- Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
- Intrada / 2012 / 59:44
It’s hard really to make a bad sports film. They’re all basically the same – either a no-hoper individual or a no-hoper team go from zero to hero over the course of two hours, usually with the help of a coach who has some serious personal problem. Everyone feels good about themselves and everything else at the end. It’s still hard though to make a really great sports film – but that’s what happened in 1986 with Hoosiers. Hoosiers are not a knock-off brand of vacuum cleaner but people from Indiana, and this film tells the true story of a high school basketball team from that state who in 1954 triumphed against the odds to win their state championship – with the help of a coach played by Gene Hackman who was previously banned from coaching after hitting one of his own students, and his alcoholic assistant played by Dennis Hopper. Personal issues – check. Rocky may have won Best Picture, but for my money Hoosiers is the ultimate sports film.
Jerry Goldsmith could do any genre of film but the music he always enjoyed writing the most was when he was allowed to really explore characters’ emotions – particularly feel-good ones. From 1986 to 1993, his answer in all interviews to “What’s your favourite of your own scores?” was “Hoosiers“; from 1993 onwards, it was “Hoosiers and Rudy” (the latter made by the same filmmaking team). And yet his music for the film is rather surprising, especially given the attempts to make it seem as authentic as possible – the heavy use of electronics (and very pointedly 1980s electronics at that) in the music make it very much an acquired taste. After Vangelis won so much acclaim for his silly electronic score for the 1924-set Chariots of Fire, I guess the path was clear for others to follow.
Fortunately, apart from the electronics, the scores have nothing else in common (and Hoosiers does feature a large orchestra as well). The album begins with an all-electronic “single version” of the main theme (performed by the composer’s son Joel) whose slightly cheesy enthusiasm will leave some listeners reaching for the off switch in double-quick time; but make it through that with a smile on your face and you’re in for an absolute treat. The album continues with the gorgeous, warm main title music “Welcome to Hickory” – for a musical definition of “small town America”, look no further. Whether performed by the strings, solo trumpet or keyboards, that theme is a real winner, a Goldsmith gem.
The other main theme (which opened the album) is heard predominantly in the basketball sequences, and is where the electronics come to the fore. It’s brilliant when a cacophony of brass appears from behind the wall of synths to burst it out triumphantly – such as in “The Coach Stays”. A third theme is introduced for the second half of the score in “The Pivot” (the standout cue apart from the lengthy finale) – this one is firmly entrenched in Copland Americana territory – well, if Copland had access to Yamaha equipment, that is. Somehow Goldsmith gets away with his main idea from the synth drum kit – percussive beats that sound like a bouncing basketball. It’s hard to imagine many film composers daring to do something that might end up sounding so silly – but he not only does it, he somehow makes it work. In “The Finals”, Goldsmith created a suite from the cues scoring the last act of the film which brings all the themes together in the ultimate film music feel-good package – it’s heartfelt, stirring stuff.
There was never a soundtrack CD for Hoosiers in America – there was a British release (under the title Best Shot – the studio probably wisely deciding that nobody outside the US would have any idea what a Hoosier is) and, briefly, one in Japan. It was a great 40-minute album of the score’s highlights. Now, finally, Intrada has added the previously-unreleased music and – gloriously – decided not to just present everything in film order, but maintain Goldsmith’s cue assemblies from the first album and place the unreleased music around them. It works beautifully. It also means the old Best Shot CD has become redundant and I imagine I won’t be the only person relieved at no longer having to file a CD beginning with B under H on the Goldsmith shelf (first world problems). Of the previously-unreleased cues, “Someone I Know” is a gorgeous strings version of the main theme; “Get It Up” a musical representation of an attempt to solve a problem of erectile dysfunction (sorry, a bad joke); and the best is the main title cue (though admittedly it was included as part of “The Finals” suite). It’s just a great album, now even greater thanks to the new music, which is largely of the softer variety and helps bring some real balance. As I said above, this is very much an acquired taste because of the synths – you’ll most likely love it or hate it. I find huge charm in the cheerful enthusiasm of it all (right down to the occasional fluffed notes from the Hungarian orchestra). I don’t think there are many other film scores which can bring such a great smile to my face – and I very much love it. It somehow just works in the film, not capturing the time period at all and yet being perfect at capturing the spirit of the film and its characters. The ultimate feel-good film score? Absolutely. *****