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THE WAY WE WERE – Marvin Hamlisch

thewaywewereMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Ray Stark saw pay gold in the script and bought the film rights. He hired veteran director Sydney Pollack to direct. Casting the right principle actors was essential to the story’s success and so Barbara Streisand was cast as Katie, and Robert Redford as Hubble – a perfect pairing. The supporting ensemble included Bradford Dillman (J.J.), Lois Chiles (Carol Ann), Patrick O’Neal (George Bissinger) and Allyn Ann McLerie (Rhea Edwards). Writer Arthur Laurents created the screenplay based on his real life experiences as an undergraduate at Cornell in 1937. The story revolves around two people attracted in love by their differences, yet ultimately broken apart because of their inability to reconcile those differences. Katie is a strident and vocal Marxist Jew, while Hubble is carefree unaffected, apolitical WASP. They date and eventually marry, with her constantly pushing Hubble to excel and utilize his gift. He however settles for less, a Hollywood screenwriter where he becomes successful writing banal sitcoms. They are affluent, yet increasingly alienated. Her political activities begin to intrude into their lives as Studio executives pressure Hubble to rein her in, in light of the House Committee On Un-American Activities, which is targeting the Hollywood establishment. Well when an emotionally exhausted Hubble has an affair with his ex-girl friend while Katie is pregnant the relationship is ruptured. They divorce and years later re-encounter each other, she with militant flyers in her hand he insulated, but happy with a new wife. It is bittersweet as she relates that he was at his best as a writer when he was with her. They part, cherishing the memory of the way they were…

The film was an enormous commercial success, its love story resonating with the public. The critics, however were mixed. The Academy however saw the film worthy enough to nominate it for six Academy Awards including; Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Score and Best Song. In the end, the film secured two wins for Marvin Hamlisch for best Film Score and Best Song – The Way We Were.

Hamlisch understood that the setting of this film required musical references, which spoke to American culture of the 1950s; as such he infused his soundscape with works by popular artists of the time. The score is clearly anchored by Streisand’s rendition of the titular and Oscar winning song “The Way We Were”, which became a national sensation, soaring to #1 for three non-consecutive weeks. It is interesting to note that Streisand did not want the film to be a musical, but instead a serious drama. As such she did not want her rendition of the song to be woven into the tapestry of the score. She was in the end over-ruled by Pollack who felt the song should bookend the album. Also worth noting is that the opening words were originally “day dreams”, which Streisand successfully challenged and was able to change to “memories”.

The film opens with a lively jazz number, which creates a perfect New York vibe as we see its thriving city streets. Regretfully this opening cue is not included on the CD. Katie and her boss head to a nightclub to unwind and as she waits for her drink she scans the room and discovers Hubble, sitting on a bar stool with his eyes closed. We see in her reaction, that she is taken aback by his stunning beauty. Hamlisch supports the nightclub vibe with “Red Sails In The Sunset”, a song from 1935 written by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams, which emotes with the sensibility of a samba, perfectly setting mood. As she walks to him and brushes his hair off his forehead we flash back to their college days atop Streisand’s vocal of “The Way We Were”, a peerless score highlight which captures the film’s emotional core. It is a song for the ages where Hamlisch’s melody, the Bergman’s lyrics and Streisand’s vocals achieve a sublime confluence. As the song unfolds we see images of Katie the tireless activist and Hubble the jock.

“Look What I’ve Got” is a heart-warming cue, which plays as we see Katie and Hubble studying across on opposite sides of the library. Hamlisch deconstructs his song theme and recast it as a sparkling entity, which twinkles with aspiration. At 1:19 the music lightens and takes flight in a scene change as we see Katie running to class. Hubble is in her class and as the professor reads his essay we see that he demurs and that Katie is moved. Katie leaves after the class distraught, tearing up her essay, which she feels was so inadequate. Hamlisch alludes to the nascent, yet still unrealized love by carrying us gently like a stream with his song melody. This is a beautiful film moment. “Like Pretty” offers a classic slow jazz dance vibe. Its languorous melody supports the commencement dance where we see Katie serving at the punch bowl, while Hubble dances with a beautiful blonde. The evening continues with “In The Mood” by Wingy Manone, Andy Razaf and Joe Garland, a lively swing source song for band that supports the dance, as well as the soft jazz number “Wrap You Troubles In Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away)” by Harry Barris and Ted Koehler, which supports Hubble cutting in and slow dancing with Katie. She is clearly smitten and we see that she holds for him, a strange fascination.

We return to the present and she takes a drunken Hubble home for coffee. When she leaves the kitchen with the coffee, she finds that Hubble has taken off his clothes and is lying in her bed, passed out. The ambiance is set by the upbeat song “River Stay Way From My Door”, which was written by Harry Woods, and plays as though it is from her radio. She gets into bed with some trepidation and he slowly turns, embraces her and makes love to her. Hamlisch supports the intimate moment with “The Way We Were” is a magnificent score highlight. Hamlisch offers us a sumptuous orchestral rendering of his song, one that is nostalgic, full of yearning, and which stirs us, bringing a quiver, and a tear. Weeks later Hubble calls her and asks if he can stay with her as there are no rooms available. She agrees and is ecstatic. Hamlisch writing a happy melody, which bubbles with the joy she feels. Regretfully this pretty cue never made it to the album.

“Katie” she spends her rations buying dinner and he is shamed into staying. When she shows him that she has his first novel and believes in his talent, he recognizes he is in love, and they make love. We bear witness to a montage of scenes of our lovers spending time together. Hamlisch underpins the blossoming of their love with an effusive rendering of his Main Theme. This is once again a perfect marriage of film imagery and music! The relationship is rocky however as Katie is too passionate in her politics and cannot bond socially with Hubble’s wealthy WASP circle of friends. They break up and Hamlisch supports their pain with a plaintive solo English horn emoting the Main Theme, which regretfully did not make the album. In time they reconcile and decide to make a go of it. We shift scenes to the Pacific coast of California where we see Hubble and Katie in a sailboat on sun lite seas. A montage of their new life in California unfolds In “Did You Know It Was Me?” Hamlisch uses a tender and nostalgic rendering of his Main Theme to support their new life.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities begins to prosecute the Hollywood establishment and casts a pall over the creative community. When Katie goes to Washington DC to defend first Amendment rights, Hubble is punched in an airport brawl and the old fissures in their relationship reopen. In a moment of weakness, Hubble has an affair with his old flame. As Hubble sanitizes his writing to acquiesce to the new sensibilities, Katie’s disappointment is palpable. When she confronts him about his affair, they realize her politics and his desire for the quiet life are irreconcilable. In “Remembering” they remain together, yet apart as they come to a parting of the ways. She asks that he remain with her until the baby is born. Once again the main theme now tinged with sadness and regret supports the scene.

In “The Way We Were” it is years later and we find both of them back in New York City. It comes to pass that one day their eyes meet, and she meets Hubble and his new wife. You clearly feel they still love each other and she sweeps his hair one last time. The evocative power of this bittersweet moment draws tears with every viewing, empowered by the swelling of Hamilisch’s Main Theme. We end with a reprise of the song, once more sung by Streisand’s sterling vocals. Bravo! The song is timeless, and one of the greatest in film score art.

I have embedded a YouTube link for the delightful song with its amazing instrument use and orchestrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Yrd6caXygw

Buy the Way We Were soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Way We Were (written by Marvin Hamlisch, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman, performed by Barbra Streisand) (3:54)
  • Red Sails In The Sunset (written by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams) (1:43)
  • Look What I’ve Got (3:06)
  • Like Pretty (2:22)
  • River Stay Way From My Door (written by Harry Woods) (1:56)
  • The Way We Were (3:03)
  • Katie (2:29)
  • In the Mood (written by Wingy Manone, Andy Razaf and Joe Garland) (2:42)
  • Did You Know It Was Me? (4:35)
  • Remembering (1:22)
  • Wrap You Troubles In Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away) (written by Harry Barris and Ted Koehler) (3:03)
  • The Way We Were (written by Marvin Hamlisch, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman, performed by Barbra Streisand) (3:49)

Running Time: 33 minutes 57 seconds

Columbia CK-57381 (1973)

Music composed and conducted by Marvin Hamlisch. Orchestrations by Marvin Hamlisch. Recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin. Edited by Ken Runyon. Score produced by Marvin Hamlisch. Album produced by Fred Salem.

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