The news this morning as I was just about to leave for work was such a shock- James Horner, film composer of the scores of so many films, was reported killed in a plane crash (Harrison Ford’s crash a few months ago now eerily prescient and a reminder of how we almost lost him in a similar manner too). Horner was just 61. Its taken all day, and much mulling over it at work, to come to terms with it. In his later years I rather lost touch with Horner’s work (I think The New World from 2005 was the last score of his I bought) as he had fallen into repeating his previous scores, but his early work was just simply extraordinary. Any repetition and familiarity in his later work can easily be forgiven when one considers the work he created early in his career in an incredible burst of originality and creativity.
For me it began with Brainstorm, watching a VHS rental copy one evening. Repeated viewings over the years would highlight the film’s failings but that first time I was utterly enthralled and captivated by the film, and no small part of this was the music score by James Horner. Beautiful, warm, sentimental, scary, the score managed to heighten all sorts of emotions during the film. I simply had to get the soundtrack album. This was back in the vinyl days, and I spent more than I could afford -really every last penny I had at the time- on the record. I still treasure it now. That album was actually a re-recording conducted by Horner with the LSO here in London (the film score recorded months earlier with a session orchestra in America I believe), and while it’s wonderful I have always hoped the actual film score would be released someday. Maybe one day.
James Horner was, at the time Brainstorm was released, already a popular film composer, having had great success with the Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan score the year before. He would go on to greater success scoring films such as Cocoon, Aliens, Field of Dreams, Glory and so many others, culminating in a career high with his Oscar-winning Titanic. Horner seemed able to score anything; action films and comedies and emotional tear-jerkers, sometimes all in one movie. My personal preference in his work was the more quiet, contemplative scores or those with great emotional warmth and passion rather than the action material. Field of Dreams over Aliens, Legends of the Fall over Commando or Red Heat. But really in those mid-eighties I was such a huge fan of his work and the guy seemingly soundtracked my life at the time. It got so I’d buy a James Horner soundtrack without even having seen its movie; his name was enough, and if ever I saw the movie first I would often be racing to a record store afterwards. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Rocketeer, The Spitfire Grill… Brainstorm was always my favourite though. It was my first encounter with the Horner magic, after all, though I particularly loved Field of Dreams too. That movie was the only time I ever cried at the cinema, and I’m certain no small part of that was Horner’s heartfelt score.
I remember driving through Cannock Chase in my beaten-up old mini with my mate Andy one gorgeous summer morning blasting the Glory soundtrack out of the car speakers. Eventually we parked up and rather than go for the walk through the forest that we intended to, we sat in the stifling heat of the car marvelling to the music. Later when we did go for the walk all we did was talk about the score and blasted it out of the speakers again when we drove back home afterwards. Such good times listening to all those scores.
On a personal level, my own life would have been much less without being able to have heard and loved his music. His passing is a shock and very sad, my memories of those days filling me with some sense of how much we have lost. Perhaps his best work was behind him, but perhaps it yet lay ahead- now we will never know. Whatever one thinks of his post-Titanic scores, the world is a lesser place without his talent and he likely had great things ahead of him.
Well. I know what I’m doing tonight. Tonight I shall watch Apollo 13 in memory of this composers amazing life’s work and marvel at his incredible talent, when at his best, to elevate the films he scored to something akin to greatness.