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Comments about the soundtrack for JFK (John Williams)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Todd China
• Date: Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 9:00 a.m.
• IP Address:

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

JFK: (John Williams) When JFK first came out in theatres, I saw it and I carried away from that viewing the snare drum roll-off, followed by Tim Morrison's wonderful trumpet solo as the card "Music by John Williams" came onto the screen. That was the first impression I had of the score, and, several years and many film score CDs later, I still consider JFK to be one of the greatest John Williams scores of the 90's. JFK is unusual in that it lacks a unified style overall. The score can be divided into two different types; there's the noble, dignified, and solemn requiem to President Kennedy on one hand, and there's dissonant and dark "conspiracy" music on the other. The "Prologue" is one of the best pieces of music Williams has ever written, with an elegiac melody that begins with Morrison's solo and becomes grand and sweeping as the rest of the orchestra takes over. This melody, incidentally, is melodically very similar to one of the themes from The Cowboys as well as "Leaving Home" from Superman.

"The Motorcade" accompanies Jim Garrison's recount of the assassination during the trial of Clay Shaw. This is a very dark and dissonant, but listenable and impressive, piece of music. It begins with a simple dotted eighth note - sixteenth note motif in the bass clarinet and later builds to a sharp and piercing rendition by the French horns, along with brutally aggressive drum clips. There's some good CE3K-like piano licks in the lower register (ala "Climbing Devil's Tower"), followed by a blaring rendition of the JFK theme accompanied by bagpipes. This piece perfectly captures the chaos that attended the JFK assassination. The low-end orchestral turbulence heard at the end of the "Theme to JFK" and the warm "Garrison Family Theme" connotes the dark ending to the Kennedy story and the continued danger, which I think is a nice touch.

The conspiracy music such as "The Motorcade," "Garrison's Obsession," "The Conspirators," and "The Death of David Ferrie" in general is very effective. It's cold, dark, and uncomfortable, which is exactly the way we are supposed to feel about the events on film; the music assists in sweeping us along into the film's urgent, paranoid world. This is most illustrated by "The Conspirators," an incredibly original and innovative piece rhythmically driven by wood blocks, keyboard, piano, and synth choir, all backed by the orchestra. This piece alone has been imitated numerous times by various composers, a testament to its influence in the scoring of suspense music. "Arlington" stands apart from the rest of the JFK score, beginning with a mournful rendition of the theme with Jim Thatcher's French horn and then developing into a full-blown adagio in the string section. In a score otherwise characterized by its emotional aloofness, this piece shines as a stunningly emotional expression of the film's intensely tragic dimension. We see on screen Garrison brooding over the Eternal Flame as a black man stands beside him and points out the flame to his son. This sequence, musically and visually, is very powerful.

I have gotten many emails from people asking where they can find the JFK soundtrack. Apparently, the soundtrack to JFK has gone out of print in recent years and cannot be found in any online music store that I know of. JFK really is not a rare item, since a large number of copies were pressed in the initial release, but it is now hard to find. However, I have noticed a large number of JFK CDs regularly showing up for auction on My suggestion to you, if you are looking for this CD, is either to win one of these online auctions, find someone who will be willing to sell you their copy, or hope you will get lucky and find it in a used bin is some hole-in-the-wall record store. John Williams has written some very excellent scores to Born of the Fourth of July and Nixon, and JFK is no exception in the Williams - Stone collaboration. The score is highly dramatic, listenable, and musically impressive, and is strongly recommended to anyone who admires the music of John Williams. ****

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