' ' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam: James Horner

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

In Memoriam: James Horner

The first time we see Rose DeWitt Bukater she is set to board the RMS Titanic, 882 feet of oceangoing hubris, and she is all done up befitting an engaged teenage girl in 1912. She’s got the shirt and the tie and the jacket and the skirt and the shoes and the wide-brimmed hat and the four-button off-white gloves and the umbrella. She’s a costumed representation of Victorian society, buttoned up, closed off, looking up at that big boat and haughtily dismissing it. But Rose wants out of this ornately stilted life. She’s threatening to burst. She doesn’t know who she is, not yet, but the real her is somewhere beneath all that fancy shmancy shit and she’s desperate to find it. She doesn’t know it but she’s building to the indelible moment when that carefree rogue Jack Dawson sketches her portrait, the one where she’s reclined san clothes, a tastefully nude embodiment of those Victorian shackles being cast aside. She’s undone. She’s alive.

That’s what makes the music during this sequence so celestially apropos. It’s Rose’s Theme, the motif accompanying her throughout, changing to fit the mood and situation and emerging arc of its namesake. In this moment, she’s unfettered, a free spirit with unspent passion to burn. And so, “Titanic’s” composer, James Horner, strips down Rose’s Theme to a single instrument – the piano, nothing more. And it’s wonderful, her essence in a melody. It’s melancholic but then pushing past it, like a musical version of that shot in “The Wizard of the Oz” when the sun lets through the gray clouds and illuminates the Midwestern sky. It’s elegant, risible and resilient. It’s her.

It’s a melody, of course, that was employed to concoct Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, the lamented, overplayed, jejune dentist office radio ballad that even Kate Winslet – Rose herself – confessed makes her want to throw up. And fair enough. But. I was in that theater on December 20, 1997 long before the song became the pre-viral version of viral. I heard the melody as just itself, au naturel. I felt it. I remember it. I know what it meant. I hear it, or I just think of it, and I see Rose, rocket queen, as herself, fuck those aristocratic pre-conceptions, and I well up. “My job,” Horner said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, “is to make sure at every turn of the film it’s something the audience can feel with their heart.” To some that might sound purple, to me it sounds perfect. He knew that “Titanic”, for all its stunts and effects and budgetary concerns, was principally the story of one girl; he knew “Titanic” was Rose’s movie.

James Horner, who passed away Monday night in a plane crash, was an incredible and influential composer, and occasionally for films that mean a great deal to me. His score for “Field of Dreams” was, I can tell you as a native Iowan, exactly right, low-key but mindful of something more always lurking within. The mixture of hope and sadness for his work on “Glory” was so exquisitely befitting of the 54th Massachusetts. But Rose DeWitt Bukater, unabashedly and unashamedly, is my movie hero; then, now and forever. And James Horner composed her theme. Few movie scores will ever mean as much to me. R.I.P


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"My job is to make sure at every turn of the film it’s something the audience can feel with their heart.”

He couldn't have said it better, and he certainly made sure that he did that. Beautiful post.