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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Rachel Portman - The Legend of Bagger Vance - Soundtrack Review

This is the first soundtrack review on my website about a soundtrack that was composed by a woman, not because I am a macho that does not like a woman as a film music composer, the reason is that there are not so many. Is film music or music in general an art that is more suitable for men? Are men more creative than women? Oh, I should stop writing now, otherwise feminists will kill me.

The composer

Except Shirley Walker, Rachel Portman the only female film music composer I know. Portman, born 1960 in England, is well-know for her soundtrack for “The Cider House Rules” (1999), the movie based on John Irving’s book, one of his best books, but I still prefer “A Prayer for Oven Meany” (1989), for me his best book.

Portman was educated at Charterhouse School, became interested in music from a young age and began composing at the age of 14. After finishing school, she studied Music at Worcester College, Oxford. She started experimenting with writing music for student films and theatre productions and finally entered the film music business. Since then, Portman has written over 100 scores for film, television and theatre, including “Manchurian Candidate” by Jonathan Demme, “Oliver Twist” by Roman Polanski”, “Infamous” by Douglas McGrath”, “Mona Lisa Smile” by Mike Newell”, to mention a few. Her other works include a children's opera “The Little Prince” and “Little House on the Prairie”, a musical.

She was the first female composer to win an Academy Award in the category of Best Musical or Comedy Score (for “Emma” in 1996), and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” was the first soundtrack I bought from her.

The movie

"The Legend of Bagger Vance" is a 2000 American sports comedy-drama film directed by Robert Redford, starring Will Smith, Matt Damon, and Charlize Theron. The screenplay by Jeremy Leven is based on the 1995 book The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life by Steven Pressfield. It takes place in the U.S. state of Georgia in 1931. The film served as the final roles of Jack Lemmon before his death the following year and Lane Smith before his death five years later.

Here is the trailer:

The movie is about a promising golfer Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon). Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) was his girlfriend before he went off to war and is from a rich family. While serving as a captain in the US Army during World War I, Junuh is traumatized when his entire company is wiped out in battle. Though he earns the Medal of Honor, he returns to Georgia and lives a shadowy life as a drunk, golf being just a distant memory. Junuh is approached by a mysterious traveler carrying a suitcase, who appears while Junuh is trying to hit golf balls into the dark void of night. The man identifies himself as Bagger Vance (Will Smith) and says he will be Junuh's caddy. He then helps Junuh to come to grips with his personal demons and helps him to play golf again – that is all I will say about the story.

The music

Portman wrote a lovely soundtrack with a beautiful main theme for strings and percussions “(The Legend of Bagger Vance”).

The soundtrack is very lyrical, you will not find any action piece in the score, and the music is mostly played by strings and the piano, and Portman likes to use the piano in her scores, it seems to be her favorite instrument. “Savannah Needs A Hero”, “Birdie” (more woodwinds here), “Bagger Offers To Caddy For Junuh” are pieces with a lovely usage of the piano.

Portman said in an interview this movie is about “a hero who has lost his will to succeed, and his spiritual journey.” It is also a magic movie, and the special scene that Portman underscores with “Junuh Sees the Field” is a fabulous one. It is difficult to talk about this track without mentioning the scene in the movie, so I do not talk about it, but even without seeing the movie, you will love this piece of music. I am really fascinated how Portman built this piece and used the piano to create tension and suspense and a lot of emotions. This is an amazing piece of film music, a magical piece that sometimes brings tears into my eyes because it is just beautiful, but why the last minute with this jazz style!

“Hole in One” and “Junuh Comes Out Of The Woods” (with choir) are tracks that emphasize on a more triumphant usage of the main theme, and with “Bagger Leaves” the soundtrack album comes to an end, you will find nice classic jazz tracks here also, but I do not want to mention these here.

The movie was unfortunately not a great success, perhaps people did not get the magic of the story, or just considered movies about golf boring, which they normally are. I remember the time when I saw this movie with my mom and her boyfriend. We wanted to see something quiet, and I heard about his movie, I love Robert Redford as a director, so I bought the DVD, and we watched it. We had a great time, and the magic scene in the forest with Junuh seeing the field made such a great impression on me that I bought the soundtrack.

Enjoy the music for this beautiful scene now here:

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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