If you’ve tuned into the podcast regularly you’ll have heard the name Alan Silvestri a few times. I am an unashamed film score nerd. I listen to film scores while I write/study and if you’ll allow me a moment of vulnerability, one of my dreams is to one day write a score for a short film or maybe even a feature! Why am I telling you this? I guess I just want to give a little context into the fact that, this isn’t something that I just decided to have a crack at, it’s something I flat out love about films.
I’m realising, as I plan to write this, just how difficult it is to verbalise moments in music into written word. So for the sake of this article I’m going to refer to our FFTL Podcast Playlist which you can find here;
The score, and its composer, can literally make or break a film. A great score doesn’t over power the film but sits in perfect unison with the visual images to lift our hearts in the moments of triumph and break them in both a moment of loss or a moment of beauty. Think of your favourite films and I am pretty sure that you can sing their theme songs. There is no better example of this than Star Wars. As soon as it is mentioned, most can sing the theme from Star Wars and further to that, if you ask someone about Darth Vader they will generally sing John Williams Imperial March. It’s iconic! I don’t want to harp on it too much as I think you get the point but think of films like Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible (yes, I know it began as a TV show) or Harry Potter. You can generally sing their theme as soon as you think of the film. But this is what a great composer brings to a film and Alan Silvestri is a composer who definitely brings that!
We’ve spoken a few times during this season about how Robert Zemeckis has surrounded himself with a group of creative people who enhance his work and the partnership between Zemeckis and Silvestri, which is a now 35 year working relationship, and one that I feel is vital to his filmography. The two have been working together since Romancing the Stone and in honesty, I can’t imagine a Zemeckis film releasing now that didn’t have a Silvestri score. When Craig and I recently saw Welcome to Marwen, one of the part of the film I was most excited for was to see what Silvestri brought and I was not disappointed. As I’m finding is often the case, it was one of the highlights of the film.
Now I could easily write about Silvestri’s non-Zemeckis work as it’s just as impressive but I feel that where Silvestri’s score really shine is with the visuals that Zemeckis brings. It’s a partnership made in film heaven and when you think about it, one that when a director finds that composer that clicks they hold onto them. Spielberg has his Williams, Burton has his Elfman, Fincher has his Reznor/Finch, Leone has his Morricone, John Carpenter has…well John Carpenter and Zemeckis has Silvestri.
So far, this season, we’ve seen some of Silvestri’s most iconic work already and he keeps getting better and better. Let’s start at Romancing the Stone, from the moment you hear the theme start that syncopated rhythm between the piano and bass you get a distinct vibe that fun is about to be had. The cowbells, shakers and occasional bongos give an almost salsa like/international flair. I’m being told so much about the film without seeing a single image, and those 80’s sax solos with a splash of slap bass! Dang!
As I’m writing this I’m listening to the score from Contact and it dawned on me. My original intention on this article was to speak about the ways in which Silvestri’s scores are as much a character in Zemeckis’s films as the ones written by the screen writers and that’s still the case. An article could be written that discusses how Silvestri’s score is as vital to Back to the Future as Michael J Fox is to Marty or Christopher Lloyd is to Doc Brown. The same could be said for Forrest Gump or Contact and looking forward into Zemeckis’s filmography, there are many more films as well. But what really struck me in this is the versatility that Silvestri brings to each score and this is further cemented by his usage of instrumentation. As I’ve already mentioned regarding Romancing the Stone, ignoring the distinctly 80’s tone, the usage of percussive instruments gives a South American flair to the already fun and adventurous score.
Taking a look into Back to the Future from the moment the films theme begins the crash of cymbals and blaring horns announce the film with a fanfare. You’re being told that something grand is in store for you. Then come the woodwind (flutes especially) and string sections, bringing with them a sense of adventure and soon after they all join together to send the theme soaring. It gives the theme an almost Superman like quality. I almost feel like I need to have a video accompanying this article as it is so hard to describe without giving an auditory component. I just can’t write a bahp bah or a diddledee and you know what I’m talking about.
What really shows how versatile Silvestri can be is the way that his moulds and shapes his theme from Part I across parts II and III. The heart of the theme is there in Part II (see song The Future) with the brass but it the theme and notes are drawn out, this allows space for Silvestri to fill it with the chaotic, frantic sounds of the woodwind and strings. Listening without images you feel a sense of awe, wonder and confusion at the start and then as Marty is seeing the world come alive around it increases in busyness. For Part III, the theme is there again but the underlying rhythm gives an almost horse clippity clop style drive. Then it reaches that gorgeous string moment that again without images you feel love, heartbreak and hope all at once and the usage of a harp and flute is just beautiful.
Following Back to the Future, Silvestri really shines in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. PLEASE listen to the song on the playlist (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) as you can hear elements of Golden Era Disney Animation, Golden Era Looney Tunes, Soulful Jazz and then as the song continues it begins to meld all of these elements together. The song itself is such a journey and the whole time you still hear Silvestri throughout it. It’s up there with my very favourite work by him.
Speaking of my favourite work by Silvestri it’d be terrible of me to not speak on my very favourite score of his. Forrest Gump is a film that from the moment it begins you know that something gorgeous is in store (see Suite from Forrest Gump). There are elements of the Forrest Gump theme that have been present throughout Silvestri’s previous work but for me this is the moment when it all came together for something absolutely magical. At times it’s heartbreaking to hear while being also being uplifting and hopeful. I guess in a way all the words you’d use to describe the emotions that the film brings can be used to describe the score as well. Again, the score is as much a character as the characters themselves.
But this is what great films need. As I mentioned before, a score can literally make or break a film and we’ve a few times on the podcast how the more we dive into Zemeckis’s filmography, the more we love and appreciate his body of work, the same goes for Silvestri’s work. I knew I loved him as a composer but the more I dive into his collaborations with Zemeckis the more I realise that he is a crucial element of Zemeckis’s film making.
I’ve already gone pretty deep here and I honestly could continue to profess my love for his work but I fear that you, the reader, would grow tired of it. Sort of like when someone is in love and won’t stop talking about how amazing their significant other is. But that’s how much I love his work and I am so excited to see what is to come from Alan Silvestri as we continue to hear his work in future films and I hope you are coming to love and appreciate him as much as I do.
Big Love yeah,