John Williams’s Film Music by Emilio Audissino (book review).

November 28, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

Italian author Emilio Audissino makes a very potent remark in his introduction that there are few books about modern day film composers. As famous as John Williams is, there are only three books about him and they aren’t even in English. As such, Audissino wrote a degree thesis on him, before the next stage of writing this book and having it translated into English. Thinking objectively, I suspect the main reason why such books aren’t done is because even where people are aware of the music and, who here hasn’t watched any film where John Williams composed the soundtrack, it takes a rare breed of writer to be able to discuss anyone’s music with authority. Emilio Audissino is one of those people.


What surprised me was instead of giving a history of John Williams, the opening chapters are actually a history of film music, how it evolved and covers a lot of films so if you have any familiarity with a wide range of them, you’ll instantly at least recognise them. A lot of the early films relied on existing music and the first film to be specifically composed for was ‘King Kong’ (1933) no less. Audissino also explains how music was often composed to synchronise a particular action on the screen, employing the effect as used in vaudeville and, as Disney did this a lot, this technique is actually now called Mickey-Mousing. Pause for a sound effect. There’s also a lovely debate from composers regarding how much work they did as many of them has orchestration, that is expanding the music for the different musical instruments, done by other people simply because some composers can’t do it all in the time available. Rather paradoxically, Hollywood producers didn’t know much about music but that’s hardly a surprise, although they did want a successful hit from their films.

Don’t think Audissino relies solely on Hollywood, as he also explores film composers from other countries, who also work in America, and how much they influenced the films and I was surprised by how many come from Italy and there is an acknowledgement to some of our British composers as well.

As I mentioned ‘King Kong’ above, we do get spiced up for SF films and how, after ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, it was in for a bit of a nose dive. I had to have a think about that and I suspect the likes of Hollywood didn’t know how to do films like Kubrick. I don’t think they could follow it as a template. When you compare to ‘Star Wars’, the template was easier to understand and look what happened afterwards.

Oddly, Audissino explores ‘Star Wars’ before backtracking and covering John Williams’ career starting as a pianist before switching to composing after hearing the poor efforts of other people. Something I didn’t know was that Williams worked with Henry Mancini on a lot of films. Likewise, if you collect soundtracks, then you’re also in the company of a certain Steven Spielberg. Nice to know I’m not in a minority.

This book also looks at Williams’ critics, which often includes other composers who tend to see him as being too commercial just because his soundtrack albums sell so well.

The end of the book looks at the mass of films by Spielberg that Williams composed to soundtracks for and his comments on them. However, when you look in the appendix for all the film music Williams has done, it is truly jaw-dropping on how many he did as well as for TV.

When you come away from this book, you will not only have an understanding of John Williams’ music but also the history of soundtracks themselves. They provide the necessary emotional content to any film and although they are often subtle enough not to realise what they are doing, without them any film is the worse for their absence. John Williams is one of the best if not the best and certainly the most well-known. If you want an appreciation of his work, especially with a new ‘Star Wars’ film coming to this galaxy soon, then you will love this book.

GF Willmetts

November 2015

(pub: University Of Wisconsin Press. 317 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £27.50 (UK), $29.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-89929-734-3)

check out websites: http://www.uwpress.wisc.eduand

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Category: Books, Music/Audio

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (1)

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  1. Dear Mr Willmetts, many thanks for your review of my book, much appreciated!

    All best,

    Emilio Audissino

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