Score by Dave Grusin
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Story: A footloose gambler finds that, not just love, but a revolution gets in the way of his biggest card game as Cuba erupts during the 1958 Christmas season.
Resplendent with Latin fire, the vivid score for “Havana” is conceivably the most lush Dave Grusin has written. In the words of director Sydney Pollack, it is "one of the best scores I've heard to a motion picture."
From the opening notes of the main title, followed on by Arturo Sandoval's evocative trumpet solo, the music is drama on a grand scale. Never more than a moment away from Cuban flavor throughout the picture, the emphasis here is excitement and spicy Latino rhythms, aptly citing time and place, also courtesy of Dave Valentin and Lee Ritenour on flute and guitar.
`Hurricane Country,' as the theme has been called in its incarnation over the closing credits, is the soul of this motion picture. Magically played by Sal Marquez on trumpet, like the rest of the original music for “Havana,” it so epitomizes the fabric of the picture that it could be played under any dramatic scene and feel appropriate.
Dave Grusin has vividly identified the ethos of this film in this composition. The theme might just as well be entitled `Fate,' in the way it suggests displaced people who have become caught up in someone else's fight, individuals who might easily be blown off course by a butterfly waving its wings on the other side of the planet. Dori Caymmi's vocals over it during the closing titles are captivating.
To hear a scintillating jazz exploration of “Hurricane Country,” check out Dory Caymmi's 1997 album, “Kicking Cans” [see 80s/90s Records as Sideman], on which singer and composer reprise the piece. The latter offers some interesting piano improvisations on the theme with a delicate solo of “Cuba Libra” as prologue.
The tender love theme is no less applicable to scenes with a wider concept. Exquisitely moving, it conveys a sense of hopelessness, and even the nobler side of Jack. It is as good as any example in the Grusin filmography of the scorer's thoughtful approach to the most sensitive moments in a movie. The theme contains substance and depth which elevates it from being only a banal tug at the emotions. Lee Ritenour's emotive guitar and the composer's piano also play a great role in intensifying the poignancy at different moments of the film.
A spectacular tableau of a nation in revolution is painted by the grand Cuba Libra theme. As with the camera's focus on one character within a crowd of jubilant revelers, the music manages to be touching and intimate at the same time as majestic - conveying momentous events affecting a whole country. In so doing, it reinforces the film's attempt to give perspective to the events of New Year's Eve 1958 through the lives of two outsiders.
This music made unforgettable the scene of Roberta walking through the throng - torn apart by her mistaken betrayal and the lingering love for the man she has just left. Describing the massive undertaking to score this scene, director Sydney Pollack states “It was such a hard feeling of a combination of panic, exuberance and confusion. All of these things were going on at the same time, but he did it. He wrote a piece that was so incredible”
Particularly dazzling is the music accompanying the journey to Santa Clara. Within these scenes, three further original pieces emerge which encompass the romantic nature of Jack's search. the landscape is captured not only by indigenous rhythms, but a haunting quality in the cues which touch the heart at the same time as projecting the sense of danger and cataclysmic events. On their own these themes and their epilogue could have comprised the core for the entire score. But they barely appear elsewhere in the motion picture.
In addition to traditional tunes of the locale, there is a good dose of American pop in the film, and with 79 minutes of screen time, one can virtually say “Havana” leans toward being wall-to-wall music. Nominated for Oscar and Grammy awards, the score was therefore quite a departure from Dave Grusin's generally minimalist approach. This non-stop quality plays a critical role in moving the film along.
Two incidental items stand out. Frank Sinatra singing “London By Night” on Jack's phonograph is a world away from the scene of the picture, but so perfect for mood that it almost stops the show. (The record is actually a part of the film, with the “Come Fly With Me” LP getting its own moment of screen time.)
The other is a further bit of magic - Fats Domino singing “One Night” over scenes of a card game. Were the dramatic underscoring anything less than sensational, this would be a stand-out musical moment in the film, so delightfully married are image and music.
The original Grusin pieces are so exquisite, they are beyond being diluted; nevertheless, to hear them extracted on the soundtrack album is to be treated to probably his most magnificent score.
Music Editorial Consultant: Else Blangsted
Music Editor: Bunny Andrews
Assistant Music Editor: Lise Richardson
Music Consultant: Joel Sill
Stars: Robert Redford, Lena Olin, Alan Arkin,
Director: Sydney Pollack
Producers: Sydney Pollack & Richard Roth
Released: Universal 1990
Running Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes
Music Time: (approx) 1 hour, 19 minutes