August 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Big Wednesday  
Music composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris
  Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie
Lyrics, Vocals and Slack Key Guitars by Keola and Kapono Beamer
"Crumple Car" Guitar And Vocal Performed by Denny Aaberg
Album produced by the composer and Lukas Kendall
  Available on Film Score Monthly FSM Vol 7, No.8
Running time: 78.29
Film Score Monthly, 8503 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232; Tel: 1-888-345-6335; overseas: 310-253-9595; fax: 310-253-9588 e-mail:

big wednesday

The Film Score Monthly press release, reproduced below this review, outlines the genesis of this project, notes the surfer credentials of composer Basil Poledouris and indicates how the score became the first of several feature collaborations between Poledouris and director John Milius, most popular of which remains Conan The Barbarian (1982). (The composer had previously scored the director's short film The Reversal of Richard Sun in 1966).

The film itself oddly echoes Milius' previous feature, The Wind And The Lion (1976) (fabulously scored by Jerry Goldsmith), in that it begins and ends magnificently but has a rather lacklustre central act. It remains though the best fictional feature to focus on surfing and Poledouris rose to the challenge of making his mark with his first A list production.

His main theme, given many variations throughout the almost hour long presentation of the score which forms the heart of this album, is one of the finest of the 1970's. Steeped in a widescreen Americana the melody is tender, melancholy and laced with nostalgia, the sort of grand lyrical theme which could equally have graced the more moving, introspective and romantic passages of a great Western. Indeed, the booklet explicitly makes a connection with The Wild Bunch (1969).

Further, the booklet points out that in 1978 some complained the film didn't resort to the obvious layering itself with "classic" surfer tunes by the likes of The Beach Boys (who did offer their services to the production) feeling that the traditional orchestral score coming in the wake of Star Wars (1977) indicated a failure of imagination. Of course in reality Poledouris score represented a welcome move away from the crass commercialisation of simply shovelling pop songs onto a soundtrack, returning to the true cinematic values of enhancing image with music which captures the soul of the drama rather than merely reflects obvious pop culture values (and sells more records for the film company). And Poledouris music was not only infinitely better as music than simple pop tunes, but far more in-keeping with the epic emotional scale of the drama than any such 45 could have been.

That said, some period pop tunes do appear appropriately in the early scenes of the film, but not being part of the score do not find themselves on the current album. One pop tune to appear on the disc is a re-recording made for the film of "Green Onions", which appears as a bonus track. A second piece, "Tequila" was recorded, but the master tapes have been lost. Meanwhile, for the end title Keola and Kapono Beamer perform a new folk-like slack key guitar song setting of Poledouris' secondary "Three Friends theme" to the film. The vocals are somewhat jarring in context, though far more preferable to the sort of completely inappropriate pop songs which are routinely appended to the end of films now. Elsewhere Denny Aaberg performs a new version of his song "Crumple Car"

But the orchestral score is the thing, and despite lacking a little in variation for almost an hour's worth of music, is a pure joy. Apart from occasional detours the military drumming of 'Preparation March' or the rocky 'Liquid Dreams' the mood is generally nostalgic on the grand scale, bittersweet yet epic scaled music of reflection, a meditation on leaving youthful dreams behind to the 'Passing Years'. The cues for the final surfing sequences lead to the superb, endlessly uplifting 'The Challenge / Big Wednesday Montage' and 'Matt's Rite of Passage', some of the most grandiloquent film scoring one will find this side of the "Golden Age".

The bonus material, some 21 minutes of it, adds a wide variety of material for sake of completeness, perhaps the most attractive of which is an atmospheric instrumental variation on the "Three Friends theme" performed by the Beamer Brothers on slack key guitar and nose flute.

A superb release, splendidly documented and with first class sound throughout, Big Wednesday is a landmark score from a major composer which belongs in every serious film music collection.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

Track listing

  1. The South Swell (Passing of the Years I)/Main Title/Three Friends Theme 4:11
  2. Matt Surfs/Kaliponi Slack Key/Bear's Shack 4:18
  3. Bear's Story 2:05
  4. La Golondrina (traditional) 0:59
  5. Passing of the Years II 0:59
  6. You Oughta Know What I Mean, Bear 1:16
  7. Bear's Wedding 3:02
  8. Crumple Car (Denny Aaberg & Phil Pritchard) 0:59
  9. Preparation March 1:36
  10. Jack Surfs Alone 2:39
  11. Aloha, Jack 2:49
  12. Passing of the Years III 1:39
  13. Summerset 1:05
  14. Liquid Dreams 2:20
  15. Jack's Back 3:27
  16. Jack's Back Part 2 0:44
  17. Cemetery 3:51
  18. Passing of the Years IV 1:19
  19. Bear's Wharf 1:40
  20. Matt Morning and Ominosity 2:15
  21. The Challenge/Big Wednesday Montage 5:38
  22. Matt's Rite of Passage 2:25
  23. Passing of the Mantle/Song of Three Friends (Only Good Times) 5:12

  24. Total Time: 57:05

    Bonus Material

    1. Big Wednesday Montage (alternate) 3:09
    2. Three Friends Theme (instrumental) 1:59
    3. Mexican Montage 2:17
    4. Green Onions 2:38
    5. Crumple Car (extended version) (Denny Aaberg & Phil Pritchard) 1:57
    6. Drums Montage 1:10
    7. Cosmic Indifference 1:39
    8. Cemetery (film version) 3:37
    9. The Challenge (alternate) 1:41
    10. Trailer (Big Waves) 0:58
    Total Time: 21:24
    Total Disc Time: 78:29

    FSM Press Release

    Big Wednesday (1978) was the first major film scored by Basil Poledouris and one of the few dramatic attempts to capture the surfing ethos on film. Based on writer/director John Milius' and co-writer Denny Aaberg's youth in Southern California, it has earned a well-deserved cult reputation. Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey play best friends whose carefree existence on the beach is tested by Vietnam and the responsibilities of adulthood; in the final sequence, the friends reunite for "Big Wednesday" itself, a once-a-generation convergence of wind and waves that provides their final challenge as surfers and as men.

    Big Wednesday was a departure from the innocent beach movies of the 1960s, which relied upon rock and roll as their signature sound. Milius saw surfing as the final expansion of the American frontier and wanted the music to evoke timeless, mythical themes of friendship and accomplishment. He turned to his college friend (and fellow surfer) Basil Poledouris for a rich and emotional symphonic score -- launching Poledouris's Hollywood career and leading to subsequent collaborations Conan the Barbarian (1982), Red Dawn (1984), Farewell to the King (1989) and Flight of the Intruder (1991).

    The Big Wednesday score features two main themes, both slightly Hawaiian in flavor: the main theme, for the mythic dimension of surfing; and the "three friends" theme, warmly evoking the bonds between the men. This latter music features the slack key guitar playing of Keola and Kapono Beamer, acclaimed Hawaiian musicians who later recorded music from Big Wednesday on one of their albums. The soundtrack ranges in scope from the simple folk performances of the Beamers to the rich and melodic strains of Poledouris's orchestra. The score climaxes with massive symphonic cues for the "Big Wednesday" surfing sequence -- one of the "missing links" of symphonic scores that came in the wake of John Williams's Star Wars, and every bit as thrilling as music for outer space battles.

    This premiere CD features the complete Big Wednesday underscore remixed from the original stereo multitracks, with a bonus section of alternate and source music. The booklet incorporates new interview material with Milius, Aaberg and Poledouris. It is, at last, the definitive presentation of one of the best symphonic scores of the 1970s.

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