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Composed, Conducted, Orchestrated and Produced by:
John Williams

Performed by:
Soloists of the Boston Pops Orchestra

Elektra Entertainment

Release Date:
January 21st, 1992

Also See:
Jurassic Park
Presumed Innocent
Saving Private Ryan
Born on the Fourth of July
Far and Away

Audio Clips:
1. Prologue (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

6. Garrison's Obession (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

8. The Conspirators (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

16. Arlington (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release, but out of print as of 1998 and difficult to find in retail stores.

  Nominated for an Academy Award.

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Buy it... only if the beautiful title theme heard over the prologue of the film is worth the price of an album littered with questionable source music and highly synthetic, turbulent suspense cues.

Avoid it... if you expect any consistency in the listening experience, free of intentional, synthetic dissonance at the conclusion of the majority of thematic performances.

JFK: (John Williams) Among Oliver Stone's historical, political dramas, none was received with such controversy and spin as JFK in 1992. While the film's examination of the conspiracy behind the assassination of the iconic American president wasn't meant to be considered "the truth," many attempted to twist it as such, further heightening the film's popularity. The film's settings alternate between images powerful to American heritage and the smaller, seedier sides of its culture, creating a dramatic swing of emotions necessary for composer John Williams to address. His score would have to convey the nobility of "Camelot" while suffering the task of mourning the death, sparking tension for the obsessive investigation, and offering a glimpse of life and hope in tender character themes. Ultimately, Williams' task would be aided by the use of considerable source music in the film, servicing Stone's immediate needs for each scene quite well. But in the overall scheme, JFK is a classic example of a score that functions well in context but quite badly on album. His tribute to Kennedy in the form of the film's title theme is really the extent of the memorable success for JFK, placing itself well in Williams' concert performances and at the start of the album. Mirroring the sound of a military funeral, the primary theme opens with traditional snare salutes and Tim Morrison's noble trumpet solos. The full ensemble performances of this theme are a spectacular entry in Williams' career, oozing with respect with each carefully placed snare roll and bass string swell. In the film, the theme would see sparing use, though in traditional fashion, Williams didn't forget to adapt the theme into several variants to expand the album's running time.

While the "Prologue" performance of the title theme is the famous highlight of JFK, Williams transfers the performance to an elegantly rolling piano in "Theme from JFK," much as he would do in Jurassic Park, though this cue ends by dissolving into a terribly dissonant electronic droning effect that ruins the overall track. It's understandable why Williams chose this dissolution, but he forfeits the listenability of the track by taking that route. The album would be padded with reprises of both cues, with the prologue truncated and given an attractive French horn solo at the start in "Finale." The second performance of "Theme from JFK" is identical to its predecessor, leaving the listener with the same awful, dissonant conclusion at album's end. The "Garrison Family Theme" is somewhat anonymous in the score, with its pleasant woodwind performances leading, likewise, to another intentionally muddied, electronic finish. The remainder of the album is interesting in parts, but largely difficult to enjoy outside of small snippets of the usual Williams magic. Both "The Motorcade" and "Garrison's Obsession" would offer stark orchestral and electronic dissonance not typically heard from the composer, alternating between wicked representations of distress (low register piano pounding and atonal brass layers suitable for raptors, among other methods of tragedy) and extremely subdued lengths of synthetic bass note droning. Suspenseful cues, such as "The Death of David Ferrie," offer a synthetic side to Williams' writing, including an eerie electronic chorus not often heard in his scores of the 1990's. In "The Witnesses," Williams experiments with harsh brass tones and his echoing synthetic rattling effects with distinct malice, producing a horrifyingly upsetting metallic crescendo.

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A few individual moments of musical intrigue litter the score, however, including a rhythmic cue for "The Conspirators" that became surprisingly popular. Led by the sounds of wood block and metronome ticking (likely synthesized), the staggered rhythms of this cue would be expanded upon with a fuller representation in Jurassic Park. The keyboarded meanderings in the bass-heavy cue would be transformed into an on-stage dance piece for the score's nomination performance at the 1993 Oscars. Equally of note are the ultra-tragic string layers of "Arlington," with adagio qualities mirroring the intensity of Presumed Innocent and foreshadowing some of the turbulence heard in the latter two Star Wars prequel scores. This late cue would be another highlight in the film, representing the agony of a visit to the President's memorial flame, but is an awkward floater on the album. On that album, JFK is a completely frustrating listening experience. Williams' music is spread between several source cues, giving the overall experience a split personality. In the case of the two military-related adaptations and/or performances early on the album, Williams' own conducting of the cues alleviates the problem to an extent. But by the time we pass Tony Bennett and get to the bizarre combination of "Ode to Buckwheat" (and the homosexual implications that the film associates the wide-ranging percussive piece with) and the completely unlistenable Hispanic source song "El Watusi" (with its atrocious sound quality... easily one of the most annoying source cues ever to be pressed onto a film score CD), the album has completely lost its focus. Williams' title theme is obviously an outstanding and remarkable tribute to the man and the occasion, but unless you are a huge fan of the turbulent sides of Nixon and Jurassic Park, that theme will be better sought on a compilation. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as written for the film: ***
    Score as heard on album: **
    Overall: **

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 338,055 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.42 Stars
Smart Average: 3.29 Stars*
***** 224 
**** 187 
*** 175 
** 119 
* 88 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Agreed on El Watusi
  Richard Kleiner -- 10/15/10 (2:36 p.m.)
   Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
  Todd China -- 5/3/09 (10:00 a.m.)
   JFK @ Score Wars
  Minimike -- 5/19/06 (12:20 p.m.)
Read All | Add New Post | Search | Help  

 Track Listings: Total Time: 64:16

• 1. Prologue (4:00)
• 2. The Motorcade (5:14)
• 3. Drummers' Salute - traditional adaptation (2:55)
• 4. Theme from J.F.K. (2:23)
• 5. Eternal Father, Strong to Save (For Those in Peril on the Sea) - traditional (1:19)
• 6. Garrison's Obession (2:33)
• 7. On the Sunny Side of the Street - performed by Sidney Bechet (4:13)
• 8. The Conspirators (4:04)
• 9. The Death of David Ferrie (2:47)
• 10. Maybe Sepetember - performed by Tony Bennett (4:03)
• 11. Garrison Family Theme (2:14)
• 12. Ode to Buckwheat - performed by Brent Lewis (3:54)
• 13. El Watusi - performed by Ray Barretto (2:41)
• 14. The Witnesses (2:46)
• 15. Concerto #2 For Horn and Orchestra, K. 417:1 Allegro Maestoso - written by Mozart, Clevenger, and Liszt (6:29)
• 16. Arlington (6:29)
• 17. Finale (3:14)
• 18. Theme from JFK (Reprise) (2:23)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from JFK are Copyright © 1992, Elektra Entertainment. The reviews and other textual content contained on the 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 6/2/98 and last updated 5/10/07. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1998-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.