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Scoring the Baseball Film

1M1: 10/13/99 -- World Series Edition

By Jason Foster

Now that the World Series is only a little over a week away, I feel compelled to write about something that combines my two favorite pastimes: baseball and film music. So, in doing that, I've chosen to discuss some of the better scores for baseball-themed films.

Over the years, there have been many films made about baseball. They've spanned several genres -- dramas, comedies, and even thrillers. Some were very good, while others were pretty bad. And though the subject matter was the same, the scores for these films have been, for the most part, very different. The following represents a short list of my favorite "baseball" scores, in no particular order.

FIELD OF DREAMS (James Horner, 1989): Say what you will about James Horner, but his Oscar-nominated eclectic score for this film ranks very near the top of his all-time best works. Of course, many people will tell you that FIELD OF DREAMS really isn't about baseball at all, which is partly true. While the story is really about a man's search for inner closure with his relationship with his father, one can't deny the heavy presence of baseball in the plot. In fact, it's almost treated like a religion that allows it's followers to come face to face with the ghosts of its past. It is that aspect of the film that Horner's score captures perfectly. Filled with beautifully haunting sounds and melodies, the music itself evokes nostalgia with its own ghost-like qualities. There is no "rah-rah" piece for the hero and no brassy fanfare for the climax. The music remains innocent even to the end, simply playing the emotions on the screen. Just listening to the cue "The Place Where Dreams Come True" on its own send chills down my spine.

THE NATURAL (Randy Newman, 1984): There's really no way to make a list of baseball movies or scores and not include this score. Even among non-film music fans, this is probably the most remembered and most recognized baseball score of all time. Like FIELD OF DREAMS, this film is a fantasy of sorts. But Newman's approach to the music was far different that Horner's. This score does have a brass-heavy fanfare for the hero, but it works -- although some argue that it takes things right over the top. With hints of Aaron Copland, Newman's music takes the route of "Americana." This is no doubt because the film itself is about a down home country boy who loves baseball and his rise to god-like status in this fictional all-American setting. Aside from Newman's popular fanfare for Roy Hobbs's heroic moments, the rest of the theme is maybe the most beautiful piece of music Newman has ever written. It's hard to hear it and not think of things in slow motion. It's probably due to this that it's been used so effectively on openings and closings of many sports telecasts over the years. But I still say the best use ever of this score apart from the film was during the last few minutes of the final episode of "The Wonder Years."

THE BAD NEWS BEARS (Classical music; Adapt. Jerry Fielding, 1976): Of all the "kids" sports movies that have been made over the years, this is by far the most entertaining. Most movies of this type follow the same story of a bad team of misfits who come together and realize that if they do their best they can win the big game. There's usually a lesson they have to learn about themselves and about teamwork. But that's where this film is different. Sure, the team was bad at first and then pulled it together. But the players weren't these nerdy little kids who you love to pull for. They were mean and, at times, raunchy. But, in the end, they lost the big game. Not only that, but they were sore losers as well. There were no lessons learned here. But it was funny. Adding to the humor of the film was Jerry Fielding's adaptations of various classical pieces, including arguably the film's most famous piece from Bizet's "Carmen." For years as a kid I called this piece "the Bad News Bears song (If you recall, it was the theme for the short-lived Bad News Bears TV series). Even though this film was probably the first of these kiddy sports movies, you still have to tip your cap to it for taking a different approach. I seriously doubt a film like this would be made today. But rather studio would opt to do the 27th knockoff of THE MIGHTY DUCKS.

THE SANDLOT (David Newman, 1993): Though this is technically another kiddy sports movie, it's like THE BAD NEWS BEARS in that it's one of the few good ones out there. Unlike most other sports films, this one isn't really about competition. It's more about kids having fun. Likewise, David Newman wrote a fun score -- an eclectic mix of pop elements and orchestral flavor. But the music hardly reflects the sport aspect at all, and that's its strength. That is, there are few "sports movie" musical moments. Newman's score focuses more on the relationship between the kids and the main character's discovery of a something he will grow to love. It comes across as good "play" music rather than "competition" music. It's only during the few instances of "big game" type scoring that the music falls into the category of ordinary. This is when Newman gives us loud horns in a series of notes that he seems to reuse over and over in other scores that contain a similarly big moment. Actually, it's not so much the same notes as it is the same intervals. The only other negative aspect of this score is that parts of it seem heavily influenced (i.e.- temp tracked) with music from Jerry Goldsmith's score to THE ?BURBS, although they are few and far between. Nevertheless, the score as a whole offers and interesting and entertaining listen, but because it's unreleased you pretty much have to rent the film to hear it.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (Bill Conti, 1993): This is a case of a good score for a bad film. And wouldn't you know it? It's a kiddy sports film. I really don't know why this score has always stuck out in my mind, because musically speaking there's really nothing special about it. Maybe because in my mind it's the last good score that Bill Conti wrote. Whatever it is, Conti's music would make for a fun album if someone ever released it. It's a very lively orchestral score with a very catchy main theme. It's kind of along the same lines as HUCK FINN, which Conti also scored in 1993. Unfortunately, the only available recording of this score is the End Title cue, which was featured on a recent Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops compilation called "Play Ball." Their take on the piece is pretty close to the original and offers a good look at what the score is all about. Also, it's the only good thing about that album, which is otherwise a complete bore.

There are still other scores for baseball movies that I like in part or in whole that didn't make the cut. Scores like David Newman's MR. DESTINY, Hans Zimmer's A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, and Lee Holdridge's PASTIME. More recently, there is Basil Poledouris's score to FOR LOVE OF THE GAME, which, aside from a good main title cue, I found to be only mediocre in the film. However, I'm going to reserve final judgment on the music until I'm able to hear it presented on CD.

Here are a few of the responses to my last column on frustrations with used CD stores.

>From <StanleyKubrick70@aol.com> (Jack):

    I loved your story cause it is so DEAD on TRUE ! I live in Minneapolis MN and there are a lot of used CD stores and everyone of them has a number of the regular CDs such as Pulp Fiction and a lot of Disney ones. BATMAN soundtracks.. oh and about 10 FLASHDANCE cds LOL... It is the truth the only good CD I ever found was a LEGEND CD of GOLDSMITH's Score and it isn't too hard to find in stores at that. Oh well it was like 4 bucks. Other than that I stopped holding my breath for a Rescuer's Down Under.

    I do have WILLIAM'S Witches Of Eastwick score SORT OF. I have the DVD which contains his score ISOLATED. Nice touch. I do have one of the LIMITED ED numbered BURB's CDs from Varese Sarabande.

>From <pmerritt@mcls.rochester.lib.ny.us> (Paul Merritt):

    I have to admit I've been fortunate (lucky?) that I've found a good deal of CD treasures in our used CD bins. Living in Rochester, NY the demand is minimal at best as there are not that many Soundtrackers in our area. My first big find was after reading an article a Belguim film score magazine about the early CD collectible market I called Footlights in NY and ask about The Serpent and the Rainbow. Low and behold they had a copy (you may remember reading about this CD in Entertainment magazine where the owner of Footlights talked about this particular CD and had not seen one in 5 years) well that was me! Needless to say I got a great bargin. Another true tale was one of my favorite spots had purchased a considerable trove from a person just hours before my visit. In this bunch were no less than the original Blue Max, Tai-Pan, Noble House, Macarthur, Ghost Story, The fall of the Roman Empire, and the jewel of the lot - Rescuers Down Under. I paid about $7.00 apiece for these and was living on peanut butter and jelly for 2 weeks. I was also able to find on a chance call to Footlights, original copies of High Road to China, The Fog, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. But those days are gone. I too found 2 copies of Midnight Run for $3.00 at another store. Just last year another copy of The Fog surfaced with a mint version of the import Child's Play at a local outlet. Four years ago, in a journey to Toronto, I found new or used copies of a rare M. Jarrre score, Evil Dead 1&2, Quest for Fire, as well as other minor rarities. I guess I've been sorta lucky, compared to others, however, I've noticed with the surge of the Internet, more collectors, sellers, record people, and storeowners are more aware of the value of these CDs.

>From <takisjoh@pilot.msu.edu> (John Takis):

    My best trip to a music store ever, I found mint-condition copies of "The Witches of Eastwick", "The Accidental Tourist" and two copies of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (this was before the re-release.) All for $8 apiece in a store that was geared to musical instruments and just sold discs on the side! Other $5 finds have been "Midnight Run", "2010", the promo score to "Maverick", and a promotional John Williams interview CD. Add to that several scarcities that aren't quite so expensive. My most unusual find was a homemade 2-CD Korngold bootleg of the complete original recordings of "Kings Row" and "The Sea Wolf" made by someone with access to the WB studio vaults. As far as I know I'm the only one in the world who has this. But 99.9999% of the time I find the crap you describe. I have yet to pick up "Flashdance".

>From <DSPY007@aol.com> (Randall Derchan):

    I once bought 5 copies of Witches of Eastwick at an outlet store for $1.99 a piece. I also 5 copies of Shipwrecked at Pic n Save for 2.99 a piece. That's just for starts. I also just bought the original Apollo 13 promo for 6.99 last month. One of the few reasons to live in the City of Angels.

>From <pjones@fulpat.com> (Preston Jones):

    Maybe it all comes down to "location, location, location." I live in the L.A. area, and I've had some pretty good luck. But then, I've had some good luck in the LP era, when I lived in Connecticut. (My best find, circa 1972: an album of '78 RPMS with the Twentieth Century Fox studio generic label, and the info typed in: ARTIST: A NEWMAN. TITLE: HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. I have NO idea how that ended up in a tag sale store on the east coast, but until the cd was released a few years ago, that was the treasure of my collection.) Maybe other collectors won't think my luck is all that lucky if they're not into the Golden Age scores. (I know about THE BURBS, being a Goldsmith fan from way back, but I'm ignorant of the other two titles you mentioned in paragraph two.) Basically, since I came years late to cd's, I've had to build my library almost ENTIRELY from used/bargain bins, not only in soundtracks but classical, jazz, folk, rock, pop and Broadway. In films, my strokes of particular good fortune -- i.e., finding stuff so rare I never hoped to see it -- include: Walking into "Out of the Closet" Thrift Shop (an AIDS charity) and picking up Williams' THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST for $2.99.

    At various trips to various Wherehouses:

    The RCA album of Franz Waxman conducting highlights from his original soundtracks to PEYTON PLACE, HEMINGWAY'S ADVENTURES, SAYONARA, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS and MY GEISHA.

    (Alex) NORTH OF HOLLYWOOD. It's since been reissued as a pricey import, but this was a bargain bin, and besides, the cover is a gorgeous color still of Brando and Leigh from STREETCAR which the reissue doesn't use.

    Max Steiner conducting highlights from his thirties' scores, such as LITTLE WOMEN and LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, plus his GONE WITH THE WIND suite.

    Elmer Bernstein THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC

    Anyhow, these are a few, off the top of my head.

    Don't give up!

>From <bryant_g@hccanet.org> (Greg Bryant):

    My experiences usually end in frustration, but of a different kind. I always walk into Half-Price Books and find used soundtrack CD's, but the frustration is that I bought them in the last six months at full price. I had Raise the Titanic on mail order at the moment I found a used copy for $8.00. It was too late to cancel the order.

    On the other hand, some used CD's that I wouldn't have picked up at full price, I get for anywhere from $3-8 bucks, and have been pleasantly surprised. For example, I picked up The Dark Half and Mr. Baseball for about $3 bucks each, and Daylight for a buck (someone obviously bought it only for the Donna Summer song).

    The real surprise recently - The German CD pressing of Gremlins (the only CD release of that score) for $8.00. The store marked it out-of-print, but still sold it for half price.

Thanks to all who shared their used CD store experiences.

My World Series picks: Atlanta vs. Boston. Who's with me?

Feedback: jgfoster@ix.netcom.com

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