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 017 179-2

Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Universal Music France; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Irresistible masterpiece shows Goldsmith at his very best


Henri Charriere's memoir of life in the French prison camp on Guyana and his various escape attempts is still a best-seller after all these years.  Its simple tale of human struggle is hard to resist, however over-egged some of his memories may be, and was ripe for a film adaptation; and nobody could have been a better choice than Franklin J. Schaffner to film it.  With a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in front of the camera (McQueen giving probably his finest performance), it's a film with a lot of pedigree, and an enormous amount of talent, and it shows - a fine movie that has probably never been given its due, in reality it deserves the highest praise.

Of course, Schaffner turned to Jerry Goldsmith for the score.  This was their third movie together, and the standards were as high as ever.  Goldsmith frequently says that Schaffner's movies allowed him to grow as an artist every time, and it is not difficult to see what he means.  Their first collaboration, The Stripper, could probably be excluded from that, but clearly from then on it was magic every time.  Papillon enticed a score of great lyricism and romanticism, allowing Goldsmith to evoke feelings of Debussy, among others, but also of very harsh and sometimes oppressive emotion.  The film music writer Jeff Bond once said that nobody ever scored human anguish better than Alex North, and I agree, but Goldsmith certainly pushes him close in this score.

It opens with a magnificent theme, easily one of film music's best, for accordion and strings.  It is deceptively simple: at once attractive and lyrical, beneath the surface there is a desperate sense of hope and longing.  It is a completely different animal from the arrangement Goldsmith includes in his concerts, which is big and loud; this is a sensitive, brilliant bit of music.  The following "The Camp" is a great contrast, instantly replacing the attractive air with the harsh reality of prison life.  "New Friend" is the first example of something this score has in surprising quantity, action music; it's unmistakably Goldsmith, but seemingly composed with an even greater care and delicacy than usual.  "Freedom" is magnificent, with majestic joy gradually being replaced by a sense of unease, fear, and finally resignation, before the hope returns at the end, with music clearly a forerunner to a later Goldsmith/Schaffner masterpiece, Islands in the Stream.

The score was originally issued on CD by Silva Screen many years ago, but in 2002 Universal France put out this expanded version.  The extra tracks are mostly very short, but contain one particularly important one, "Catching Butterflies", a florid and colourful, and unusually busy piece with some wonderful writing for the woodwind section.  Following this is "Gift from the Sea", one of the score's centrepieces, and one of the most beautifully realised combinations of visuals and music in cinema history, with Schaffner allowing most of the six-minute sequence to be carried by Goldsmith alone, with no dialogue or sound at all.  Heartbreakingly beautiful, it alone would make this album essential.  "Arrest", which follows, removes the delicate, gossamer-thin atmosphere that pervaded the previous cue with some forthright music which is almost like a pleasant dream suddenly being ended, and waking up to something most unpleasant.  "Antonio's Death" introduces a sequence of harrowing, particularly strained music; it's another terrific piece of action music, thrilling and deeply moving in one.  "Cruel Sea" is anguished, emotional writing, some of Goldsmith's most descriptive; breathtaking.  The touching "Survival", which closes the score, is another amazing piece of music, summing up the incredible emotional journey undertaken by the main character.

The album actually closes with a charming French vocal version of the main theme, sung by Nicoletta, which was previously unreleased.  This is a first-class film score which rarely attracts the same level of attention as Goldsmith's previous two scores for Schaffner, Planet of the Apes and Patton, but which is easily as good as either.  There are very few finer film scores - Goldsmith takes the listener on an emotional journey, with each step carefully planned.  Sensational stuff.

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  1. Papillon (2:15)
  2. The Camp (2:59)
  3. Reunion (4:35)
  4. New Friend (2:05)
  5. The Dream (1:12)
  6. Freedom (3:57)
  7. Catching Butterflies (1:32)
  8. Gift from the Sea (6:46)
  9. Arrest (2:09)
  10. Papillon (1:45)
  11. Antonio's Death (2:28)
  12. Cruel Sea (1:28)
  13. Hospital (3:49)
  14. Survival (5:24)
  15. Toi Qui Regade la Mer Nicoletta (3:13)