Magazine article Variety

Creator of Dream Themes

Magazine article Variety

Creator of Dream Themes

Article excerpt

"STAR wars." "E.T.""Jaws." "Indiana Jones.""Superman.""Harry Potter."

Admit it: You can't think of any one of those films without hearing the score in your head.

John Williams, who wrote all those classic themes [and dozens more] will receive the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award on June 9 from frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg. It will be the first such honor given to a composer in the 44-year history of the award.

"This man's gifts echo, quite literally, through all of us, around the world and across generations," says AFI president-CEO Bob Gazzale. "There's not one person who hasn't heard this man's work, who hasn't felt alive because of it. That's the ultimate impact of an artist."

Over six decades in Hollywood, Williams has written some of the most memorable music in movie history. His loo-plus features have earned 50 Academy Award nominations (making him the most-nominated living person] and he's won five times.

He's also received 22 Grammys, seven BAFTAs, five Emmys, four Golden Globes, a Kennedy Center Honor and the National Medal of Arts. And then there are all those iconic themes, the ones everyone in the world knows.

Asked about the global fame of those melodies, Williams responds: "It feels a little bit abstract. It's wonderful when I am told that, but it's hard to fathom what that really means." He spoke with Variety via phone from Tanglewood, Mass., where he was relaxing between mid-May conducting engagements with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

"In the initial stage of writing any of these things, one never imagines that they will be popular or even be around a week after they're done," he says. "Everything was written in the service of some film function. That's as far as my creative thinking would have gone. You never write a theme for a movie thinking,'this will live forever.'"

Yet many of them have, in part because of the popularity of the films but also because of the careful craftsmanship that has gone into their creation, says producer and longtime Williams collaborator Kathleen Kennedy ["E.T.,""Lincoln"] via phone from Ireland, where she is shooting "Star Wars: Episode VIII."

"Johnny's so much about the work all the time. That's what he loves," she says. "So when somebody steps out and highlights the celebrity of it, it does make him uncomfortable. That is so far removed from anything that motivates him. And they're all so specific - they're not derivative of one another. Each and every score that he does is unique."

She's right. Compare the downhome Americana of "The Reivers" to the Japanese colors of "Memoirs of a Geisha." Or the heartbreaking "Schindler's List" with the avant-garde piano and percussion of "Images." The five-note alien greeting of "Close Encounters" with the diabolical scherzi of "The Witches of Eastwick." The joyful carols of "Home Alone" with the bittersweet Irish flavors of "Angela's Ashes. …

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