SALVADOR – Georges Delerue
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Salvador is a hard-hitting war drama written and directed by Oliver Stone, starring James Woods as photographer Richard Boyle. Boyle is a hard-drinking, drug-using, arrogant son of a bitch, whose irascible attitude has rendered him practically unemployable by the world’s major news agencies. Needing money, Boyle and his friend, former DJ Rock (James Belushi), head to El Salvador thinking they can earn some quick cash shooting footage of the country’s under-reported civil war. However, once they arrive in the country, they quickly realize that the situation is much more dangerous than the rest of the world believes, with government-sponsored death squads roaming the streets, and simmering violence bubbling under the surface of the already terrified populace. Having observed the actions of both the leftist guerrillas and the American-backed right wing paramilitary, Boyle becomes increasingly convinced that El Salvador is a disaster starting to happen, and decides that it’s time to get out; but he has fallen in love with a woman named Maria (Elpidia Carrillo), and he doesn’t want to leave her or her children behind.
Salvador was a critical success in 1986, receiving Academy Award nominations for Woods as Best Actor, and for the screenplay, which Oliver Stone co-wrote with the real Richard Boyle. It was only the second major film directed by Stone after the low-budget horror The Hand in 1981 – although he did write the screenplay for Scarface in 1983 – and within a couple of years of this he would have cemented himself as a major player as a result of films like Platoon and Wall Street. For all intents and purposes, Salvador was Stone’s first real attempt at establishing himself as a serious filmmaker, and the political importance of the story, combined with the committed performances of the cast, really helped solidify his reputation.
Salvador also benefitted greatly from having a score by the great French composer Georges Delerue. Salvador was one of the best English-language films Delerue scored following his belated ‘discovery’ and Academy Award win in 1979, and his subsequent relocation to Hollywood in the 1980s. Most people today think of Delerue as being a great, if light, romance composer, mainly as a result of his North American film output, but he has much more range and dramatic weight than people realize. Delerue was consistently under-utilized by Hollywood, which never seemed sure how best to use his talents, and as a result he ended up scoring a series of fluffy dramas and romantic comedies that were unworthy of his skills.
Back in Europe, however, Delerue scored war dramas and action films fairly regularly throughout his career, including The 25th Hour in 1967, The High Commissioner in 1968, The Horsemen in 1971, Les Morfalous in 1984, La Révolution Française in 1989, and Diên Biên Phu in 1992, and more often than not he scored them in juxtaposition to the main action, concentrating on the tension in the build up, and the emotional reaction in its aftermath. Both Platoon and Diên Biên Phu were masterpieces of this sort of scoring, using beauty as a counterpoint to the trauma, and as such making it seem all the more devastating in context; Salvador is more of the same.
Taking into account the film’s setting, Delerue augmented his standard symphonic sound – in this case, The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – with guitars and an enlarged percussion section. Thematically, the music takes two points of view. The first idea is an action motif, a stark, punchy piece for stabbing string ideas and incessant overlapping drums, intercut by darkly heroic brass fanfares, that first appears in the “Main Title,” and repeats later in cues such as “The Assassination,” and “Salvador,” the latter of which also introduces a subtle ‘oooh’ choral effect. The intensity and comparative brutality of this depiction of the horrors of war may come as a surprise to those whose only exposure to Delerue has been via his sweeping love themes or more playful, jazzy scores for the French New Wave, but he dabbled in this type of writing throughout his career when the need arose, and it’s just as accomplished as any of his heartbreaking lyrical themes.
The second recurring theme is a more beautiful piece representing Boyle’s relationship with El Salvador, both the country, and the individual in the shape of Maria. When depicting the plight of the country – the suffering of the people under a repressive regime, dealing with the realities of living in a war zone – the theme has a powerful, lamenting quality, with cues such as “At the Border” and “Tanks and Troops” using the expressive, softly weeping guitars and cascading strings as a beautiful aural counterpoint to the visual carnage. When depicting Boyle’s personal romantic relationship with Maria the theme takes on the more lush style for which he is better known. Cues such as “Goodbye, Maria” and the stunning, chorally-enhanced “Love Theme-Finale” adopt a wholly gorgeous tone that long-time devotees of Delerue’s music will adore. No-one could write a tear-jerking melody like Delerue, beautiful and melancholy at the same time, and no-one else ever will.
Other cues of note include a slow string adagio in “El Playon,” the rising tension of “The Road Block,” the cello-led tragedy of “Carlos Is Dead,” and the larger-scale “Siege at Santa Ana,” which takes the main action/drama ideas and increases their scale and intensity, with a real sense of urgency in the swirling string figures and percussion rhythms, and more rousing brass performances, including what sounds like a variant on the El Salvador theme for horns.
The score for Salvador is short, running for less then half an hour, and has usually been released as part of a 2-for-1 CD in conjunction with music from another Oliver Stone movie. In 1987 Varese Sarabande released five cues from Salvador on an album with 20 minutes of Stewart Copeland’s score for Wall Street, and for almost a decade this was the best we got, until 1995 when Prometheus Records released an expanded version alongside Delerue’s mostly-rejected score for Platoon. In 2006 Prometheus re-released the Platoon/Salvador album, re-mastered with enhanced sound quality, and this is my preferred version, as the clarity and detail of Delerue’s work comes through superbly.
It’s clear that Salvador will never rank among Delerue’s best scores, partially because of its brevity, but also because Delerue’s career highlights are so stellar it takes a masterpiece to come anywhere close to touching them. Nevertheless, Salvador is an accomplished score for an important film, and will be of interest to anyone curious enough to want to explore the more conventionally dramatic, and occasionally angry, side to his musical personality.
Buy the Salvador soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (2:32)
- El Playon (2:16)
- At the Border (1:12)
- The Road Block (1:22)
- The Assassination (2:03)
- Carlos Is Dead (0:52)
- Tanks and Troops (1:22)
- Salvador (1:01)
- Goodbye, Maria (1:38)
- Siege at Santa Ana (3:18)
- The Mourners (1:22)
- Love Theme – Finale (4:24)
Running Time: 24 minutes 09 seconds
Prometheus Records PCD-136 (1986/2006)
Music composed and conducted by Georges Delerue. Performed by The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Georges Delerue. Recorded and mixed by Roger Monk. Edited by Joan Biel. Score produced by Georges Delerue. Album produced by Luc Van de Ven.