On many recommendations, I recently sat in front the TV for 2 1/2 hours to watch Mr. Holland’s Opus, a film about an aspiring composer who gets sidetracked into teaching. It’s sort of a mid-90s “Forrest Gump meets Dead Poets Society”.
Richard Dreyfuss’ title character has great symphonic ambitions, but marriage, a hearing-impaired baby boy, and work leave him with zero time at the piano.
He can’t write after school because he’s got to help a sobbing, geeky girl learn clarinet. One summer gets shot because he has to learn sign language.Mr. Holland occasionally stomps and whines about his predicament, but soldiers on. He proves to be an extraordinary music teacher, pulling off amazing marching band shows and Gershwin concerts, and the students love him.After 30 years, he gets sacked from budget cuts. Students and alumni throw a farewell assembly to thank him. That geeky girl is now governor, and gives a speech about how Mr. Holland’s real life’s work wasn’t to compose, but to “touch the lives of so many people” through teaching.

(Yeah, it’s sappy…you don’t know whether to roll your eyes, or let them tear up.)

The students surprise Mr. Holland by preparing a performance of his 30-year unfinished “American Symphony”: (there is a long lead-up of cheering, the music itself starts around 2:10).

And I’m thinking – 30 years for *that*? It sounds like the intro music to the Figure Skating Championship on NBC.

The great Michael Kamen wrote the music (he passed away in 2003). Kamen did many films, including Die Hard, X-Men, Lethal Weapon, Brazil, and a great WWII score for Band of Brothers. He was a rock guy, working with Pink Floyd, Queen, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, and others.

Now the fictional American Symphony is extremely skillfully written, but why would a 30-year-old Mr. Holland write such a triumphantly triumphant triumph of a piece? And with electric guitar?

One supposes studio producers had a major investment in the film and wanted to keep things on safe, proven musical ground. And you can’t argue with the $82 million domestic box office. But I was disappointed.

Posted 9 years ago by John Piscitello

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