Friday, September 30, 2011

1941 – A Masterpiece Unveiled

For many years, it has been my contention that John Williams' score for 1941 has not received the recognition it deserves. Yes, the film was a box-office failure – but a spectacular, fascinating failure as only Steven Spielberg could achieve. A failure of disciplined film-making, as prolific album producer Mike Matessino has aptly described, but certainly not a failure of energy or creativity. And yes, the score was the subject of a popular record – an album arrangement that was twice released on CD – and also received an isolated music track on the DVD. But the album, while succinct and highly enjoyable, was lamentably short; and the isolated score track was hacked to bloody pieces due to the way the film was edited (and significantly expanded) in post-production. I revisited these presentations countless times over the years, identifying as best I could where music had been altered, tracked, looped, shuffled around, or been removed. It was a necessarily incomplete reconstruction, but it was enough for me to reach the inescapable conclusion that, should any bold label undertake a comprehensive presentation of the score, it would be a revelation.

That time has now come. With Matessino at the helm, La-La Land Records has released a truly spectacular 2-CD set containing Williams score in all its unadulterated glory – the complete score as it was originally written and recorded. And it is indeed revelatory. For the first time, we have all the pieces to the puzzle ... and as expected, they fit together seamlessly to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Neither is this inconsequential music; it is big, brash, funny, thrilling stuff, from a legendary composer at the height of his strength. Remember that 1941 came amidst an extraordinary run of scores which included the first two Star Wars films, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. It absolutely belongs in their company. And La-La Land has lavished on it the attention which it merits, with superb art direction from Jim Titus, and even going so far as to arrange a special screening of the film with some of the production's original luminaries in attendance. So bravo to Mike, and to all the gang at LLL. This is one of the most exciting releases of the year.

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