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Steel Magnolias
  • Composed by Georges Delerue
  • Polydor / 1989 / 39m

A delightful film about the gossip-filled lives of a group of women in Louisiana (ostensibly set in the year of its release, 1989, though often it seems to be several decades earlier), Steel Magnolias is lovely, with a very fine cast led by Sally Field and featuring Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah.  Parton plays the owner of a beauty parlour where the others gather to share their news and speculate upon others’; and the film traces the life of Roberts from her wedding day to just after her funeral.

Aiding the film no end is Georges Delerue’s outrageously beautiful score, which provides perfect accompaniment to the film and makes a ravishing album.  After the composer moved to America following his Oscar win for 1979’s A Little Romance it’s fair to say that the calibre of film he worked on was not generally quite on par with the works of his earlier collaborators like François Truffaut, Alan Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard et al; and while his music certainly changed, it was still tremendously high-quality almost every time – and this is a rare case of him working on a Hollywood film actually worthy of his talents.

Georges Delerue

Georges Delerue

The album opens with the gorgeous main title, the sublime main theme being heard first for the full string section before being pared down to a smaller ensemble highlighted by a beautiful harmonica solo.  As well as the theme, the piece includes some playful music, the very sound of summery suburban bliss; and this is explored further in the second cue, “Tree Fireworks”, a celebratory piece playing like a slightly more full-bodied version of his wonderful theme from A Little Romance.

There’s a hint of a music box sound to the first half of “Good News, Bad News” – a childlike lullaby – before the same melody somehow becomes transformed with an air of tragedy in the (still-beautiful) string-dominated second half.  Sadness comes far more to the fore in “The Drive to Aunt Fern’s”, highlighted by a haunting violin solo, a slightly happier feel around the middle of the piece somewhat misleading as it gets far heavier once again.  The way Delerue captures a feeling of quite profound sadness with the most extraordinarily beautiful music – perfectly enough to bring a grown man to tears – is a great testament to his towering gifts.

A return to sunnier climes comes in “Easter Picnic / Departure”, the music box theme being reprised in magical style either side of a lovely flute solo before a sweeping passage for the strings concludes the score within the film.  There’s still the end titles though – and, as good as every note of music has been up to that point, Delerue pushes things further into the stratosphere with his concluding piece, which could only be described – to repeat myself – as being outrageously beautiful.  The romantic delight of the flute solo, the full-on romance of the soaring strings, the encapsulation of small-town innocence in the harmonica solo – it’s exquisite, exceptional.  The score is brief (the 39-minute album also includes a few songs) but magnificent – truly essential Delerue and for my money undoubtedly one of the most beautiful film scores I’ve ever heard.  The album is sadly rare – there’s a generous suite on Varese’s Delerue compilations but still more great music to be heard in the score – and if you have an opportunity to get it, don’t miss it.  This one’s a masterpiece.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Tuesday 3 September, 2013 at 01:03

    Earlier today, I was listening to Varése Encore’s expanded CRIMES OF THE HEART with liner notes by Richard Kraft— ‘REMEMBERING GEORGES’…he says “the power of Delerue’s music was so strong and direct that it could bypass your reason and intellect, and go directly to your soul and your heart”. And just like CRIMES OF THE HEART, STEEL MAGNOLIAS is exquisite. Your review, James, pays homáge to, and celebrates the effortless ability of Delerue to create Cinema’s most ravishingly beautiful themes. It’s iniquitous that ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS still awaits digital mastering and a CD release > Delerue utilised authentic Rennaisance instruments to musically recreate the lavish royal court of Henry VIII’s Tudor England. He would also embellish the music for ‘A Walk with Love and Death’.. ‘The Borgias’…’Black Robe’ & ‘A Man for all Seasons’ with these ancient instruments. And one of Delerue’s most delicately romantic scores, INTERLUDE (with Timi Yuri singing GEORGE’s most heart-rending of all love songs) is also awaiting a CD release in some future time. Thanks James for including DELERUE in your retrospect series. Hopefully a new generation of film music devotees will discover and rejoice in Delerue’s very beautiful music, that spanned the 20th Century’s decades.

  2. Debbie (Reply) on Thursday 12 September, 2013 at 20:24

    Thanks for bringing attention to these lovely scores. it is really helpful when you point out the very best .

  3. mr lopez2681 (Reply) on Thursday 11 June, 2015 at 08:46

    just to let you know – the solo instrument on the track “Drive to Aunt Fern’s” is a cello, not a violin.