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Sir John Williams: How I Learned to Love Movies & Hate the Bomb

Sir John Williams opened my eyes to the world of movies, orchestral and classical music, and the joys of parenting.

Sir John Williams Conducting

How I learned to love movies and hate the bomb is tale that goes back over 70 years. How we process loss, pain, and cope with mental illness is also part of the complex web that includes our connection to specific movies, books, and even artists.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February sent me down the rabbit hole and I didn’t particularly enjoy the ride and it has been a journey recently to pull myself out of the darkness; I have been quite open about the bipolar tightrope that I walk and how one must be willing to take proactive steps to get help when required. I took those steps and I’m no longer drowning.

My connection to Ukraine ended when the last member of my family was shot or sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis and my grandfather never spoke in glowing terms of his childhood in Lviv; he left as a young man and joined the French army in 1914. Timing is everything I guess. The events of the past 5 months have also brought to the surface some ugly memories for members of my father’s family who suffered enormously at the hands of the Cossacks.

The decimation of my family in France, Poland, and Ukraine and the two divergent paths taken by the few survivors who landed in Israel and Canada had an enormous impact on my sense of being and what I believe. Who I love and what I’m willing to die for are not glib words but ideals carved into my nefesh; what Jewish people like to refer to as our “soul” that exists in this brief period of time we get.

I’ve been attacked on social media for recommending that people listen to Shostakovich’s “Babi Yar” to gain some additional insight. Apparently, we are supposed to cancel everything Russian even when it’s anti-Communist or anti-fascist in its messaging. Orwell would have found all of this behavior on both sides to be quite depressing.

When I was 7 years old, a movie about darkness and the light changed my path in the universe forever. I became a scoundrel in love with a space princess with cinnamon buns on her head. I piloted a banged up space freighter with a giant walking dog as my best friend and a disgruntled and petulant Jedi with mommy issues had me frozen in carbonite. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Sir John Williams turned me into an audiophile before I even knew what that term meant.

I’ve always credited George Lucas and Akira Kurosawa for my obsession with cinema but I’ve come to the realization that I’ve shortchanged one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century.

Classical music was popular in my home growing up but my parents never deviated far from Holst or Dvorak and Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland were members of the tribe and therefore practically family. I’m pretty sure Bernstein was invited to a family seder at one point but politely declined.

I could sing every part of West Side Story by heart and while that didn’t make me cool, it proved my mother’s point that great music was unforgettable.

That last point has resonated in my thick skull for over fifty years and while watching The Empire Strikes Back with my 8 year-old the other night, I turned to her and asked, “Do you want to do something cool when the movie is over?”

“Sure. If it involves going to 7-Eleven, buying me a Slurpee, some lotto tickets, and a new Fidget.”

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30 minutes and $40 later we were downstairs in the home theater room where I searched YouTube to find two specific videos that would finally explain to my youngest why I loved movies and orchestral and classical music.

I lowered the lights and let the majesty of Sir John Williams and the Vienna Philharmonic explain my obsession with movies to my unsuspecting daughter.

It’s hard to tell what she thinks about certain things because she’s developed a rather convincing poker face at an early age but her left hand was clutching her Grogu doll with more intensity than usual.

“Shall I continue?”

“Maybe.”

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“It’s treason then.”

We moved on to the second video and I knew it would take her slightly longer to recognize the music.

Jurassic Park brought a smile to her face as she remembered the sheer pleasure she felt watching her cousins scream with terror on the ride in Orlando.

“Pretty cool right?”

“That was awesome but who is the guy waving his hands and holding chopsticks?”

“Sir John Williams. He composed all of the music and also fought in the Clone Wars with Jedi Master, General Tso.”

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“Makes sense.”

Long live movies.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. ORT

    January 22, 2022 at 2:00 am

    The themes from “Star Wars” and “Superman” are two of my favorite motion picture soundtracks. Beautiful music from iconic films that will stay with me for ever.

    Thank you.

    ORT

    • Ian White

      January 22, 2022 at 5:19 pm

      The “Superman” OST in mint condition is not so cheap anymore.

      I do have my original copies of Star Wars, Empire, and Return of the Jedi on vinyl from 1977, 1980, and 1983.

      My kids know that touching it results in being banished to the Spice Mines of Kessel.

      Ian “Han” White

      • ORT

        January 22, 2022 at 7:44 pm

        I have the original Star Wars on Laser Disc. Before Lucas decided to digitizify his base desires upon them and us, LOL!

        Han shot first. 😉

        Depending upon version, you can see Kenny inside the R2D2 setup. I have a relative that is a voice actor that started out with the Star Wars films. I do enjoy both the Mandalorian and Boba Fett series.

        ORT

        • Ian White

          January 22, 2022 at 7:54 pm

          Opening day in 1977, I was 7 and walked into the Eglinton Theater and my life changed.

          I hate the SE versions of the OT.

          I was the first person in Canada to see RoTJ in 1983. Stood in line for days as a 13 year-old.

          I’m still on the fence about Boba Fett. There is no plot.

          Ian “Who’s scruffy looking?” White

          • ORT

            March 7, 2022 at 1:23 pm

            Ian, do you know “Salacious Crumb”?

            And I have begun to enjoy “The Book of Boba Fett” as it has improved over the short season.

            ORT

          • Ian White

            March 7, 2022 at 2:32 pm

            I do.

            It lives down the hall from me.

            Mando Season 2.5 was very disappointing.

            I’m looking forward to Kenobi.

            Best,

            Ian White

  2. ORT

    March 8, 2022 at 4:06 am

    “Season 2.5”?! I must have missed the first 1.5. I thought this was the first one. I will look for them! Thank you!

    ORT

  3. Steven Denfeld

    August 10, 2022 at 7:56 pm

    I recall spending far more $$$ than a starving college student should have on the deluxe 2-disc CD OST releases that came out in the mid-90s for each original film. [“Food? Gas? Who needs that?” was my very pertinent thinking at the time.] Thus was my first full foray into ALL of the music from the beloved OT films, and to this day The Empire Strikes Back remains my all-time-favorite film soundtrack, and the track ‘The Asteroid Field’ must be the most thrilling orchestral ride I’ve ever been on.

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