I have to apologize for the break between this review and the last one. I am working on my first book about film music scores, but will, of course, keep my blog here. This week another score from the 70s, for me the best time of John Williams in scoring film music. “The Fury” is truly a masterpiece, and if you did not have this score in your collection, get it!
Brian De Palma is a strange director. He has such a talent for visual storytelling, but he is often so obsessed with sex and violence that he also is the director of a lot of crappy movies. “The Fury” is a typical De Palma, it has great scenes that you will never forget, but overall the movie is not a masterpiece because it is just half of a good movie.
“The Fury” is a typical 70s movie when a lot of para-psychological movies were produced. The idea of psychological war by using synthetically drugs to influence people was already discussed in the 50s. The internet is full of articles about the CIA Project MKUltra, a mind control program with experiments on humans. The intention was to develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture, weaken the individual and finally force confessions through mind control. Originally started in the 50s and officially halted in 1973, MKUltra used numerous methodologies to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including using drugs such as LSD or hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation as well as other forms of psychological torture.
Kirk Douglas gives another great performance later in his career, John Cassavates is really very good as a bad guy, and Amy Irving as Gillian is performing best as she can. Like always in a De Palma movie, some scenes are marvellous (e.g. Gillian’s Escape and the famous last scene), but others are just crap. It was one of the first De Palma movies I watched, and I was immediately caught by his way of visual story telling. Even though, I watched a lot of crappy movies of De Palma later, for me he is still one of the best directors of the New Hollywood.
Today, “The Fury” is still worth watching, and even though some scenes are often trashy to watch, the best reason to put this movie again in your DVD player is the fantastic music of John Williams.
De Palma always acknowledge the importance of a good music score. Unfortunately, Bernard Herrmann with whom the director worked on “Sisters” and “Obsession” died in 1976. Therefore, De Palma hired John Williams to compose a score in Herrmann’s style. In my opinion, “The Fury” is one of Williams’ best scores. I think that Williams composed his best scores in the 70s, and the scores for “Dracula” which I already discussed on my blog
and “The Fury” are among his best scores.
I bought the Varese edition with 10 tracks. La La Land produced an expanded version with 32 tracks. For this review, I will focus on the shorter CD. The “Main Title”, the first highlight, introduces the haunting main theme. This music gives you a perfect idea what kind of scary movie you will now watch. Like in “The Omen” you will see no scenes during the Main Title, just the credits. It is very sad that just a few directors these days use the power of a greatly composed main title to prepare the audience for what is coming.
Because of the scary aspects, “The Fury” is a very dark score. There are some lighter moments, for example, the typical Williams scherzo style in “For Gillian” (track 2) or track 6, the lovely “The Search for Robin” but the best parts of the score are the darker moments. Starting with the main melody, played by a clarinet, the wood winds and later the brass come in, and the haunting atmosphere continues to build up with a waltz like a Dance Macabre. If you compare this powerful theme with Christopher Young’s “Hellraiser” that I already discussed, you can see how to power this theme was.
The second highlight for me is track 3 “Vision on the Stairs”: This scene gives you an idea how talented De Palma is in telling a story without any dialogue and just by focusing on the visual aspects. Gillian, played by Amy Irving who got married to Steven Spielberg in 1985, touches the hand of Charles Durning, and by touching the scar on his hand, she has a vision of what happened to Kirk Douglas’s son. Williams astonishing music captures the shocking vision and is a great example of haunting musical imagination. Here is the track to it:
The third highlight is track 5 “Gillian’s Escape”. To finally meet Ex-CIA Agent Peter Sandza, played by Douglas, Gillian escapes from the Paragon Institute. This scene is the highlight of the movie. De Palma likes to use slow motion for action scenes. Because the music drives these scenes forward, the audience does not feel bothered by the usage of the slow motion. In this six-minute track, perhaps one of the best tracks Williams ever composed, you will find all the emotions of this scene carried away in the music. Williams uses the lyrical theme when Gillian is finally running on the street, then the combination of strings and brass to build up the suspense and finally melodramatic music when the death occurs. Here is the music:
For all people who did not see the scene before, I found a hilarious video on YouTube. This is so much fun:
There are two versions of “Death On The Carusel” on the CD, the original version, and the eight minute version. I am not a big fan of the scene and the music, so I skip this track and come to the last scene. This is one of the most amazing death in movie history. Here is the link to this music, the track is called “Gillian’s Power”, and the person who uploaded this track made a mistake when he called it “Gillian’s Escape”. The track starts like “Psycho” again with just strings. I am not a big fan of the following typical 70s synthi music, but the last seconds of this track are the perfect music to end this shocking scene and the movie:
The fourth and last highlight of the score is the last track called “Epilogue”. Williams uses again Bernhard Herrmann’s approach for “Psycho” and composed a track just for strings. This track was not used in the movie, but I assume it was meant to be an End Title. Because of the focus on strings, people will compare this track with “Psycho”, but this is not fair. Williams’ approach is totally different, this track is not meant to be scary, it is more like a musical coda that brings the album to an end.
“The Fury” is not only one of the best scores for a horror thriller, it is also one of the most elegant ones. Compare to “Dracula”, it lacks a love theme, but with its dark and gothic horror music, it is highly advanced to later horror music in the style of John Carpenter’s synthesizer music for “Halloween”. If “The Fury” is really John Williams’ best score is not the most important question to answer, it is without any doubt amazing movie music and one of the best scores ever written.
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