LBJ (Marc Shaiman) – Film Score Review

LBJ chronicles the story of Lyndon B. Johnson as he goes from Senate Majority leader to voiceless Vice President to President of the United States after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This film is another on the list of collaborations between director Rob Reiner and composer Marc Shaiman, which already includes films like When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, and Misery. Shaiman channels all of his ability into this score to craft a strong musical support that is a breath of fresh air in 2017.

Why do I call this a breath of fresh air? Because in a year with numerous other historically based films, not to mention numerous dramas, Shaiman composed something truly unique and memorable. And on top of that, the majority of those other 2017 films cannot boast the thick, emotional fully orchestral score that LBJ has. From start to finish it majestically captures a challenging, trying time in the history of the United States and the fiery, passionate personality of the man who took the highest position of power during that time.

While this score has its upbeat and exciting moments, it does not ever reach the point of being action music, and that is because this film doesn’t ever reach the point of too much physical action, opting instead in favour of intense decision making and impactful dialogue. The score sets its major tone in cues like ‘Opening’, ‘Assassination’, ‘Funeral on TV’, and ‘The Oval Office’. These tracks feature wide, expansive feeling openings with patriotic solo brass which are eventually built upon and accompanied by sweeping, lush string sections, minimalistic piano, and militaristic drums. These cues do a fantastic job in aiding the high political stakes on the screen during LBJ.

In other cues like ‘The Speech’, ‘It’s About ‘68 / He’s Gone’, and ‘Kennedy on the Phone’, the noble brass themes are taken up by smooth woodwinds and strings. These cues meld seamlessly with the thoughtful and poignant scenes they accompany. They continue to muse along as LBJ’s unique story moves forward.

Throughout this score, there are four and five note motifs that begin many cues on woodwind and brass instruments. Each cue seems to build at different moments by using strings, drums, and the full forces of the rest of the orchestra. I think it goes without saying that we do not see and hear many full orchestral scores like this often anymore. The score’s themes and instrumentations embody the twentieth century ‘Americana’ feeling that was building in that time historically as well as musically. The brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion used by Shaiman form march-like cues that feel at home in America. He also composed beautiful drawn out string and woodwind cues that utilise open intervals to describe America and the dramatic situations of that time in America’s history. Unlike other historical dramas that have been released in 2017 that employ scores that don’t exactly fit in or embody the time period they are aiming to portray, LBJ utilises (for lack of a better phrase) ‘old-fashioned’ orchestral and film scoring methods that bring the audience gorgeous themes, poignant, reflective musical moments, and exciting, upbeat moments. Frankly, every moment of this film would not be complete in nature without this musical score. A truly unique and artful offering for a very good film.

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