Sunday, April 30, 2017

Z - World Famous Composer John Williams Got His Start In Newfoundland


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Two things:
  1. Yes, I know there are no "Z's" in any of those words.
  2. Yes, I've talked about this one before.
  3. It's been 26 friggin' days so I don't care.
Wait, that's three things.

*Ahem* Anyway. Before Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and a plethora of other hit Hollywood scores, John Williams was an up-and-coming musician serving his time in the US Army. In 1952 he was stationed at a military base in St. John's, Newfoundland (American bases were quite common on the Island at the time, due to it's strategic location as the furthest point East in North America). He was the conductor for the service band, which regularly performed at local dances in the community. 

At one of these shows, Williams was approached by a local filmmaker to score a travel film he was making for the Canadian government. Newfoundland was still a very new province at this point (it only joined Confederation in 1949), so the Government was trying to convince people to visit and drum up tourism. 

You won't hear any of Williams' later trademark sweeping classical pieces in the finished film, as he decided to base the score instead on local music. To be honest the film was so crazy I wasn't really paying attention to the music anyway. Behold "You Are Welcome," a weird look into Newfoundland right at the time my parents were born:


If you don't have 20 minutes to watch the whole thing, here are the highlights:

1. The narrator is shitfaced drunk.

He's constantly on the verge of passing out, but every time he's about to topple there's a quick cut while (presumably) a stagehand sets him back up. He can barely keep his eyes open by the end of it. Yet his diction is perfect, and he never flubs a line. A consummate professional.

2. As a tourism film it fails miserably.

The video is trying to entice people to visit, but everything looks bleak and miserable. Newfoundland's appeal has always been in its quaint rural charm, not in its attempts to be "modern." The "modern amenities" the film touts just look like prefab military bases built in the woods, because that's basically what they are. At one point they even show the local pulp-and-paper mill as a tourist attraction, because they obviously ran out of stuff to talk about.

3. The underlying theme is Newfoundland is a great place for casual sex.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but here's the basic plot of the film: Man shows up in Newfoundland, bumps into random woman, then travels all over the island with her, staying in shady motels. Apparently Canada in the 1950s was way more liberal than I gave it credit for. Not to mention they shoehorn in several shots of lovely bathing beauties by the pool as an added incentive, even though anyone actually familiar with Newfoundland weather knows it's so crappy and unpredictable that there's only like 3 weeks in August when you can actually swim outside.

So yeah, the man who would go on to win countless awards for his scores got his start on a terrible 1950s travelogue for the province of Newfoundland. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this, because it keeps giving me chances to talk about this wonderful, godawful film.

And with that, we're done.

*Phew*

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

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My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
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