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LIONHEART – John Scott

January 28, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most unlikely movie stars of the 1990s – or any decade, really – was the Belgian martial arts champion Jean-Claude Van Damme. A fortuitous series of events led to him becoming friends with fellow action movie star Chuck Norris, which in turn led to his breakout acting performance in the film Bloodsport in 1988. Through subsequent films like Cyborg and Kickboxer, Van Damme’s reputation for choreographing bone crunching action sequences made him a sort of B-movie equivalent to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, a man for whom all problems can be solved with a roundhouse kick to the face. The 1991 action movie Lionheart was the first Van Damme movie financed by a major studio (Universal); in it he plays Lyon Gaultier, an officer in the French Foreign Legion stationed in Djibouti who is forced to go AWOL and travel to Los Angeles to look after his seriously injured twin brother and his family. In order to pay for the medical care Gaultier agrees to take part in a series of underground martial arts fights – and if that were not enough, he also discovers that his superiors in the French military are searching for him, so that he can be court-martialed for desertion. The film was directed by Sheldon Lettich, and co-stars Harrison Page and Deborah Rennard.

The unlikely composer of the score for Lionheart was Englishman John Scott. Despite his immense talent Scott’s mainstream career never really took off the way many felt it should; he scored his fair share of major movies in his time, including Antony and Cleopatra (1972), The Final Countdown (1980), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), and Shoot to Kill (1988), but for all intents and purposes Lionheart was the last major theatrical movie of Scott’s career to date. He scored some small indie features that had theatrical releases, including Ruby (1992), Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995), and The Wicker Tree as recently as 2011, but nothing else that had the same sort of commercial potential. He was only 60 when Lionheart came out, still in his prime as far as film composers go, and the quality of music in the score shows that he should have continued to score major studio features for a long time afterwards.

Lionheart is built around two major themes: a heroic anthem representing Lyon himself and his journey to find redemption, and one for Lyon’s family, especially the relationship he develops with his little niece Nicole. Both themes receive several lovely orchestral performances as the score develops, and these are surrounded by a series of bold and exciting action sequences that see Scott writing some of the most powerfully dominant music of his career. There is a wonderfully old-fashioned quality to Scott’s music; everything is written and orchestrated in a clear, straightforward fashion that is closer to the Golden Age than the synth-dominated sound of the late 1980s and early 90s, which makes its presence in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie wonderfully anachronistic.

The opening “The Burn/North Africa” sequence appears to have been temped with James Horner’s score for 48 HRS., as it sees Scott breaking out his moody saxophones and jazz percussion ideas during its first couple of minutes; these give way to the first of the score’s loud and insistent orchestral action and suspense sequences, underscoring the film’s pivotal scene which sees Gaultier’s brother being attacked by gangsters on the streets of Los Angeles. Thereafter the action re-locates to Djibouti and there are some subtle ethnic textures alluding to the country, and a repeated militaristic brass riff variation on Gaultier’s theme related to the French Foreign Legion (heard plainly and brightly at 4:00, and then again at 5:46), which emerge out of Scott’s rich, dense orchestrations, underscoring Gaultier’s escape from the army base into the African desert. The subsequent “The Voyage” states the theme for Gaultier more clearly amid a series of action sequences written for bold, strident brass, and determined and propulsive string writing, much of which feels very Jerry Goldsmith-esque at times. The numerous arrangements of Gaultier’s theme are intelligent and showcase the theme’s malleability, and include one for a delicate flute, and one for the full orchestra with an epic sweep.

Once Gaultier arrives in the United States Scott breaks out his other signature idea, the one which dominates much of the rest of the score: jazz. Scott’s jazz credentials are unparalleled – he arranged for Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine, and played for Henry Mancini and John Barry – so it should come as no surprise that his jazz work here is terrific. Interestingly, Scott wrote three or four distinct jazz ideas for different settings and individuals. The New York Jazz that features in “New York Streets” is bustling and upbeat, and features funky guitars, blasting trumpets, percussion, and light electronics. The Los Angeles jazz – which was heard at the beginning of the opening cue – re-appears later in “The Wrong Hood,” a darker saxophone-led representation of urban America coupled with an explosion of throbbing action.

There is a specific jazz idea for Cynthia, the unscrupulous organizer of the underground fight league that Gaultier joins, and with whom he has a series of sexy liaisons. “Meet the Lady” introduces this idea with a motif that moves between saxophones and jazz flutes backed by funk guitars and percussion. This idea returns later in “The Lady’s Apartment,” and then in “Dating the Lady,” wherein Scott blends the idea with rock stylings and Billy Joel-style pianos, before turning it elegant and romantic, even a little playful, towards the end of the cue. The fourth and final jazz motif represents Gaultier’s relationship with Joshua, who becomes his streetwise friend and who takes him under his wing to help him navigate the fight scene; “Joshua and Lyon” is the best representation of this idea, a warm theme for lazy, languid brass and saxophones augmented with muted trumpets, electric guitar chords, and a Hammond organ.

The score’s best statement of the Gaultier Family Theme comes in “Lyon’s Grief,” an emotional string-based piece that eventually becomes blended with Gaultier’s personal theme, and slowly changes into a dramatic, smoky jazz variation. Later, “Nicole” offers an action arrangement of the Family Theme, pulsating and dramatic. It’s also worth mentioning the fun, upbeat, calypso-esque jazz piece in “The Big Orange,” which could have been used to introduce the cricket on BBC1.

However, most people reading this will be drawn to the numerous underground fight scene cues, which accompany Gaultier as he faces off against various opponents, raising money for his family as he goes. These are the cues that feature the full orchestra most strongly, and several of them are really terrific. “Fighting the Scot” has a fun Scottish-flavored riff in the horns, which plays off against a series of suspenseful and intense orchestral passages, many of which again give off Jerry Goldsmith vibes. “Fighting the Brazilian” features a fun samba beat-style which gradually picks up the beefy brass-led orchestra. Some of the chords Scott uses are starkly and intentionally off-key, which gives the orchestral passages an unsettling ambiance, as well as a distinctly 1970s Dirty Harry/French Connection feel. In “The Foreign Legion” Scott offers more orchestral tension featuring some clever skewing of the brass to make it more uneasy, and some terrific string flourishes, as well as statements of Gaultier’s theme on nervous strings, and a return of the Foreign Legion motif.

The score’s finale comprises the 10-minute action sequence of “Attila the Killa” and “The Wrong Bet,” which begins with a reprise of the gritty Los Angeles saxophone jazz sound, but then moves into an enormous symphonic outbreak of suspenseful action. The full orchestra gets a real workout here, switching emotional states as the fight develops, going from powerfully intense to tragic to victorious and celebratory. There are numerous bursts of Gaultier’s theme, anchoring him at the center of the story, and some of Scott’s compositional choices are fascinating – the rhythmic ideas constantly change tempo amid beds of swirling strings and multi-layered stabbing brass, and he makes interesting use of tambourines in the percussion section, giving the whole thing an unexpected echo of Goldsmith’s The Wind and the Lion. “Farewell” offers a final lick of jazz, and “Freedom for Lyon” provides a final triumphant statement of Gaultier’s theme, before the end credits piece “Lionheart” showcases the two main themes at their most heroic and sweeping.

Lionheart is a terrific score which, considering it is celebrating its 30th anniversary here, serves as a timely reminder of just what a superb composer John Scott was when he was in his prime, and why it is important for soundtrack aficionados to seek out his work while it’s still available. Scott himself did so much to preserve his legacy via his own JOS Records label, and to ignore it would be criminal. At the time of writing John Scott is still hale and hearty at the ripe old age of 90, and anyone who is still uncertain about checking him out would do well to find Lionheart. It offers the best of his two specialties: wonderfully arranged orchestral drama, and authentic contemporary jazz.

Buy the Lionheart soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Burn/North Africa (7:20)
  • The Voyage (3:11)
  • New York Streets (2:53)
  • Meet the Lady (3:55)
  • Joshua and Lyon (1:45)
  • The Wrong Hood (1:31)
  • The Big Orange (0:57)
  • Lyon’s Grief (2:37)
  • Partners (0:47)
  • The Lady’s Apartment (3:29)
  • Dating the Lady (3:31)
  • Fighting the Scot (4:14)
  • Helping Hand (1:27)
  • Nicole (2:38)
  • Fighting the Brazilian (3:06)
  • The Foreign Legion (3:14)
  • Attila the Killa (1:04)
  • The Wrong Bet (9:06)
  • Farewell (2:07)
  • Freedom for Lyon (0:54)
  • Lionheart (4:12)

Running Time: 63 minutes 58 seconds

Intrada MAF-7011D (1991)

Music composed and conducted by John Scott. Performed by The Munich Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by John Scott. Recorded and mixed by Keith Grant. Edited by Richard Allen. Album produced by John Scott and Douglass Fake.

    February 11, 2021 at 3:47 pm

    Hello Mr. Broxton, Jon, if I may.
    I admire your review & share all your sentiments about John Scott’s Lionheart, a truly wonderful score & a great stand alone listen. Was wondering if you know of any plans to re-release it? I have built up a collection of soundtracks I like to listen to but this one has always eluded me & being in my late sixties I sometimes think time is running out to hear it somewhere else than YouTube. One of the two listed on Amazon.com is available to Canada (where I am), of course the price is pretty steep but maybe I should go for it.
    Don’t think you need encouragement but just in case you do, thanks for doing what you do, without which I would likely never have heard of Fanny Ley Deliver’d.

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