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Section Header
Family Plot
(1976)
Composed and Conducted by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Herbert W. Spencer
Al Woodbury

Album Produced by:
Robert Townson
Mike Matessino

Label:
Varèse Sarabande

Release Date:
December 6th, 2010

Also See:
The Witches of Eastwick
Black Sunday

Audio Clips:
1. The First Seance (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

3. The Mystery Woman (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. The White Mustang (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

20. End Cast (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Availability:
Long available only as a bootleg, the sole legitimate release of this score is the 2010 Varèse Sarabande album limited to 5,000 copies and sold initially for $20.

Awards:
  None.









Family Plot

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Buy it... if you appreciate John Williams in parody mode, because this score's references to the composer's 1960's humor tend to overwhelm his foreshadowing of dramatic rhythmic techniques heard in Black Sunday and beyond.

Avoid it... if you expect to hear anything better than archival sound quality, an unfortunate downside of even this score's best possible presentation that diminishes the impact of its more resounding material for the story's villains.



Williams
Family Plot: (John Williams) As esteemed director Alfred Hitchcock's health declined in the 1970's, he made one final stab at a black comedy in the airy tale of Family Plot. Only based loosely upon a novel by the writer who also inspired North by Northwest, this 1976 film is not one of the director's best, but it is notable in that he completed it shortly before his health (and his wife's) deteriorated to such an extent that he could not continue with another project. Rather than gripping audiences with suspense, Family Plot is based upon a character-based mystery that relies upon its cat and mouse game play between its shady protagonists and even shadier villains. The former pair is led by a fraudulent psychic who collaborates with her taxi-driving boyfriend to dig up information about her clients to use in her staged seances. When she is hired by an old woman to find her only heir, they stumble upon a group of kidnappers with a love of diamonds (one of whom the heir with a changed identity) and ultimately "out-con" the con artists. Most of the story is told with a breezy demeanor, a wink at the audience in the final scene confirmation that Hitchcock meant for Family Plot to reside alongside his comedies. This brighter attitude is directly reflected in John Williams' score for the picture. While Hitchcock had collaborated with several composers over the course of his long career, his efforts with Bernard Herrmann had always been the most notable. The two men suffered a collapse of their professional relationship when the score for Torn Curtain was rejected, and this circumstance initially made Williams uncomfortable. Known previously for his television work, musical adaptations, and disaster epics, Williams had become the darling of Universal the previous year with Jaws, and after being suggested for the assignment, the composer received the expressed confidence of Hitchcock. Nevertheless, Williams sought the blessing of Herrmann, himself nearing death, before tackling Family Plot. Over the course of many meetings between the men, Hitchcock made it clear that he desired music of a lighter variety for Family Plot ("Murder can be fun," he said), starting with a whimsical choral environment for the seance scenes. While the director showed up for a few recording sessions and made a few specific requests about placement, he left the score largely in the hands of Williams' discretion. The resulting work has some references to the sounds of the composer's 1960's comedies and 1970's disaster epics, though it also resembles his later scores. Still, the music remains one of the most distinctly recognizable efforts in Williams' career.

The instrumentation of Family Plot is really where Williams' style for the picture distinguishes the score. The general sound is definitely representative of the maestro, but like Heartbeeps and a handful of others, the tone and solo emphases in Family Plot really make it memorable. A large string section offsets a truncated brass section, but the orchestra is almost always employed in a secondary role to solo performances on woodwinds, harpsichord, harp, or synthesizer. The many flute and other woodwind passages bring what little convincing warmth to be gleaned from the story, while the harpsichord is a decent extension of the wealth and privilege suggested by the story. The harp provides the ambience of mystery in several cues while the ARP synthesizer both carries the motifs of the villains and maintains ominously harsh tones as a stinger device. Timpani accents denote obvious gravity. The angelic women's choir has a parody element to it here, though Williams collectors may find its application to a couple of cues a foreshadowing of tones heard with more sincerity in Hook and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. While the composer utilized the harpsichord many times at the height of his career, including The Missouri Breaks and Monsignor in that era, its dominance of the humorous character of this score will draw the most comparisons to The Witches of Eastwick. The rhythmic flow of Family Plot is split between the upbeat harpsichord-led theme for the psychic and the base-region rambling for the villains, the latter most resembling the propulsive sense in Black Sunday that would also foreshadow elements in the future for Williams. Like the themes for Family Plot, the instrumental applications are proven malleable enough by Williams to mingle significantly with disparate ideas to mirror the complex relationships in the story. The themes themselves are also presented often as counterpoint to each other or with fragments melded in unexpected ways. You will rarely encounter a moment in Family Plot during which Williams isn't expressing at least one of his four main themes for the film, and most cues muddy their development or tease the audiences with merged meanings to suggest forthcoming plot revelations. Unfortunately, none of the themes for this film is particularly appreciable outside of context, Williams' obligatory adaptation of the seance theme into a 70's light rock song an interesting piece of testimony to the versatility of his ideas but necessarily something you'd want to hear often for standalone enjoyment. Like the cast on screen, the themes are truly an ensemble effort with no clear highlight.

The first theme heard in Family Plot is the one for the psychic's seances, an identity better remembered for its use of ethereal women's voices than the melody itself. Outside of the two tracks indicating that application, it also bookends the "End Cast" cue as necessary to suggest both a trance and the ultimate humor behind it. As mentioned before, the "Family Plot Theme" pop adaptation is so different in its treatment of the idea that they will seem unrelated to casual listeners. The second theme, and more appropriately the main idea for Family Plot, is the one for the psychic's true, mischievous personality. Represented by the harpsichord in "Blanche's Challenge" and beyond, this theme on the surface may resemble The Witches of Eastwick in its most buoyant performances but actually, when boiled down to solo piano or woodwind, carries some of the creepiness of A.I. Artificial Intelligence as well, especially as the idea morphs into a love theme in "Blanche and George." While this theme is usually characterized by easy harmony and may represent the antics of the protagonists well enough, it's often a bit obnoxious in its awkward movements ("Kitchen Pranks" may be too much parody to handle). Far more intriguing are the themes associated with the villains. The Shoebridge theme (representing the family involving the heir) is a convoluted, slowed, and mangled distortion of the Blanche theme in some ways, but its distinctively warped progressions are quite adept at making subtle connections between the villains and the family of the old woman seeking to find her heir. The highlight of the score is ironically the outward expression of criminal intent espoused by the Adamson theme for the kidnapping ring. This rambling minor third rhythm is heard first in "The Mystery Woman" and grows more intense as the plot progresses toward the determination that the protagonists must be killed. The ARP synthesizer conveys this theme most convincingly, with a raw sense of malice not heard often in scores thirty years later. In terms of its progression, the Adamson theme will be associated by younger listeners with the suspense motif in Jurassic Park, a musical association also made in Black Sunday (thus the prior mention of rhythmic connections) and other subsequent scores. The idea is often used as the rhythmic backdrop for the Shoebridge theme, the two of them usually flowing in and out of each other (and may actually be confused as one overarching villains' idea). While "The Mystery Woman," complete with driving snare, is the longest full expression of these ideas together, their urgently forceful resolve in "Nothing Held Back" is a brief but superior highlight.

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As the score for Family Plot reaches its most suspenseful scenes of confrontation involving the four remaining characters, Williams shifts between the two villains' ideas and Blanche's theme in very subtle environments. Rumbling piano comes to define these slightly stated, overlapping themes for portions in "Blanche's Arrival/Blanche's Note" and "Breaking Into the House" that aren't particularly memorable. The final moment of decisive action in "The Secret Door" loses the tension built in the rest of the score and resolves rather tepidly, too. As such, the score doesn't really feature any kind of satisfying resolution outside of the rotation between ideas (and the translation of the Shoebridge theme into the major key) in "End Cast." Overall, you can clearly understand and agree with the choices Williams' made about treating Family Plot with a lighter sound. The thematic development is also precisely exercised and mingled with skill. It's hard to argue with the instrumental choices, too. But this score has always lacked the kind of impressive narrative flow that many of Williams' other scores exhibit, absent the feeling of the inevitable in Black Sunday. Additionally, Blanche's harpsichord theme may simply be too cute in its most extroverted form for some listeners. For perhaps these reasons, Family Plot has long remained John Williams' most long-standing unreleased score, despite the pop arrangement of the seance theme made specifically for the purposes of an album. Bootlegs of the score have always featured incredibly poor sound and the excerpts contained on compilations have never featured enough of Williams' material for the story to give a well rounded impression of its complicated thematic interactions. Finally, the Varèse Sarabande label made Family Plot the centerpiece of its late 2010 offerings in its CD Club, a product limited to a generous 5,000 copies. The assembly of the score is the best possible, with the long source cue "The Stonecutter," upwards of seven minutes featuring the absolute worst of Williams' late-70's pop sensibilities, placed at the conclusion of the album. Unfortunately, a superior source for the original recording has never been located, and even despite the best efforts of the label to engineer a dynamic soundscape from the three-track masters for Family Plot, there is still an archival ambience to the entirety of the score. Given the robust nature of especially the villains' themes, this rather flat sound is a tragedy; the inherently dull tone of the synthesizer doesn't help, either. Adding this note to all of the aforementioned potential concerns for listeners, Family Plot isn't an automatic recommendation, a score aimed at collectors with an intellectual appreciation of Williams' 1970's works. For causal listening purposes, Black Sunday would be a related and better place to start an exploration of this sound. ***   Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 336,630 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.





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 Track Listings: Total Time: 63:27


• 1. The First Seance (5:29)
• 2. Blanche's Challenge (2:09)
• 3. The Mystery Woman (3:27)
• 4. The Rescue of Constantine/The Diamond Chandelier (2:21)
• 5. Kitchen Pranks (2:08)
• 6. The Shoebridge Headstone (2:23)
• 7. Maloney's Visit to the Jewelry Store/Maloney's Knife/The Stake Out (4:58)
• 8. The Second Seance (2:20)
• 9. Nothing Held Back (0:37)
• 10. The White Mustang (1:19)
• 11. Blanche and George (1:17)
• 12. Maloney's Exit (2:03)
• 13. Share and Share Alike (0:54)
• 14. The Mondrian Shot/The Revealed Identity (1:47)
• 15. The Search Montage (3:41)
• 16. Blanche's Arrival/Blanche's Note (2:29)
• 17. Blanche Gets the Needle (3:03)
• 18. Breaking Into the House (5:16)
• 19. The Secret Door/Blanche Wakes Up (1:39)
• 20. End Cast (4:14)
• 21. Family Plot Theme (2:38)
• 22. The Stonecutter (6:35)




 Notes and Quotes:  


The insert includes a list of performers and extensive notes about the film, score, and album.





   
  All artwork and sound clips from Family Plot are Copyright © 2010, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the filmtracks.com site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/27/10 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2010-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.