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THE PRINCE OF TIDES – James Newton Howard

December 23, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Prince of Tides is a serious romantic drama, directed by Barbra Streisand, and adapted from the acclaimed novel by Pat Conroy. The film stars Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo, a football coach from South Carolina, who is asked to travel to New York to help his sister, Savannah, who has recently attempted suicide. In New York Tom meets with Savannah’s psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein (Streisand), and the two have an immediate attraction to each other, despite them both being married. As time goes on Tom and Susan grow closer, and Tom begins to reveal long-suppressed details about his past and his private life, some of which relates directly to the issues plaguing Savannah, However, their deepening romantic relationship also threatens to break up their respective marriages, which could have devastating consequences for both families. The film co-stars Blythe Danner, Jeroen Krabbé, and Melinda Dillon, and was both a critical and commercial success, grossing more than $135 million at the box office, and picking up seven Academy Award nominations.

One of those nominations was for its score, by James Newton Howard, the first he earned in his career. Howard and Barbra Streisand had been moving in similar musical circles for decades, especially when Howard was working with and for pop artists like Elton John and Diana Ross in the 1970s as a keyboard player and music director, so it made sense that Streisand would turn to him when it came to needing music for her own film – especially after she parted ways with the composer of the first score she commissioned for The Prince of Tides: John Barry. Details of how and why Barry’s score came to be replaced are still a little unclear, but the bottom line is that Barry and Streisand suffered a personality clash, and Barry chafed at Streisand’s micro-managing of his schedule and process, but not before Barry wrote a stunningly beautiful romantic theme that would eventually be re-titled ‘Moviola’ and be re-purposed as the centerpiece of a 1992 compilation album of the same name.

Barry’s misfortune was certainly Howard’s gain, as it allowed the composer’s own lush and lyrical style to come to the fore on this project. Howard’s music for The Prince of Tides is romantic to a fault; the entire score is awash in tonally pleasant string layers accented with soft brass, lovely writing for oboes, and lilting piano solos, some of which occupy the same space as James Horner’s romantic writing from the period. The score is anchored by two recurring themes. The first, the main theme, relates to Tom’s relationship with his family, and the secrets that are hidden in his past, while the second is a love theme for Tom and Susan, which dominates much of the central part of the score, as their relationship allows him to come to term with his own demons. This love theme also forms the core of the score’s original song, “Places That Belong to You,” which was written by Howard in conjunction with songwriting legends Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and is performed by Streisand herself.

The first significant performance of the main theme comes in the “Main Title,” a gorgeous, sentimental, achingly tender melody with a warm Hollywood sweep in the strings. In many ways it’s the prototype for every sweetly beautiful James Newton Howard love theme that followed it over the next decade – Dave, Junior, French Kiss, One Fine Day, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and so on and so on – and it’s wonderful to examine the origins of the style here. Further performances of the theme appear prominently in cues such as “To New York,” “They Love You Dad,” the emotional “The Reunion,” and then in the sweeping “End Credits,” where every trace of restraint is swept away in the face of unapologetic romantic melodrama.

The love theme for Tom and Susan gets its primary statement in “The Hallway,” and although it has a less tangible melody than the main theme, it is still lovely, especially when the piano takes over the lead. It has that sentimental 1990s Hollywood sound I adore, and at which composers like Howard, Alan Silvestri, Marc Shaiman, David Newman, and others excelled; these days many people find it to be hopelessly sappy and saccharine, but I am not one of those people. Later, the “Love Montage” arranges the theme first with a classic 1980s jazz-pop sound, complete with synth percussion and syncopated keyboard runs, and then for an acoustic guitar. Again, some will find the arrangement to be desperately cheesy, but I have always been a sucker for this kind of thing, and find it to be wonderfully endearing, even still.

Much of the rest of the score – cues like “The New York Willies” and “The Village Walk” – are pleasant and undemanding orchestral textures, which provide the film’s more low-key moments of drama and romance with a consistently satisfying tone, but there are several other cues of note. For example, “The Bloodstain,” which relates to Tom’s fears for the safety of his sister Savannah following her suicide attempt, showcases slightly more reserved and bittersweet pianos.

Elsewhere, “Lila’s Theme,” which relates to Tom’s mother and his memories of childhood, is again built around the piano and strings, but has a slightly old-fashioned sound, nostalgic and almost lullaby-ish, but with an undercurrent of darkness and melancholy. “Daddy’s Home” is full of effervescent cheerfulness and whimsical southern charm. The textures and string phrasing in “Tom Comes Home” somehow foreshadows the calmer and more reflective parts of Waterworld, while the striking jazzy trumpet solos give parts of “Tom’s Breakdown” an intensely dramatic sound.

The Prince of Tides was a stepping stone in James Newton Howard’s career and, considering that it earned him his first Academy Award nomination, anyone who is interested in the development of his style will want to seek it out for that reason alone. It was the primary instigator of the lush and romantic sound that dominated much of his work in the 1990s, and as such it is an important score for him, but perhaps the bottom line is the fact that it makes for a very satisfying listening experience. It’s smooth, straightforward, and emotionally honest sound allowed audiences to connect with Tom and Susan, feel their relationship, and then empathize with Tom as he finally comes to terms with the deep-seated family traumas that sculpted his personality. With that in mind, fans of James Newton Howard’s sentimental romantic sound – however dated and manipulative that may seem today – should be enthralled as I am with the whole experience.

Buy the Prince of Tides soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (4:28)
  • Teddy Bears (0:54)
  • To New York (1:28)
  • The Bloodstain (1:19)
  • The Fishmarket (0:58)
  • The New York Willies (2:42)
  • The Village Walk (2:59)
  • Lila’s Theme (3:08)
  • Home Movies (1:36)
  • Daddy’s Home (1:37)
  • The Hallway (Love Theme) (2:43)
  • They Love You Dad (0:43)
  • So Cruel (1:33)
  • Savanna Awakes (1:02)
  • Love Montage (3:59)
  • Tom Comes Home (1:12)
  • The Outdoors (1:17)
  • Tom’s Breakdown (1:04)
  • The Street (3:10)
  • For All We Know – Instrumental Version (written by Sam Lewis and J. Fred Coots) (2:17)
  • The Reunion (2:21)
  • End Credits (3:44)
  • For All We Know (written by Sam Lewis and J. Fred Coots, performed by Barbra Streisand) (4:13)
  • Places That Belong to You (written by James Newton Howard, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman, performed by Barbra Streisand) (3:53)

Running Time: 54 minutes 20 seconds

Columbia Records CK-48627 (1991)

Music composed by James Newton Howard. Conducted by Marty Paich. Orchestrations by Marty Paich, Brad Dechter and Hummie Mann. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy . Edited by Jim Weidman. Album produced by James Newton Howard.

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