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ROXANNE – Bruce Smeaton

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Roxanne is one of the best romantic comedies of the 1980s. Directed by Fred Schepisi and written by Steve Martin, the film is an adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, updated to the present day and relocated to a small ski town in Canada. Martin plays Charlie D. Bales, the town’s fire chief, a witty, charming, intelligent, athletic man whose defining feature is his outrageously large nose. Despite his excellent personality, Charlie is unlucky in love, but things seem to be looking up when his friend Dixie (Shelley Duvall) rents one of her cabins to Roxanne Kowalski (Daryl Hannah), a beautiful astronomer who is working in the area over the summer. Charlie and Roxanne quickly connect, but Charlie is disappointed when Roxanne insinuates she only likes him as a friend, and is instead interested in one of Charlie’s firemen, the impossibly handsome but irredeemably stupid Chris (Rick Rossovich). To make matters worse, Chris is hopelessly inept when it comes to women – and he enlists Charlie to help him overcome his fears…

Everything about Roxanne works; the chemistry between the three leads – Martin, Hannah, and Rossovich – is excellent, and the screenplay sparkles with witty repartee and clever set pieces, the best of which is the famous ‘twenty nose insults’ sequence in which Martin takes down a knuckleheaded thug in a bar with both his brain and his brawn. You genuinely feel warmth for Charlie and Roxanne and root for them to be together, even when the occasionally somewhat contrived circumstances appear to be driving them apart. Director Schepisi makes excellent use of the film’s lovely Canadian setting, and there are several funny supporting performances, notably from Fred Willard as the town’s mayor, and Michael J. Pollard as another accident-prone fireman.

The score for Roxanne is by Australian composer Bruce Smeaton, who is virtually unknown in Hollywood today, but enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the 1980s. He first came to international prominence in the late 1970s via his scores for acclaimed Aussie films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, as well as the TV series A Town Like Alice, before writing music for Hollywood fare such as Iceman and A Cry in the Dark (“a dingo ate my baby!”), both of which were also directed by Schepisi. Smeaton hasn’t scored a full-length feature movie since the year 2000, but younger listeners would do well to seek out some of his more acclaimed scores, like Iceman and Roxanne, because he really wrote some decent stuff.

To get anything out of Roxanne, though, you have to like solo saxophone, because Smeaton’s score is built around it. The very brief album on the Cinedisc label contains just seven Smeaton cues, running for a total of 21 minutes, and all of them feature the saxophone as the lead melodic instrument. The sound is something of a 1980s cliché nowadays – bad memories of Kenny G, and so on – but when it’s done well the instrument can have a lovely, romantic, tender tone, and this is the case with Roxanne. The score is built around several performances of a main theme, Roxanne’s Theme, which is heard in full in the “Main Title,” “Roxanne’s Theme,” “Roxanne’s Eyes,” and the “End Title.” It’s actually a very lovely theme – upbeat, light, and romantic, with the saxophone taking the lead, backed by synths, guitars, and light pop percussion.

Although Roxanne’s theme is clearly the centerpiece of the score, thankfully Smeaton works in several other themes too, all of which feature the same instrumental arrangements, but take off in different directions in terms of melody and emotional intent. “Starry Sky,” for example, is more soulful, a little more intensely romantic, and acts as a relationship theme for Roxanne and Charlie. “Just Honest/We Did It” uses magical chimes to introduce the theme for Charlie himself, which is first heard on acoustic guitar, and then synths, and has hints of more old-fashioned jazz which are suitable to his old-soul romanticism. “Game, Set, Match” is slightly wistful theme which moves between saxophone and keyboards during the cue’s second half.

The soundtrack is rounded out by a couple of instrumental songs and source cues. “The Panache,” which was written by composer Peter Rodgers Melnick (the grandson of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers & Hammerstein), and “Written in the Wind,” which was written by classical jazz composer Joe Curiale, are both expressive new themes for solo saxophone and guitars, using the same light jazz and pop and arrangements as the rest of the score – in fact, if they were not credited differently, one would easily assume that they were simply more Smeaton score pieces. There’s also an extended performance of Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz,” which is of course lovely.

This score is very much a product of the era, specific to the 1980s, and it’s true that some of the 80s jazz and pop riffs may sound hopelessly dated to modern ears. Also, as I mentioned, anyone with an aversion to ‘romantic saxophone’ may find themselves sprinting from the elevator where that sort of music usually finds its home. However, if you can suppress your gag reflex for long enough, you might find that Bruce Smeaton’s score has a certain amount of sentimental charm. As a long-standing fan of the film, I have always had a soft spot for Roxanne’s theme specifically, and this type of music in general; as such, I would recommend it to anyone with tastes similar to mine, and with a nose for this sort of sincere musical cheese.

Buy the Roxanne soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Roxanne (Main Title) (2:03)
  • Starry Sky (3:34)
  • Just Honest/We Did It (3:41)
  • Roxanne’s Theme (2:28)
  • Game, Set, Match (2:14)
  • The Panache (written by Peter Rodgers Melnick) (3:43)
  • Roxanne’s Eyes (3:13)
  • The Blue Danube Waltz (written by Johann Strauss) (10:54)
  • Written in the Wind (written by Joe Curiale) (3:23)
  • Roxanne (End Title) (4:07)

Running Time: 39 minutes 20 seconds

Cinedisc CDC-1000 (1987)

Music composed and conducted by Bruce Smeaton. Orchestrations by XXXX. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by Jim Henrikson. Album produced by Bruce Smeaton.

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