Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…
Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes – or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.
Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love… as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:
‘… Hans Zimmer’s score is a masterpiece. Constructed with as many elements of Gustav Holtz’ The Planets as it is of O Fortuna and traditional middle-Eastern lilting …’
Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was the seminal cinema-going of my young life. I was twelve at the time of its release but luckily for me and one other ardent cinema-attendee, the little circled numbers on the corner of movie posters were more guidelines than rules in Ennis’ Empire Movieplex circa 2000; after assuring the cinema manager that we were fourteen (still one year south of the prescribed age given Gladiator was released as a 15 Cert film) and heeding his warning that the film contained “a awful lot of shtaking lads” we were ushered into a crowded screen, barely able to contain our glee.
That the film itself was a revelation is debatable in some circles but rest assured, to my impressionable 12-year-old mind it was the beginning of something. From the opening dolly-shots of Russell Crowe’s brawny, calloused hands thumbing ears of wheat to the colour-saturated colossus of Commodus’s arrival into Rome as emperor, it dawned on me for the first time that the various elements concocting to present the experience I was here taking in were more than a series of sharp turns on a popcorn chomping thrill-ride but art compiled in the same dense manner a composer might align notes to create a symphony. I took due note of its lead actor’s name (which I’d not heard until that point) and that of its director, and endeavoured to track down all I could by each of them and, to all intensive purposes, nerd out. I even took minor note of how different the score itself was, a genuine first for me beyond the James Bond theme. It may have been the haunting lilts of Lisa Gerrard or the rousing call-to-arms of the combat scores but I’m certain that my first mental notations of what is now my favourite score (and what I consider undoubtedly to be Hans Zimmer’s masterpiece) were of a novelty at best. To me the piece had yet to separate itself from the film as its own work of art, which is a moment I would not arrive at until almost twelve years later.
Two years ago when I commenced work on my final-year thesis (a riotously ambitious work which attempted to examine the culturally tangible ties between Apocalypse Now and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) I arrived at a difficult stepping stone whereby I could no longer work in my own bedroom without becoming distracted and at the same time could not work in the college library without having my stomach turned by the everlasting cacophony of a thousand malnourished stomachs surrounding me, churning involuntarily for want of nutrition beyond heaping of chocolate and energy drinks. I needed a soundtrack, and in a fleeting moment when allowing myself to be lured from academia by endless YouTube clips of movie badasses saying the thing that earned them the title, I came across Maximus turning his back to Commodus in the centre of the coliseum and thought, “Well there’s something I’ve not tried yet”.
The entire score album as a single clip was not hard to find and so not a minute beyond the idea’s inception I had my headphones connected to my computer’s sound-jack and Progeny (aka, track 1) pumping in my ears. It’s soothing tones, followed by those of The Wheat, allowed me to survey my handwritten plans diligently before the masterful ten-minute The Battle aided me in high-tempo typing as I churned out words with all the passion and confidence of a tightly formed Roman legion advancing on a Germanic outpost.
Hans Zimmer’s score is a masterpiece. Constructed with as many elements of Gustav Holtz’ The Planets as it is of O Fortuna and traditional middle-Eastern lilting it proved to be as seminal and influential as the film itself, which reignited Hollywood’s interest in sword-and-sandals epics. For every moment of meditative calm there is a building rhythm to carry one onto the next sequence conveying violence justified “for the glory of Rome”. By the time I reached the album’s sublime conclusion (Now We Are Free) I had written enough to warrant a cigarette and taken the appropriate amount of time to do so (1:01:40, precisely the length of the score album). Suffice to say, when I returned from my break I pressed play again and kept doing so until my thesis was complete.
I love the film Gladiator. I love it first and foremost for introducing me spiritually to the art-form that would come to dominate the majority of my daily thought over the coming decade and even after that it is an out-and-out douzy of a popcorn chomper. Even more so I love Hans Zimmer’s score, for in the month preceding my thesis submission I came to equate the magical explosion of choral tribal chanting approximately two minutes into the closing track with a very special feeling. I had typed for an hour and deserved a cigarette. That, friends and film fans, is the feeling of a little victory. And in words as eloquent as I can manage, it’s the little victories that life is all about. Having found a moment in a film-score that can aurally recreate such a feeling, how could I possibly select any other?