Column: Slicing Score: The Boys from Brazil (1978)

By Maria Mitchell

Slicing Score: The Boys from Brazil (1978, soundtrack). Composer: Jerry Goldsmith.

Waltz time is a metrical epitome of elegance. A Strauss Waltz is the musical backdrop for the film adaptation of Ira Levin’s book, The Boys from Brazil. There is little in the main titles to suggest anything beyond a lush, sweeping, romantic theme. Such trickery is common in horror and suspense film music.

What makes this story appealing as a horror story is its dark suggestion about what science can bring to mankind. The question the story plays with is whether or not genetic engineers could resurrect a madman from the past in hopes that he would carry on the work he left unfinished. The madman, in this case, is Adolf Hitler.

The cultural significance of using Germanic music in the score is self-explanatory. What makes the score meatier is the militant side of the cues. Goldsmith’s pop song “Home Again”, is an intriguing departure from the Germanic and militant side of the score. Elaine Paige has a legendary voice. Brought all together, the score is an odd orchestral snapshot of musical mores from the late 1970s. Goldsmith had a good sense of mixing pop with symphony as a means of paying respect to both camps of music. His soundtracks to The Omen and Twilight Zone: The Movie also made use of this formula. Having said that, there are many scores by Goldsmith that make no use of lyrical pop, such as The Other and Planet of the Apes. As always, it depends on the film and the story to dictate the musical syntax of a score.

The Boys from Brazil poses a troubling question to a weary world: is there any way to stop the multiplication of madness? The answer is never given and the final shot of the film indicates that predation will never be satisfied. This shot leads into the end titles, where the sweeping Strauss Waltz is heard again, indicating that the grinding danse macabre of day-to-day life is uninterested in the answer. This is one thing that irritates me about the score. While main titles and end titles are often similar in film, in the case of this one, I would have liked to have heard a more somber rendition of the waltz at the end, which would better indicate what is being suggested by the film: inhuman evil. This evil does not belong on the shoulders of Adolf Hitler alone. He was the figurehead of the Third Reich, but many others followed his direction.

In a brief blurb on AMC about this movie, it was stated that a shot of Jeremy Black drawing a picture of people in a stadium cheering was the original ending of the film. It apparently was changed because it was thought that that was too bleak of an ending, since it implies that at least one of the Brazil boys will go on to be the next Adolf Hitler. I don’t understand why that was considered “too bleak”, since the boys growing up to emulate Hitler is the upshot of the entire film. The squeamishness of the film’s production in adhering to that original ending indicates to me that Ira Levin hit a nerve with this story that stings like an impacted wisdom tooth. The nerve is this: once the service of mass production is perfected, any service can be offered in mass, including genocide.

It would be more relaxing and dignified if there were a way to mass-produce empathy, but I suppose that would cheapen compassion. Goldsmith’s score declines to comment on empathy and keeps to predation. Since the main character in this story is Dr. Josef Mengele, predation finds an easy characterization in the score. The real Josef Mengele was vocal during the Holocaust about his cynicism regarding the Third Reich’s “final solution”. He indicated that he didn’t find Jewish people to be inferior to Aryans. He thought that the war was a natural outcropping of a Darwinian struggle for world domination by way of survival of the fittest. A theory is a theory, not a fact, and to call Mengele’s real-world applications of this particular theory garbage is an insult to garbage.

The Boys from Brazil’s soundtrack is available through Amazon.com.