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Superman

 

"By the middle of 1978 I had been filming Superman for nearly a year-and-a-half and had lost my objectivity about it. But when I went to John Williams' first recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra and heard his score for the opening titles, my spirits soared. His soundtrack for the film is perfect and will always remain a classic."

--Christopher Reeve
spring 1999


"From the outset, we were determined to stay true to the spirit of Superman. We wanted this movie to have more color, style, action, and spectacular visuals than any film of its kind ever made before. But there would be no tampering with the legend."

--Ilya Salkind
Executive Producer



"In the decade of the 1930's, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide Depression . . ." Neither was Cleveland, Ohio, where a high school boy named Jerome Siegel began a journey that would earn him admittance into an exclusive club consisting only of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His creation, Superman, would soon join the fictitious characters Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes as the three most well-known characters who never actually lived.

Born on October 17, 1914, Siegel came of age at a time when heroism and tales of triumphing over adversity were eagerly welcomed by a world struggling through difficult socio-economic times. His creativity and desire for a prosperous future were fed by a growing science fiction genre, which consisted of Saturday matinee serials, pulp magazines, and short-story anthologies, all of which he reviewed in his school newspaper. No one knows what muse whispered in his ear on one lazy summer evening in 1933 when, lying on his bed, looking out the window, he suddenly conceived the unbelievable idea of a man who could fly--a superman.

The next day Siegel related his vision to schoolmate Joseph Shuster, a talented amateur illustrator, and the two began to develop it. In their first story, "The Reign Of The Superman," the title character was a villain bent on world domination, but soon the pursuit of truth, justice, and the American Way grew more fascinating, and Joe's rendering of a black-haired, square-jawed, muscle-bound "man of steel" emerged. Within two years, the boys were working professionally in the growing comic book field, with their own stories and drawings launching Detective Comics in 1937. This success enabled them to pitch their Superman concept, which first appeared in the June 1938 issue of Action Comics. Faster than a speeding bullet, a phenomenon erupted, with expanded comic adventures permeating corner newsstands and a daily comic strip beginning a 27-year run in 1939. Every other available medium would follow soon after, but by that time Jerry and Joe had sold all rights to the character for $130.

On February 12, 1940, Superman made the single-bounded leap to radio, with Clayton "Bud" Collyer bringing life (albeit only audibly) to the Man of Steel, where the necessities of the medium led to the indelible lines "This looks like a job for Superman!" and "Up, up, and away!" Collyer did appear, however, in an early version of the costume for the character's first public appearance at the New York World's Fair, where a radio episode was broadcast live from Flushing Meadow Park. Clearly Superman, though fictitious, was more powerful than a locomotive--just the sort of fellow to have on your side during a world war against fascist and imperialist menaces.

Paramount Pictures released the first of Dave and Max Fleischer's action-packed animated Superman shorts on September 26, 1941. Bud Collyer again furnished Kryptonian lip service. This further defined the growing mythos, as did the additional literary embellishments in a successful 1942 novel called The Adventures Of Superman, by George Lowther, a writer/director for the radio drama. Columbia Pictures produced the first live-action incarnation in the form of two 15-episode serials: Superman, produced in 1948, and Atom Man Vs. Superman, following in 1950, both starring Kirk Alyn as Superman/Clark Kent and Noel Neill as Lois Lane. By this time, television was beginning to dominate baby-booming Cold-War American households, and as the radio show ended its run in 1951, the studio began developing a weekly series, The Adventures Of Superman. (Just in case the new miracle that was television failed, however, the project was begun as a feature film.) Superman And The Mole Men was released in November of 1951 and starred George Reeves as the sole survivor of Krypton. Several episodes were completed before the series debuted in early 1953. These featured Phyllis Coates as Lois, but by the time new episodes were ordered, Noel Neill returned as the Daily Planet's star reporter. The series was so successful that even the most popular show of all time, I Love Lucy, featured George Reeves as Superman in a 1956 guest appearance that cleverly avoided shattering the myth for young viewers.

Despite ill-conceived attempts at spin-off series--1958's The Adventures Of Super Pup, and a 1961 pilot, The Adventures Of Superboy--the George Reeves series continued to be a children's favorite well into the '70s. This was augmented by Filmation's Saturday morning cartoons originally produced in 1966 as The New Adventures Of Superman (with Bud Collyer back in the recording booth), and Superfriends, produced in 1973 by Hanna-Barbera for ABC. Through it all, the comics continued, and the fan following grew.

Even the theater stage didn't escape the phenomenon. The 1966 musical It's A Bird It's A Plane It's Superman generated a modest cult following, at least enough to warrant a 1975 television special based on it. The writers of the show, David Newman and Robert Benton, went on to collaborate with Leslie Newman and head screenwriter Mario Puzo when international film producers Alexander Salkind and son Ilya began developing a big-budget definitive feature film version of Superman. "He has come of age . . . our age!," the film's original teaser proclaimed. Not bad for the brainchild of a couple of daydreaming Depression-era Ohio kids! The only question the fans were asking was, "Superman, what took you so long?"

Alexander Salkind explains that when his son told him the story of Superman, "I sensed that it could be very good as a major film . . . if it will be done right." As evidenced by the successful incarnations that followed--three sequels, a filmed version of Supergirl: The Movie, live-action television series Superboy and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, and a new animated series--it would seem that Salkind was as good as his word when he undertook making Superman in the mid-'70s. Obviously, he felt that doing Superman "right" meant bringing in an unprecedented international brigade of artists both behind and in front of the cameras. This, of course, started with director Richard Donner, who set the tone for the production when he said: "Too often, movies sired by comic strips fall into a trap of parody or outright camp. That approach would have done what Superman's enemies have been unable to achieve for 40 years. It would have destroyed him." Also worthy of mention among the hundreds of credited names is noted cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (to whom the film is dedicated), production designer John Barry (Star Wars), and, of course, the talents of leading actors Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, whose stature and range would bring believability and control to honorable Kryptonian scientist Jor-El and Earth's most arrogant criminal, Lex Luthor, respectively. Finally, credit must go to newcomer Christopher Reeve, who, after a seemingly endless worldwide talent search, came to quintessentially embody the dual characters of Clark and Superman. Photographed at England's two largest studios, Shepperton and Pinewood, and on location in Canada and several parts of the United States, Superman was treated with a dignity far beyond what any story of comic book origin could ever expect.

The icing on the cake for this first-class act was the score by John Williams, who was then in the midst of writing his most expansive and well-known music. After ten years of sophisticated and demanding television work and offbeat feature comedy scores, Williams rose to prominence in the late 1960s with his score for The Reivers and Emmy-winning music for a television version of Heidi. He won his first Academy Award® for his superb score supervision for the film adaptation of Fiddler On The Roof (1971), the stage version of which was produced by Harold Prince, director and producer of the Superman musical. After settling briefly into a niche of trendy disaster films, he rose to the top of his field with Jaws in 1975 and the impossibly successful Star Wars two years later, both of which added to the composer's collection of Oscars®. In addition to a large quantity of music in a traditional Romantic style, Star Wars featured a brilliant performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, which was led at the time by Williams' friend and collaborator André Previn. The experience was such a positive one that Williams worked with the orchestra regularly over the next six years.

Williams began sketching out themes for Superman in the autumn of 1977 while putting the finishing touches on his ambitious score for Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (which preceded The Fury and Jaws 2). While the mechanics of scoring Superman proved difficult due to the absence of many of the visual effects at the time of the July 1978 recording sessions, the music itself seemed to come easily. But, then, this was not the first music to accompany the flights and plights of the Man of Steel, and what had preceded was diverse and distinctive. The Columbia serial employed a minor-mode march by Russian composer Mischa Bakaleinakoff, while the stage musical of 18 years later made use of Charles Strouse's light folksy melodies of the day set to the lyrics of Lee Adams. However, it was the victory marches written for the Fleischer cartoons (by Sammy Timberg) and for the '50s television series (by Leon Klatzkin) that seemed to generate the most common musical association with the character, and Williams wisely remained in this mode when writing his own march. All three are melodically arranged in such a way that the listener is almost compelled to sing the word Superman as if it were a lyric.

The prominent use of the upper 5th interval is also evident in Richard Strauss' tone-poem setting of Thus Spake Zarathustra, the late 19th century novel by German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, which is the literary source for the word superman. Strauss' interpretation is best known for the use of its prologue as musical bookends in Stanley Kubrick's influential 1968 science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a visual and thematic influence on Star Wars and Close Encounters. Certainly the Superman of Nietzsche--a being who evolves to a level of supremacy over his physical world--can be applied to 2001, as well as to the mythos of Superman. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Nietzsche himself was a composer and was noted for his close but often heated relationship with Richard Wagner, whose musical style of employing the leitmotif, exemplified in his Ring Of The Nibelungen, became the technique that John Williams applied to the archetypal epic of Superman as he had to Star Wars. However, there is no music in Superman that can be mistaken for that of Star Wars or for his subsequent scores for The Empire Strikes Back or Raiders Of The Lost Ark. All are big, bold, brassy, and played to perfection by the London Symphony Orchestra, but each is distinct and fits its corresponding film perfectly--which is why this particular period in John Williams' expansive career stands out as exceptionally prolific.

The quality of scores like this also make them particularly conducive to unabridged chronological presentation. In the case of Superman, it is remarkable because the original 1978 album was itself a generous 78-minute offering on a two-LP set. However, when the soundtrack to Star Wars reached the #2 position on Billboard's album chart, the demand for expansive symphonic film scores grew, their size increasing proportionately with a tendency towards flashier, broader filmmaking. So even though the Superman soundtrack spanned two vinyl platters, over 40 minutes of additional music could be heard in the film itself. The growing legions of Williams fans detected that it was enough for a third LP, but thanks to the composer's continued popularity, Superman's status as one of the most successful films in history, and some remarkable shiny discs, all that has been rectified.

ON THE MARCH

Superman begins with a theater curtain opening across a full wide-screen frame. Movies don't come any more formal than this, which was a lucky break for Williams, since this formality is what enables his music to develop into an orchestral opera of the Wagnerian variety, a work that seems to convey the entire dramatic story even when separated from the action and dialogue. The parted curtain reveals a small square screen within, on which appears a black-and-white shot of an original Superman comic. As a frame of the Daily Planet building dissolves to a live-action counterpart, and the camera moves over its top and into outer space, the frame opens to its full Panavision width, and the credits begin--magnificently colored fully animated titles that soar over, under, and through the camera's perspective, enveloping the audience in a way no credit sequence ever had before. Accompanying this is Williams' now-famous theme, leaving no doubt in any viewer's mind that this is a true epic in a grand theatrical tradition. While the "Prelude And Main Title March" heard here corresponds to the film, it was created editorially. The original, uncut take was actually recorded to a temporary version of the film's opening in which the credits began immediately. This is presented on track 17 as "Main Title March (Alternate)." When the filmmakers settled upon the "Prelude" concept, Williams recorded the music for it, and it was combined with the existing recording of the march, the final result being presented here for the very first time. The original 1978 soundtrack album (and all subsequent rerecorded compilations) used a concert arrangement that began with a formal introduction of the fanfare. This arrangement, called "Theme From Superman," has always been dissatisfying to hard-core soundtrack collectors, who prefer the music as it is heard in the film. Nevertheless, this more familiar rendition is preserved on Disc 2, Track 18. The source for the opening fanfare it contains is actually an alternate, never-before-released arrangement of the "Superman March," an alternate version of which can be heard at the start of Disc 2. The final recording of the theme is the film version of the "Finale And End Title March" (Disc 2, Track 13), which contains some variations in orchestration and has also been previously unavailable.

READ MY MIND

In addition to the fanfare and main theme, each rendition of the Superman march features the love theme as an interlude. It, too, has a lyrical quality, but that's because it actually has lyrics. "Can You Read My Mind" was written by Leslie Bricusse, who had collaborated with Williams on How To Steal A Million and the remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (and later on Home Alone and Hook). A magnificent, straightforward concert version, "Love Theme From Superman," was written and recorded as an album arrangement, but the closing credits ended up being so long that it was added to cover the additional running time. It is presented here on Disc 2, Track 14, following the "Finale And End Title March" as it does in the film. Within the narrative of the picture itself, the love theme takes center stage during a dramatic interlude known as "The Flying Sequence." It begins delicately, but once the theme builds to the high violins and soaring orchestrations for Lois Lane's night flight with Superman, the scene plays without dialogue except for Margot Kidder's spoken Bricusse lyrics. For Disc 2, Track 4 the cue is presented with the beautiful orchestral underscore only (something soundtrack completists have wanted for 20 years), while Track 16 overlays the lyrics as heard in the film and on the original soundtrack album. However, while restoring the score it was discovered that a pop version was originally intended for this sequence. Williams arranged and recorded it, but after it was viewed in context of the entire film, it was replaced by something with a more timeless quality. This original version is presented on Track 15 with Margot Kidder's vocal, and to save purists from another 20 years of frustration, Track 17 presents the pop version without the vocal component. Bookending "The Flying Sequence" are two cues in which Williams provides an addendum to the love theme in the form of another motif which seems to be associated with the persona of Clark Kent. It first occurs when Superman descends to "The Terrace" of Lois Lane's penthouse to give the journalist an exclusive interview (Disc 2, Track 3). Both this and "Lois And Clark" (Track 5), which follows "The Flying Sequence," are previously unreleased cues that combine this motif with the love theme. In all variations, the love theme greatly enhances the romantic sweep of the story beyond its comic book origins and brings the leading female character to dramatic prominence.

KRYPTON AND SMALLVILLE

"The Planet Krypton" is presented in two versions, both of which begin by formally introducing the stately, scholarly fanfare for the alien culture as the camera finds the planet amid the blackness of space and moves through its atmosphere to its capital city. The first version (Disc 1, Track 2) is heard in the film, and the second (Track 16) is an alternate that begins in a different key. The film version contains previously unreleased material covering the Krypton council's sentencing of three villains (who will return in Superman II), while the alternate represents the original album's shorter ending, including its rebalanced piano and synthesizer. This provides an interesting example of the kinds of cuts and alterations sometimes made for soundtrack albums.

The introduction of Marlon Brando as Jor-El with the line "This is no fantasy" sets the tone for the entire film, and his role as judge at the trial establishes him as a wise and just leader. However, as "Destruction Of Krypton" begins, we see his warnings about their planet's impending doom rejected by the head of the council (Trevor Howard). The mood remains mysterious and alien, with a wordless treble choir making its first appearance in the score. This track contains a restored middle sequence written for a conversation between Jor-El and his wife Lara (Susannah York) as they prepare to send their infant son, Kal-El, to Earth. However, this portion of the music was also dropped from the film, as was the rising brass-based sequence at the end of track, written for the launching of the crystal ark. When the "Star Ship Escapes" through the roof of the lab, the music picks up with a brass fanfare of the main theme, but only brief sections of this apocalyptic cue can be heard over the final moments of Krypton's existence. "The Trip To Earth" follows the tiny star ship on its journey through six galaxies with a complex cue that is particularly challenging to the woodwinds.

"Growing Up" begins with a short, previously unreleased section accompanying the discovery of the child by the Kents (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter). The track closes with the fast-paced music for teenage Clark's race with a train on the plains of Kansas. In the previously unreleased "Death Of Jonathan Kent" Williams introduces a gentle "down home on the farm" theme for Smallville, which again seems to beg for lyrics. Particularly effective is the use of a chime and the trumpet that accompanies the establishing shot of a hilltop cemetery.

The choir returns in "Leaving Home," with the orchestra repeating a secondary Krypton motif, which is associated with the crystal matter of the planet itself. In this scene young Clark (Jeff East) is "called" by the principal green crystal, which he finds glowing inside the charred star ship shell hidden in the Kents' barn. As dawn breaks, a sweeping passage for cello begins, working its way back to the Smallville theme as Martha Kent says goodbye to her adopted son. Once again, the scene's very formal ending in the wheat field allows Williams to fully develop the melody and bring it to a satisfying musical conclusion. The film then shifts to the arctic, where Clark is led by the green crystal. Ultimately, the crystal causes "The Fortress Of Solitude" to be built, with formations of ice shaping themselves to resemble the world of Krypton. The cue is presented here in its entirety for the first time and features choir, celeste, and synthesizer augmenting variations of the two Krypton motifs. As Jor-El's image appears and speaks to Kal-El, the music turns celestial as Kal-El is taken on a 12-year odyssey "through time and space." When it ends, the last survivor of Krypton has become Superman. The formality of the sequence enables Williams to bring in the brass section with a bold and straightforward entrance of the Superman fanfare.

METROPOLIS AND BEYOND

As the action shifts to Metropolis, the tone of the film and the score change accordingly. After his first day at the Daily Planet, the somewhat confused and over-eager Clark Kent, along with new colleague Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), are forced into an alley at gunpoint by a mugger. The previously unavailable music for the scene, "Welcome To Metropolis," is playfully humorous and integrates the love theme for the first time, but much of the cue is not heard in the film. As originally scored, it was intended to lead directly into "Lex Luthor's Lair," which introduces the comedic march associated with the archvillain and his bumbling sidekick, Otis (Ned Beatty). Two portions of the cue were eliminated from the original album version--and are restored here. However, only the beginning and ending of this track can be heard in the film. A straightforward presentation of Lex Luthor's theme, which Williams calls "The March Of The Villains," can be heard on Disc 2, Track 2.

In "The Big Rescue" the music becomes integral in its depiction of Lois Lane in jeopardy and the first public appearance of Superman as he rescues Lois and a helicopter, which have both been hanging perilously over the edge of the Daily Planet building. Despite the scene's prominence as the dramatic centerpiece of the film, this section of flawless scoring has, astonishingly, remained unavailable until now. Superman's first night on the town shows him first as a "Super Crime Fighter," foiling a jewel thief on the side of the Solow building and stopping a group of bank robbers who engage in a shootout chase with Metropolis' finest before escaping on a boat--only to have Superman deliver the entire vessel conveniently to a midtown police precinct. The Man of Steel's evening ends with a couple of "Super Rescues," first saving a cat stuck in a tree and then Air Force One from a fatal lightning strike. All in a night's work. Williams supplies appropriate doses of subtlety, whimsy, and bold action music throughout, much of it presented here for the first time.

The next day's headline of the Daily Planet describes the mood in Metropolis: "Caped Wonder Stuns City." Lex Luthor is fascinated but not terribly concerned, since he and his cronies are enjoying a private Hawaiian-themed respite in their secret hideaway beneath Grand Central Station. Heard in the background during the scene is the diverting "Luthor's Luau," source music composed by Williams and presented here for the first time (Disc 1, Track 15). Then, after "The Flying Sequence" interlude, Luthor sets his "Crime Of The Century" into motion. Disc 2, Track 6 combines three previously unreleased cues that follow Lex and company as they sabotage Army and Navy missiles by reprogramming their trajectories. Luthor must also deactivate the threat of Superman, and so a "Sonic Greeting," which only Superman can hear, leads the Man of Steel to the underground lair. This cue (Track 7), featuring a brilliant repeating violin arpeggio, is also presented here for the first time. At the hideout, Luthor explains to Superman his plan to use the missiles to set off "the big one" in California, dropping the coast into the sea, with the desert land to the east (now owned by Lex Luthor, Inc.) replacing it as the most lucrative real estate in the world. "Misguided Missiles And Kryptonite," also previously unavailable, covers the sequences where the military becomes aware of the malfunction, while Luthor springs a radioactive chunk of Kryptonite on Superman. For this scene, the choir and Krypton crystal motif make a return appearance, brilliantly combined with suggestions of the villain theme.

Luthor's mistress, Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), comes to Superman's rescue, and as the climactic action music builds Superman finds himself "Chasing Rockets." He manages to propel one into outer space, but the other detonates on the San Andreas fault. A good portion of the ending of this cue, and the beginning of "Super Feats," which follows, are not heard in the film, the apparent decision being to have music only during the final moments of perilous situations and the inevitable nick-of-time arrival of Superman. This is evident in rescue sequences at the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam. However, the used and unused sections of both feature marvelously soaring action music which clearly communicate that the story has reached its climax.

After Superman rescues young photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), Hoover Dam, in fact, bursts, and the Man of Steel must improvise a "Super Dam" in order to save the threatened communities. In the midst of this astounding action, Lois Lane finds herself in jeopardy again when the dirt road beneath her car collapses. Much of this sequence was rearranged at a late date, but the previously unreleased music here corresponds to the version of the film that Williams scored. The second part of the cue, "Finding Lois," features a sweeping juxtaposition of the fanfare and the love theme, as Superman races to the site of Lois' accident but arrives too late. The track concludes with a mournfully delicate rendition of the love theme. In "Turning Back The World," an enraged Superman, unable to accept Lois' death, flies westward around the globe so fast that he reverses time, undoing all of the damage done by the missile and earthquake, including Lois' fatality. The Krypton fanfare returns briefly, followed by a rousing resolution of the Superman and love themes.

The "Finale" provides more tranquil wrap-up statements of the fanfare and love themes, which lead into a bright and full-bodied rendition of the march. As the last son of Krypton flies triumphantly over the Earth, proud protector of his new home, there is no doubt that there will be further exciting adventures of Superman. In the meantime, John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra are at hand to fly the greatest mythic character of the 20th century safely into the next one.

--Michael Matessino
Michael Matessino is a graduate of New York University's film and television program and is currently a freelance producer/director specializing in film preservation, restoration, and behind-the-scenes documentary.

*****

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The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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