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JUDY – Gabriel Yared

November 5, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The life and death of Judy Garland stands as one of Hollywood’s most tragic cautionary tales. As a young actress she was catapulted to stardom in 1939 at the age of just 17 when she appeared in The Wizard of Oz, but over the next thirty years her life was a rollercoaster of cinematic and musical successes and failures, mental illness problems, drug addiction and alcoholism, failed marriages, and studio-mandated meddling which effectively destroyed her private life. Garland died of a barbiturate overdose in London in 1969, a shell of the woman she had once been. She was only 47 but her career as a Hollywood leading light had long since dimmed, and she had been reduced to playing revues at small nightclubs, partly to simply pay her bills, and partly as a way to possibly reignite her work. Director Rupert Goold’s film Judy, based on the play ‘End of the Rainbow’ by Peter Quilter, is an intimate look at those last months of Garland’s life as she reflects on her years, not knowing that she was in the latter stages of it. The film is anchored by an astonishing performance by Renee Zellweger as Garland, who somehow simultaneously captures both the glamorousness of her early life and the booze-soaked faded glory that typified her last hurrah.

Music always played a massive part in Judy Garland’s life, from her signature song “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, to standards like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Get Happy,” and “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” many of which became part of her recurring repertoire. These songs feature heavily in the soundtrack for Judy – of course, how could they not? But, in order to capture the more dramatic pathos and emotional depth of Garland’s story, director Goold needed a score too, and for that he turned to the Oscar-winning French-Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared. For many years after the Troy debacle in 2004 Yared was something of a pariah in Hollywood film music circles; despite his Oscar for The English Patient and his work writing music for numerous acclaimed dramas afterwards, Yared found mainstream work within the studio system harder to come by. He was still working, of course, on independent films and on acclaimed features in Europe and elsewhere, but it has only been fairly recently that he has begun to pop up again on high profile American films, and Judy feels like the first one for many, many years that could also put him back on Oscar’s radar.

Whatever else has been happening around him, the one thing Yared never lost was his innate dramatic sense, and that is definitely front and center with regard to Judy. In discussing his approach to the score, Yared says “My music needed to reflect Judy’s doubts, her internal pain, the longing for her kids, her anxiety about performing, the nightmares of her childhood and many other struggles she endured. It had to convey her solitude, that she felt like nobody loved her, even though she had been so adored in the past. The music needed to go inside her mind, her feelings, her fears, and somehow reflect her interior voice.” In an interview with Jon Burlingame for Variety, Yared said his solution was to write “a beautiful theme,” played by an orchestra of strings, a handful of woodwinds and a female choir. For the flashbacks to her traumatic childhood, however, he “needed to find the right tone to try and put the audience in a different space.” So he created “a new texture made of reworked samples and sounds, a mixture of electronics and real musicians.”

The resulting work is a small-scale score that explores Garland’s life with quiet intimacy, and which is anchored by that beautiful main theme, which first appears in the opening cue “Judy Gets Ready.” In this initial iteration the main theme comes a cross as a playful waltz, and is variously enlivened by some European influences, some slightly jazzy writing for clarinet, flute trills, and guitars, as well as some nostalgic homages to the classic musical sound of old Hollywood. As the score progresses Yared allows the theme to morph into numerous different variations to suit the predominant emotions in Garland’s life at the time: “Trouble Sleeping” offers a languid lounge jazz variation featuring bass, brushed snares, piano, and tenor sax; “Birthday Flashback” comes across as downbeat, and perhaps a little anguished-sounding, with a more prominent string ostinato playing underneath a variety of light ideas for piano, harp glissandi, electronic tones and glockenspiels, which add a touch of self-reflection and ominousness to what should be a light-hearted event.

Later, “Mickey Returns “allows the theme to be carried by bass flute, oscillating and undulating strings, and bitter little piano chords, which give it a melancholy tone that encapsulates the contentious relationship Judy had with her fifth and final husband, nightclub owner Mickey Deans. “Wedding” is fluffy, frothy, and opulent, returning to the waltz time rhythms heard in the opening cue. On the other hand “Backstage Booze” is dramatic, urgent, and carries a real sense of intensity from the chugging strings and choir, giving a dramatic poignancy to the terrible addiction that eventually contributed to Judy’s death.

Cues like “Those Other Girls,” “Wardrobe,” and “You Made That Choice” explore the darker corner’s of Judy’s life, especially the aforementioned flashbacks to her traumatic childhood, with elongated string chords and a more prominent and noticeable electronic element that is quite effective. It’s worth noting the fact that “Wardrobe” also contains what appears to be an intentional allusion to the first two notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a clever musical reference to what many still believe to be the pinnacle of Garland’s career.

Counterbalancing this darkness are several moments of upbeat gaiety, including the perky “Kids On Stage” which is full of movement and charming writing for piano and strings. “Arrival In London” is a sprightly piece which makes whimsical uses of harps and what sounds like a dulcimer to add that indefinable British edge to the score. “Unpacking” returns to the jazzy sound heard earlier in the score, but with a noticeable lack of sourness or repressed angst.

The finale of the score – which mirrors the finale of the film by tackling Garland’s sickness, ill health, and eventual death – uses the main theme in several poignant ways. Following on from “Doctor,” which has a resigned, regretful tone anchored by more lovely piano-and-string combo writing and emotional cello chords, “Saying Goodbye” offers several version of the main theme. It begins full of heightened emotion, charged with moving strings and dark piano chords, but soon becomes lighter, almost nostalgic and wistful, with a wash of beautiful writing for elegant woodwinds and harps. It adopts a subtle religioso aspect through the addition of an angelic choir, and concludes with a sense of pretty delicacy, accented with chimes, and with a lightness in the strings that almost seems to suggest relief that Judy’s long battle with herself is finally over.

When compared to the overall highlights of Gabriel Yared’s long career – my mind goes to scores like Betty Blue, Camille Claudel, Wings of Courage, The English Patient, Possession, Message in a Bottle, and of course his rejected score for Troy – Judy is a comparatively minor work. It passes by somewhat unprepossessingly, without any especially grand moments of orchestral majesty, and without really leaving much of a lasting impression. In the film, of course, it plays second fiddle to Judy Garland’s numerous song performances, many of which are legendary and which are re-created with dazzling authenticity by Renee Zellweger on screen. But… still… there’s something gently captivating in the way Yared peeks behind the flamboyant star-studded persona of Judy Garland and finds the remains of little Ethel Gumm, the shy schoolgirl from Minnesota, buried away inside. It’s a deft, delicate piece of emotional archaeology that will appeal to those who prefer their scores to be on the quiet, intimate side.

Buy the Judy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Judy Gets Ready (1:44)
  • Those Other Girls (3:28)
  • Kids On Stage (1:00)
  • Wardrobe (1:36)
  • Arrival In London (0:46)
  • Trouble Sleeping (1:57)
  • Birthday Flashback (3:46)
  • You Made That Choice (1:28)
  • Mickey Returns (1:26)
  • Unpacking (0:59)
  • Wedding (0:41)
  • Dan Cries (1:14)
  • Backstage Booze (1:24)
  • No Deal (2:10)
  • Doctor (1:32)
  • Saying Goodbye (5:52)
  • End Titles (1:56)

Running Time: 32 minutes 58 seconds

Decca (2019)

Music composed by Gabriel Yared. Conducted by Matt Dunkley and Gavin Greenaway. Orchestrations by Jeff Atmajian and Andrew Kinney. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin. Edited by Paul Chandler. Album produced by Gabriel Yared.

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