"I'm Your Huckleberry": The Music of Bruce Broughton
by Jason Comerford
I find it ironic that people immediately recommend Tombstone and
Silverado as initial scores from Bruce Broughton. Sure, he's taken
Western scoring in a prominently traditional direction with these two scores
(separated by eight years and plenty of other scoring assignments), but
there's much more to Broughton than retreading and reinventing the sagebrush
What I find most interesting about Bruce Broughton is that his talent
isn't something that has developed by a factor of ten in the past twelve
years since he's been writing for the big screen. It's been in development
ever since the late '60s, when he began scoring "Hawaii Five-O"
for television. Broughton scored many episodes of that long-running show,
and went on to score "Barnaby Jones," "Quincy, M.E.,"
"How the West Was Won" and "Dallas". He took home two
Emmys for his work on the latter show and also capped Emmy nods for "Killjoy,"
and two miniseries, "The Blue and the Grey" and "The First
By the time he was signed to score Silverado for Lawrence Kasdan
in 1985, Broughton had amassed an impressive list of television credits.
But taking the challenge of bringing freshness to a stalwart genre that
not only celebrated its cliches, but reveled in them, proved a daunting
task. Kasdan's sprawling film encompassed nearly every element of the traditional
Western and then some, delightfully rolling in its own cleverness and craftsmanship.
Broughton's score captured the film perfectly. What would reveal itself
in later scores as a trademark Broughton technique of innovative orchestration
and flowing lyricism was perfectly manifested in his maiden theatrical
effort, and it was really something to behold. The score capped Broughton's
to-date only Oscar nomination. Silverado's uniqueness stems from
Broughton's zest for the unusual. It takes the familiar elements of a Western
score, the lyric moments for the ladies and the dark moments for the corrupt,
and tweaks them, injecting into them a vitality that remains as deft and
surprising today as it was in 1985. The orchestrations cleverly avoid the
Western-score cliches, and at the same time, remain adept within the framework
of the film, and Broughton's thematics are solid and well-thought-out.
But it's somewhat surprising to see that Broughton didn't even score
another Western for the big screen until Tombstone in 1993. It was
perhaps the strength of Broughton's other 1985 effort, Young Sherlock
Holmes, that contributed the composer's being typecast as the new Western
music slave. Following Young Sherlock Holmes, Broughton tackled
the comedic. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) is a prime example
of Broughton's deft comic style. A bouncy, sweet theme for strings is introduced
as the main theme, which through the course of the film becomes the theme
for the beleaguered Bigfoot, Harry. Broughton's deftness with the medium
is well exemplified, with the speed of his ideas being well-translated
into a fully-fleshed-out orchestral score that buttresses the film's action
and lends it life. (The score was released on LP to coincide with the film's
release, but never on CD.)
Following Harry and the Hendersons, Broughton became somewhat
less in demand. He scored lame comedies through the late '80s (The Monster
Squad, Big Shots), to the '90s (Betsy's Wedding, All I Want for
Christmas), and also tacked the drama (Jacknife) and the action
film (The Presidio). Broughton's keen dramatic sense, however, was
as sharp as ever through these years. He's no slacker, and he lent the
films Carried Away (1995) and Infinity (1996) two gorgeously
restrained, simmering scores which complemented both films' understated
dramatic executions. Broughton's long-standing relationship with Intrada
Records has resulted in the release of these and many other Broughton scores
that would otherwise not have been given a chance for public release, and
it's a testament that those who still say the soundtrack enthusiast is
in a bad way are gravely mistaken.
Bad films or not (Broughton seems to have caught a case of Goldsmith
Syndrome), he can still write some of the best film music out there, and
his 1992 score to the delightful Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is a good
example of what smart composers can still do for a film. The deft, clever,
extremely well-played music (performed by the indomitable Los Angeles session
musicians) takes two central ideas, that of a quirky jazz-based theme for
the bumbling Wayne Szalinski character and a soft, lullaby-like "pastoral"
theme representing the family, shakes them up and rolls them like dice.
Mickey-mouse scoring it is indeed, but it's the smartest and funniest film
music to have come out of Hollywood in a long time. (Broughton's clever
nod to Copland in the cue "Clear the Streets!" still gets a chuckle
out of me every time. )
Broughton's comic sense is indeed as sharp as his dramatic sense, but
in 1993 he returned to the genre that began his career in film music with
such a bang. Tombstone, the flawed-but-fun take on the Wyatt Earp legend,
began as a collaboration between director George P. Cosmatos and his friend
and frequent collaborator Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith, due to a scheduling
conflict, had to bow out of the scoring duties for Tombstone and
recommended Broughton for the job. The result was a stellar, exciting work,
full of the bag of Broughton tricks that have exemplified his style: expansive
thematics, clever orchestrations, and a dynamic orchestral performance.
The film's surprising endurance as a popular film is no doubt a result
of the flamboyant, endlessly quoted career-performance of Val Kilmer as
the tuberculosis-ridden Doc Holliday ("Why Ed Bailey... we cross?"),
but can also be accredited to Broughton's equally flamboyant score.
Broughton's most recent career move: Disney. He scored The Rescuers
Down Under in 1990 with a lot of effective, albeit anachronistic, ethnic
percussion, and is currently working on "transitions" for the
planned 1999 release of Fantasia Continued. He's also doing more
comedies (this summer's effects-laden flop A Simple Wish), and action
films (Cosmatos' early-spring dud Shadow Conspiracy, for which Broughton
wrote one of the better action scores of his career, a tight, mean work
incorporating loads of percussion and dynamic orchestrations). Broughton's
impressive body of work is musically sound, with few if any duds (notably
the dull, tacky The Boy Who Could Fly from 1986) among the gems.
He's definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Thanks to Lorna Freeze for providing valuable research materials.
Jason Comerford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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