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  • Stefan Riedlinger

The Witches of Eastwick - John Williams - Soundtrack Review

„The Witches of Eastwick“ (1987) is one of my favorite scores by John Williams. Based on a novel by John Updike, “Mad Max” director George Miller brought an amazing cast together. Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne gives one of his best performances, and Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon are playing the three dissatisfied women who get seduced by Daryl the devil. Williams’ score is a wonderful, and the dance of the witches is one of my all-time favourite tracks.

The movie

Critics mentioned the differences between the movie and the novel. While the film follows the basic structure of the novel, the movie is not as dark as the book. The setting is still Rhode Island, but the novel sets the time during the late 1960s. The plot of the book is especially in the end very different from the movie: The women share Daryl in peace until he unexpectedly marries their young, innocent friend Jenny, on whom they resolve to have revenge by giving her cancer through their magic. The witches then doubt their judgment after Jenny's death when Daryl flees town with her younger brother, Chris, as his lover. Daryl leaves their relationships strained and their sense of self in doubt until each witch summons her ideal man and leaves Eastwick.

Wikipedia gives you an interpretation of the novel: While Updike described his book as about “female power, a power that patriarchal societies have denied", many scholars viewed it as strongly pro-feminist and rare case of a male novelist writing from women's points of view. Interesting is to mention that Winston Graham’s novel “Marnie” is also written by a woman’s point of view, and Alfred Hitchcock directed his second and last Tippi Hedren movie based on this book.

By comparing the summary with the movie plot, and you will understand that the movie plot is more fun even though I think that some scenes just do not work, e.g. the tennis match is a little childish. With such a great cast, you will not be disappointed when watching the movie, and especially because of Jack Nicholson’s performance it is still fun to watch. Here is the trailer:

The music

John Williams was again nominated for an Academy Award for this score but did not win it that time. The soundtrack album consists of 14 tracks, and again I just want to mention only a few.

“The Witches of Eastwick” is Williams at his best: you just have to admire his sense of composing music for drama, comedy and darker moments.

The basic motif is the “Dances of the Witches” (the second track and the end titles), a modern version of the Dance Macabre. This Dance Macabre, or Dance of Death, is a genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death. You can find this Dance Macabre in lyrics, pictures and in classical music. They were produced as mementos mori, to remind people of the fragility of their lives. No matter how happy you are, the Dance Macabre reminds you that Death is everywhere and you can get died any time. In the 19th century and with the romantic ideas in literature and music, the Dance Macabre became very popular and composer such as Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz and Camille Saint-Saëns composed famous musical arrangements. Also in movie music, the Dance Macabre became very popular, e.g. Patrick Doyle used this theme for “Needful Things”.

Williams’ “Dances of the Witches” captures perfectly the dark humour and contrasts it with a slight comedy tone. I especially love how Williams ends this piece, with a nice bow on the strings.

The first track gives a nice introduction to the peaceful but also boring life in the city. Williams uses the strings and the piano to create a lovely atmosphere. Track three “Maleficio” is typical for Williams more dramatic music. This composing style, we already know from Williams’ well-known scores such as “Indiana Jones” and “Dracula”. “The Seduction of Alex” is another masterpiece of this score. Williams builds up atmosphere and suspense. Watch here the video of the scene.

Track 6 “The Seduction of Suki and The Ballroom Scene” is the longest track and full of melodies. Williams uses all the musical facets of an orchestra and even though this track is nearly 30 years old, it still sounds fresh and lively, a perfect example of timeless film music. The next track is another highlight: “Daryl Arrives” underscores the turning point in the relationship between the three women and Daryl, the horns are used to give you an idea what dark moments are coming soon.

Track 10 “Daryl rejected” is lovely in the use of the piano. Williams captured the feeling of Daryl’s loneliness. Another action highlight comes right after with “The Ride Home”. The next two tracks bring the story to an end, and the last one is a reprise of the Dance of the Witches.

The movie is still very popular and ranks as one of the best fantasy comedies ever. George Miller is a hell of a director, and these days he just proves with “Mad Max: Fury Road” that he is still able to create a blockbuster that attracts even the younger generation who perhaps never heard the name of the director before.

Williams is more popular because of his “Indiana Jones”, “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” scores, but with “The Witches OF Eastwick” he really proves that he is one of the best composers in the film music genre. For me, “The Witches of Eastwick” ranks among “Dracula” and “The Fury” as my top three Williams’ scores.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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