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  • Writer's pictureStefan

The Public Eye - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

There are some scores in Jerry Goldsmith’s long career that got rejected, for example, “Alien Nation” (1988), “Gladiator” (1992), “Super Mario Brother” (1993), “Babe” (1995), “2 Days in Valley” (1996). “The Public Eye” (1992) was one of them and got recently released by Intrada, a great Jazz score which will be reviewed today.

The movie

“The Public Eye” is a 1992 American crime thriller film produced by Sue Baden-Powell and written and directed by Howard Franklin, starring Joe Pesci and Barbara Hershey. Stanley Tucci and Richard Schiff appear in supporting roles. The film is loosely based on New York Daily News photographer Arthur "Weegee" Fellig, and some of the photos in the film were taken by Fellig.

Main cast Pesci took this role right after his Oscar-winning performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”. Director-writer Franklin was unable to secure the rights to Arthur Fellig's story and wrote therefore the story of a Weegee-like photographer who smokes cigars. According to journalist Doug Trapp, Franklin was inspired to write the screenplay after seeing a show of Fellig's photos in New York City.

The movie did not perform very well, it grossed $1,139 Mio for the weekend and total receipts after 12 days were $3,067 Mio. Here is the trailer:

The music

I never watched the movie, but as I heard that Intrada was releasing the score of this Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack, I was highly curious to get it. The fact that even 16 years after Jerry’s death, there are still soundtracks with his music released, is a very good sign of how popular Jerry Goldsmith still is.

In the liner notes of the CD, Howard Franklin is quoted that he was thrilled to get Jerry Goldsmith scoring the film: “It was like the greatest coup ever!” Since Goldsmith composed the music for “Chinatown”, a movie which considered Franklin as similar to “The Public Eye”, Franklin was confident about his choice, but the confidence vanished when he attended the recording. Goldsmith, as Franklin pointed out, wrote a “beautiful theme. We loved it”, but the director thought that Goldsmith “hadn’t written anything beyond that theme. The composer protested that he was “not one to write a lot of themes for different things”, but Franklin found the result too repetitious.” Having worked with Mark Isham before, he hired this composer to replace Goldsmith.

Here is the beautiful main theme of “The Public Eye”:

Even though Jerry Goldsmith is my favourite composer, I have to admit that the score really sounds a bit repetitive, but the wonderful line notes by Frank K. DeWald are giving a good analysis of the score and why it has some haunting effect. I have to admit that this soundtrack was played by me a lot in the last months, I really like the atmosphere, and especially the main theme.

DeWald explains that Goldsmith achieves the special atmosphere in this score by using short motifs and not using long-lined melodies, and this can be very good observed in the main title. There is one motif that is played by the clarinet: three rising notes C- E flat-G. This motif is repeated once and then twice at a lower pitch level. DeWald points out that Goldsmith used the same idea in another rejected score: “Gladiator” (1992) by Rowdy Harrington, for sure one of Goldsmith’s weaker scores, but I had fun listening to it.

DeWald speaks then about a second motif - D-E flat - which can be heard for the first time in “First Sale”, the second track. Pizzicato strings can be heard like a ticking clock. A very good track which combines both motifs is “Ask Me”. There are a lot of similarities in the string part between this score and Goldsmith later success with “Basic Instinct”, a similar haunting atmosphere.

It is fascinating to read in the lines notes how DeWald analyses Goldsmith’s artificial approach to use and develop these motifs during the music. The score is mostly composed for strings, the solo bass plays a dominant role, but we also hear sometimes woodwinds like the clarinet, the oboe (Track “The Morning Call” with some nice piano parts) or the flute. Slightly percussion is used, combined with a harp, and minor synthesizer effects, for example in “The Body”. DeWald thinks that with this minimalistic approach, the composer wanted to reflect how the main character sees the world: in black and white.

Another interesting track to mention is “The Slaughter”; here Goldsmith also uses silence: The music stops for nearly a second a few times before it continues, and this has an amazing effect when you are listening to it. “Final Shot” is a kind of end credits music and one of the longest tracks on the album. The dominance of the string parts creates a more romantic atmosphere in the end, and it is again interesting to hear how Goldsmith varies his two motifs again.

Jerry Goldsmith used this minimalistic approach a lot during his television years, especially in his music for “The Twilight Zone”, and compare to the big orchestra soundtracks Goldsmith composed later during his career, “The Public Eye” is a refreshing album which is becoming one of my favourite albums these days. Thanks, Intrada for creating such a nice album with this rejected score!

Below is a link to the end credits of Mark Isham’s music for the movie:


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