June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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The Swimmer  
Music composed by Marvin Hamlisch
Arranged by Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes
Conducted by Jack Hayes
  Available on Film Score Monthly (FSM Vol.9 No.5)
Running Time: 36:00
Available from: ScreenArchives.com

At 36 minutes this CD is, by Film Score Monthly’s standards, on the short side. Yet it is an expanded version of what was obviously a brief LP. This however is a prime example of quality over quantity, and there are those who consider this to be composer Marvin Hamlisch’s best work. Given it is the composer’s debut score composed when he was just 24 he regards this opinion as a double edged sword, noting that he had hoped he would get better as a composer.

The excellent booklet accompanying the CD gives a fascinating account of the making of The Swimmer (1968), noting how producer Sam Spiegel took director Frank Perry off the project after he completed filming and how the director was replaced by Sydney Pollack who completed a further eight weeks shooting in a very different style. The result being a film of contrasting styles, with according to Perry only half his material making the released version of the movie. Binding together the different approaches to this offbeat story of a man (Burt Lancaster) who decides to swim home one afternoon via his neighbour’s swimming pools, is Marvin Hamlisch. Perhaps the notoriously manipulative Spiegel thought he could bend a fresh young composer to his will more easily than an established professional.

Whatever the reasons behind Hamlisch gaining the gig – and we must not discount his pure, raw talent – the result is a score filled with almost heartbreaking Americana. This is after all the man who in a few years would pen The Way We Were. Here is a similar vein of dignified nostalgia, the score repeatedly returning to variations on the central tender theme used to depict The Swimmer as his life falls apart. At heart lyrical, pastoral and heartfelt, the score also contains moments of rousing, upbeat drama – ‘Don’t Come Back’ being a prime example – and, this being the ‘60’s, almost inevitably ventures into kitsch for parts of ‘Easy Four’. ‘Carnival’ is a more striking ‘60’s jazz rock workout, the sort of theme that might have found a place in a film such as The Graduate, while ‘Lovely Hair’ has the kind of MOR appeal one might associate with Michael Legrand. Indeed, if the unsettling ‘On the Road’ and latter dramatic cues occasionally point towards the harsh Goldsmith of 1968’s Planet of the Apes, the string laden lyricism of much of the writing seem to have one eye on Legrand’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the other on Herrmann’s The Ghost and Mrs Muir or Fahrenheit 451.

The overall result is a rich, powerful and diverse score. Gorgeous, intensely dramatic, tragically hopeful and beautifully sad, The Swimmer is a remarkable debut from a very talented composer. Fans of composers as diverse as Michael Legrand, John Barry, Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrrmann, to say nothing of Mr Hamlisch himself, will find much to delight them. The sound quality is excellent.

Gary Dalkin

Rating: 4.5

Film Score Monthly News Release:

FSM begins a relationship with Sony Music Special Products (home of the Columbia Records catalog) with an expanded CD release of one of the most haunting and unusual symphonic scores of the 1960s, The Swimmer (1968).

The Swimmer> starred Burt Lancaster in one of his most challenging and definitive roles, as a narcissistic suburbanite who decides to " swim home" one day through the pools of his wealthy Connecticut neighbors. From this simple premise comes an intriguing and powerful character study, featuring a fine supporting cast and authentic locations, and a shocking twist. The film has endured as a cult favorite, oddly blending " new wave" film techniques with gritty realism.

The Swimmer was the first feature film score of then-24-year-old Marvin Hamlisch, who got the job after a chance meeting with producer Sam Spiegel. Hamlisch would go on to numerous successes in songwriting, film scoring and Broadway shows, with credits including The Sting, The Way We Were and The Spy Who Loved Me, and his strong gifts for melody and drama were evident for the start.

As Hamlisch had never scored a film, he enlisted the help of two veteran Hollywood orchestrators for technical assistance, Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes. Shuken and Hayes most notably orchestrated for Elmer Bernstein, and in their hands Hamlisch's rich themes for The Swimmer are executed with many of the lovely Americana orchestrations of Bernstein's work. The combination of Hamlisch's writing with Shuken and Hayes' orchestrations created a classic symphonic score that has been beloved by those who discovered it.

FSM's premiere CD release of The Swimmer features the complete score (expanded from the LP version, courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment) remixed and remastered from the original 1/2" three-track stereo masters. Liner notes are by album co-producer Jeff Bond.

Track Listing:

1. Theme From The Swimmer (" Send for Me in Summer" )/Big Splash 3:22
2. Easy Four/Bubbles 3:27
3. The Dive/Don't Come Back/Slow Walk/The Horse 4:04
4. Lucinda River/Two People 4:12
5. Together/Hurdles 3:40
6. Julie, Julie/The Little Flute/The Goodbye 1:25
7. Carnival 2:28
8. Lovely Hair 2:33
9. Down the Steps/You Loved It/On the Road 3:05
10. My Kids Love Me/Traveling Home/Closer to Home/Home/Marcia Funebre 6:06
11. Theme From The Swimmer (Reprise) ("Send for Me in Summer" ) 1:15

Total Time: 35:57

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