday, May 3, 2009 (9:08 a.m.) 

(The following donated review by Todd China was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in May, 2009)

Born on the Fourth of July (John Williams) A powerful score to a powerful film. Born on the Fourth of July is one of my favorite John Williams scores; it's by turns emotional, complex, dark, and beautiful. It's not only very thematic, but also very artistic, musical, and intellectual. Every transition and passing moment in this score is a perfect fit, both thematically and audio-visually, for Oliver Stone's film.

Born on the Fourth of July is a film of epic scope; it tracks Ron Kovic's odyssey from his childhood days in New York, to the battlefields of Vietnam, to his dissolution in Mexico, and to his final redemptive homecoming. Yet through all this, the overwhelming tragic tone is always in sight, from the beginning to the end, and this is reinforced by the music. The score begins with a foreboding low bass section underlying Tim Morrison's haunting, lonely trumpet solo. The "Prologue" theme is simple yet sad, and encapsulates Kovic's alienation. When he returned as a cripple from Vietnam, his voice, like the lone trumpet call, went unheard by an American public who did not want to acknowledge or recognize his sacrifice, an American public that only desired to wash its hands of the whole Vietnam experience.

The "Prologue" segues into "The Early Days," which is at once a melancholic, mournful theme by the string section. Although it accompanies an ostensibly innocent scene of children playing war, the musical waves of darkness serve to foreshadow the horror and disillusionment to come. The second half of this piece accompanies the Fourth of July celebration that takes place a few scenes later. This part of the piece is simply beautiful, beginning with an oboe solo rendition of a theme that is redolent in Americana. Shortly after, the main theme is heard for the first time, one of the most passionate and emotional themes ever written by Williams. Tim Morrison's trumpet then returns with the Americana theme. The tone of this section of the score is light and good-spirited.

The next two tracks, "The Shooting of Wilson" and "Near the Cua Viet River" are powerful and devastating musical commentaries on Stone's visceral Vietnam War scenes. War in Oliver Stone's movies is not glorious, but chaotic and nightmarish. "The Shooting of Wilson," with its painful, wailing, high-end strings, uncomfortable timpani rolls, and violent low string passages, brutally conveys the utter horror that Kovic faces when he walks into the village hut and sees that his team has massacred innocents. The dissonance and atonality of the music capture the feeling that Kovic must have had, that his stomach was turning over, that his whole moral world had turned upside down in a second. An enemy attack immediately follows, and the disordered music is wonderfully effective as Kovic is caught up in a desperate, disorderly struggle, in which there are no clearly drawn battle lines and it is impossible to tell friend from foe. When, at the end, Kovic staggers to gaze at the man he shot in a panic and realizes with horror that it is Private Wilson, the low piano crash is the perfect dramatic exclamation point for this realization.

The music from the tail end of "The Shooting of Wilson" and the beginning of "Near the Cua Viet River" emphasize Kovic's growing disillusionment with war and his painful loss of focus. The sad, melancholy theme heard in the beginning of "The Early Days" returns with an ironic vengeance now, as Kovic finds himself in a situation that, unlike his childhood war play, is very horrible and very real. As Kovic finds himself alone and panicking in the midst of an ambush, the haunting trumpet call sounds, signaling both an end and a new beginning, and it is at this moment when he is shot. The cold and emotionally distant sampled voices that follow as Kovic is brought to the medical camp reflects his own delirium and mental detachment of a man near death.

"Homecoming" marks Kovic's return home, out of the darkness of Mexico and his own soul, and Tim Morrison once again gives a wonderful performance of another very Americana-sounding theme. The rock-based drum backing works well to symbolize Kovic's return to his own American roots. I'm not sure why, but I couldn't help thinking as I watched this part of the film that this part of the score also has a shade of Caribbean/Latin influence in the tone of performance. As the trumpet call at the end suggests, he is still a wounded man, but a man who has found his way home nonetheless. The final track is thus a stirringly emotional accompaniment for a man who found his voice, his courage, and his redemption. A huge string section launches into a truly passionate, grand, and sweeping performance of the main theme, and the music conveys epic closure as Kovic, ready to address the convention, says, "I feel like I've finally come home." Come home, indeed, and Williams' music is an indelible part of that journey.

Although the score runs only at 25 minutes on CD, a shame considering its greatness, I do think all of the best musical moments from the film were included. I rather like the 60's and 70's pop songs on this album, although I still think "Venus" and "Soldier Boy" are two of the most insufferable songs I've ever heard. All in all, a hands-down terrific score to one of the greatest war movies ever made. *****

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R.E. Groter
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  In Response to:
Todd China
Born on Fourth of July-Donated Review   Thursday, November 12, 2009 (12:54 a.m.) 
• Now Playing: Silence  

Regardless of backround-(I think it needs to be 'time in Historically accurate/ other than that, artistic approach should be unique-which (save for the affore 5 min. of foppas' is). I felt that , though I do not care for his politics nor choice of religion; this most definitely should have won an Oscar for Tom's acting and the film's message of 'dissallusionment' overall of war. He carried this film alone, and it was an extrodinatry performance.

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