This week, the world lost a musical genius in the untimely and sudden passing of Marvin Hamlisch, the iconic, award winning composer for film and stage. He was one of only eleven people who had won all four major US awards – Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, which in the industry, and more popularly by Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock, is referred to as an EGOT. As if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, the man had also won a Pulitzer Prize (for A Chorus Line) which is a feat that only one other person has managed to attain. Talk about talent… I won’t give you a full obituary since all the major media outlets have already appropriately paid him tribute. But what I will tell you is that with his passing, I started to think about how much the role of music in film has changed over the years. In reading all the posthumous coverage, I was reminded of all the incredible compositions he contributed to the film industry throughout his career, and the fact that each musical work, whether a score or a song, went hand in hand with the film they were intended for. Let’s play a game, shall we? I name a song and you tell me what film it’s from. Ready?
“The Way We Were” – just thinking about the song gives me chills. Barbra Streisand delivers it with so much emotion, and in her typical Streisand way, really connects you to the love story at hand. Know the film? Yep, it was the title song for the film The Way We Were, starring Babs herself, and Robert Redford. I for one cannot think of the film without hearing the song, and I certainly cannot hear the song without picturing scenes from the film. See what I mean? They are basically one in the same.
How about another… “Nobody Does it Better.” Carly Simon at her best, and even though I was only 2 when the song was released, I am intimately familiar with this iconic work (I am humming it as I type) and of course, the film for which it was created. Give up? It was the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. And anyone who has seen the film cannot deny that the film and the song are forever seared into people’s minds as one single extraordinary pop culture memory. You simply cannot think of one without the other.
What I am trying to say here, in my convoluted way, is that my experience in the past 10-20 years of my life is that very rarely, if at all, do I think of a film and involuntarily recall a theme song, or any song from the film for that matter. In fact is usually takes some assistance from the all knowing internet to remember a single song from the soundtrack. I am not sure if that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely something that upon realizing made me feel a little bit of nostalgia for the days of yore when every movie came with a theme song that made the experience a thrill for the senses – not only getting to watch and experience the film in the movie theater, but to be vividly brought back to it each time you heard the song on the radio, long after you had seen the movie. Who can hear “Eye of the Tiger” without thinking about Rocky III and getting all pumped up? It’s simply impossible. And I dare say that I miss that. Not since Celine Dion’s “heart went on” while the Titanic went down do I have that kind of mental association between a theme song and a motion picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s amazing how much variety has been introduced to the world of film since those days and love the fact that so many artists, either established or not, can be a part of something that brings their music to life in a whole new way. But I would by lying if I didn’t say that Marvin and other composers from his time did make movie-going a whole ‘nother experience – one that I will always look back on with a smile on my face and the tune of a classic theme song in my head.
RIP, Marvin. You and everything you brought to the world of film and stage will be deeply missed.
Now voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of these films with iconic title songs is your favorite?
Flashdance…What A Feeling
St. Elmo’s Fire