CRIMES OF THE HEART – Georges Delerue
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Crimes of the Heart is a ‘southern gothic’ family comedy-drama based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Beth Hanley. Directed by Bruce Beresford, it stars Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek as Lenny, Meg, and Babe, three adult sisters who move back into their childhood home in Mississippi after they suffer various personal tragedies and indiscretions, ranging from Lenny’s failed relationships to Meg’s stalled career. Back under the same roof after many years apart, it is not long before long-dormant resentments bubble to the surface once more, as the sisters are forced to deal not only with assorted relatives and past relationships, but also the aftermath of Babe’s latest incident in which she shot her abusive husband. The film co-stars Sam Shepard, Tess Harper, and old Hollywood character actor Hurd Hatfield as their Old Grandaddy, and was a critical success, receiving three Oscar nominations and two Golden Globe nominations, most notably for Spacek’s performance as the fiery Babe.
The score for Crimes of the Heart was by the great French composer Georges Delerue, still basking in the glory of his 1979 Oscar win, and marked the first of his five collaborations with director Beresford, a list of films which would go on to comprise Her Alibi in 1989, Mister Johnson in 1990, Black Robe in 1991, and Rich in Love in 1993 – the composer’s last score prior to his death. As I have said before on many occasions, Delerue’s special talent was finding the emotional crux of every film he scored, and then pointing his music firmly at that emotion and allowing the audience to feel it. Melodies flowed out of him like a waterfall, each one teeming with musicality, and passion, and that sense of effortless joie de vivre that the French seem to have in abundance. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Delerue’s teacher, the great French classical composer Darius Milhaud, described himself as ‘a happy composer,’ and that some of that love of life and romance rubbed off on his protégé.
For Crimes of the Heart, Delerue wrote a lush, emotional, occasionally melancholy score that expresses its Southern roots through occasional bursts of jazz, which come mainly via Roy Wilcox’s expressive alto saxophone solos. The writing has echoes of Delerue’s 1983 score Man Woman and Child, as well as his other sax-heavy score from 1986, Descente Aux Enfers, but Delerue’s style was so uniquely and clearly his own, that his mannerisms are identifiable a mile away, and anyone who has ever swooned to one of his graceful melodies will find themselves doing the same thing here.
There are several themes that run through the score, but the two most prominent are for two of the sisters, Meg and Babe. As the sister whose actions provide the dramatic impetus for the story, Babe’s theme actually forms most of the main theme, first heard in “Crimes of the Heart”. The theme is a sultry jazz piece featuring alto sax and brushed cymbals; it’s sexy and playful, but with a bittersweet quality beneath it, speaking to the tragedies in Babe’s past. As it progresses it segues effortlessly into a charming, whimsical piece for light prancing strings with a light pop undercurrent, before switching back into a faster version of the saxophone theme, with contrapuntal strings giving it depth. Subsequent performances of the theme in “Babe,” “Flirtation,” “Main Theme,” the darker “Crimes,” and the conclusive “End Title” are just sublime, further cementing Delerue’s legacy as one of the cinema’s greatest ever theme-writers
Meg’s theme has a similar instrumental make-up, but with the addition of a solo piano element that gives the piece a slight sense of regret and longing, despite the generally upbeat tone of the piece overall. Cues like “Meg” are poppy and a little flashy, the light strings speaking to the character’s adventures in Hollywood, while the performances of the theme in “Toes” and especially “Dusk for Night” are just gorgeous. The latter of those cues especially has a powerful emotional quality that unpacks the sadness and frustration at the heart of Meg’s character, whose life is a mess of failed romances and shattered dreams of stardom.
Elsewhere, Delerue scores the comedy and the drama with little vignettes of music that capture the tone and mood of the film perfectly. “Ice Cream” features a pretty music box theme, like the tinkling of an old fashioned ice cream van, which is nostalgic and wistful and swells into a gorgeous romantic waltz during its second half. Cues like “Introduction,” “Doc Porter,” “Lonely Hearts Club,” and “Sunset” showcase Delerue’s famous talent at writing for flutes, sweet and gentle. “Broom Chase” is an ebullient, lighthearted scherzo for woodwinds, pizzicato strings, harp glissandi, and almost subliminal brass, that recaptures some of the carefree innocence the sisters shared as children. “Old Granddaddy” has a sentimental trumpet solo as its centerpiece. And on it goes.
The score for Crimes of the Heart was released by Varese Sarabande as part of its original VCL run of compact discs in 1986, but quickly went out of print, and subsequently became a highly prized collectible. After more than 15 years of expensive obscurity, producer Robert Townson re-released the score in 2012 as part of the Varese Encore series, in a limited run of 1,000 copies, but that too sold out quickly, and at the time of writing copies are selling for upwards of $30 on the secondary market.
Nevertheless, if you get the chance, Crimes of the Heart comes with a hearty recommendation, especially for anyone pre-disposed to love Georges Delerue’s unique brand of lush cinematic drama. No-one wrote themes like Delerue did; his melodies were brimming with emotion and pathos and sentimentality, but they somehow never seemed to overstep the bounds of good taste and become mawkish or maudlin. The jazzy saxophone textures, gorgeous string and piano writing, and feather-light flutes in this score are simply transcendent; in a career that’s packed with gems, Crimes of the Heart stands as one of the best scores Delerue ever wrote for American cinema.
Buy the Crimes of the Heart soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Introduction (2:45)
- Crimes of the Heart (4:34)
- Meg (1:47)
- Ice Cream (2:46)
- Doc Porter (3:31)
- Babe (1:02)
- Night to Day (2:09)
- Broom Chase (1:47)
- Lonely Hearts Club (1:06)
- Meg and Babe (1:52)
- Study (1:50)
- Flirtation (1:41)
- Willy Jay (2:48)
- Toes (1:51)
- Bus Ride (0:36)
- Old Granddaddy (2:45)
- Sunset (1:41)
- Main Theme (1:02)
- Willy Jay Away (1:36)
- Dusk for Night (1:42)
- Crimes (0:32)
- End Title (4:32)
Running Time: 45 minutes 24 seconds
Varese Sarabande VCL-0712-1136 (1986/2012)
Music composed and conducted by Georges Delerue. Orchestrations by Georges Delerue. Featured musical soloist Roy Wilcox. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Richard Stone. Score produced by Georges Delerue and Freddie Fields. Album produced by Robert Townson and Richard Kraft.