Latest piece for MUBI’s Notebook: The Story Behind the Theme for “Alien”

Jerry Goldsmith was already a veteran film composer with numerous iconic scores under his belt by the time he was enlisted to work on Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). He’d worked in radio and television through the 1950s, contributing music to classic shows such as The Twilight Zone (1959) and Perry Mason (1959) before making the move to film, writing scores for films as diverse in subject matter (and sound) as Stagecoach (1966) and Planet of the Apes (1968) in the 1960s and Chinatown (1974) and The Omen (1976) in the 1970s. Goldsmith’s rich orchestral scores for such films, which were informed and influenced by early 20th century modernist composers, are both experimental and economical in their use and development of thematic material. He explained, “What I really try to do is to take one simple motif of the material for the picture, and a broad theme, and construct it so they always can work in concert with each other or separately. The repetition of an identifiable motif does have a cumulative effect upon the audience if they hear it enough times.”An incredibly empathetic and innovative composer (not to mention prolific), he understood when music could strengthen a scene, as well as when to pull back; when understatement was more powerful.

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