Friday, September 26, 2008

Heroism in Music: First Blood part 1 & 2

Jerry Goldsmith's scores for the first two First Blood/Rambo films were great examples of heroism in music for different reasons.

The story of Rambo in First Blood is the story of a man who's life got away from him on the way back from Vietnam. He was an amazing soldier, decorated with the nations highest honors and on top of that he was strong enough, smart enough, and brave enough to escape a POW camp. Back home his skills mean nothing and he can barely handle the jobs open to him.

He's spent years just living as a drifter slightly above an animal but with a few of the dignities that make up being a human. But his story commences around a time where some small town small time law enforcement officers try to strip him of even that. The only response that this would inspire from a man like John Rambo is striking back.

It's said that a good score can almost tell the story with no words and no visuals. Goldsmith's score is filled with pathos, and seems in many parts of the story to be weighted down the way Rambo's soul is. In other moments however it reaches heights of true heroism, the most notable of these is the moment Rambo steals the motorcycle from a rider after making a daring jail breakout, in this scene where it's clear that this man is an anti-hero at best the music pushes him to the level of hero.

The ending theme was built around the opening score and its lyrics sum up the entire theme of the film and seem to be the only fitting music to the end of this experience.

It's a long road
When you're on your own
And it hurts when
They tear your dreams apart
And every new town
Just seems to bring you down
Trying to find peace of mind
Can break your heart

It's a real war
Right outside your
front door I tell ya
Out where they'll kill ya
You could use a friend

Where the road is
That's the place for me
Where I'm me in my own space
Where I'm free that's the place
I wanna be

'Cause the road is long yeah
Each step is only the beginning
No breaks just heartaches
Oh man is anybody winning
It's a long road

And it's hard as hell
Tell me what do you do
To survive
When they draw first blood
That's just the start of it
Day and night you gotta fight
To keep alive
It's a long road ...

The first film was followed up by the inevitible sequel. In some (mainly moral if not intellectual) ways its superior to the original. Rambo is put up against an enemy evil enough that he doesn't have to hold back like he did in the first film and you get to see how ruthless he can actually be.

The film is bigger, bolder, more intense, bloodier but it lacks in one element. To some degree the first film kept with the novel's theme of dealing with hard questions like what does doing something like becoming a soldier do to a man. Or is heroism something worth aspiring to or is the toll it takes on you simply too high.

Part 2 goes for the simple answer. Rambo does what he does best (losing a woman he could've loved in the process) and manages to save a number of POW's and defeat the communists, even if it is a small victory. Through most of the film is a reiteration of Goldsmith's original score, but seemingly on steroids this time.

But at the end he refuses to return to America because it just isn't his home anymore. He wants to know that it loves the soldiers it screwed over as much as they love it. The end theme plays on this idea and ultimately I think it makes the film weaker. On the surface it's positive but below that it focuses on the ideas in play from every conservative pundit that's ever used the word freedom with little understanding of it, or viewed love of this nation as being worthy simply due to the fact that someone happened to be born here. This latter view is particularly unforgivable because there are more reasons to love this nation than I'd say any other and to apply that idea to an accident of birth is insulting.

I honestly think that the "Freedom isn't free" song from Team America had to have been based at least in part on this song. But to me this song is just excessivly sappy and represents the hazards of the package deal that the idea of "Americanism" has become.

We gave our hearts
We gave it all
Flame in the fire
Burns forevermore

The sorrow in believing
Honor and truth
Gray spires climbing
Wrapped around our youth

Peace in our life
Remember the call
Oh, a cheer for my brothers
Think of them all
Home of the brave
We'll never fall
The strength of our nation
Belongs to us all.

Time is the healing
of souls laid to rest
Peace is the virtue
Never forget
Tomorrow's an angel
Watching us all
Telling the people
she wraps around our hearts

Peace in our life
Remember the call
Oh, a cheer for my brothers
Think of them all
Home of the brave
We'll never fall
The strength of our nation
Belongs to us all.