MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR
Score by Dave Grusin
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Story: When developers attempt to stamp out the modest plantings of a small farmer, the local population of this New Mexico village rebel to preserve their way of life.
When the Motion Picture Academy informed Dave Grusin that his vibrant music for "Milagro Beanfield War" had been nominated for an Oscar, he had still not seen the movie in its final version . Maybe just symptomatic of the rushed life. Maybe a bit of a disagreement between scorer and director as to how things should have gone.
"I think that perhaps Bob Redford wasn't totally pleased with the score when it was all over. I don't know whether it was his feeling that it was too romantic or didn't do the job for the film, or what,” volunteers the composer. Nevertheless, as things turned out, his contribution netted the picture's only Academy Award (and also received a Golden Globe nomination).
Indeed the aura of “Milagro Beanfield War,” particularly the breathtaking cinematic elements capturing the New Mexico twilight, appear perfectly married with cues in this production. The lyrical score contains an undercurrent of the southwestern location throughout. Dave Grusin's lifelong connections to the setting of this motion picture add a resonance which is undeniable. This is, however, more of a thread running through the compositions. The two main themes are primarily 'character' and plot based.
The fable's supernatural overtones are especially well-served by the “Coyote Angel” theme, at times ghostly, but at others, full of merriment. Using the concertina played by the angel in the film as leading instrument, it is even used momentarily as source music which is actually heard in a scene by one of the characters.
Its full orchestral version transports one away with the rollicking feeling of a merry-go-round. But it also ranges from satiric and whimsical when executed in syncopated style to eerie and evocative when played by a single instrument with percussive stingers. Accented here and there with ethnic touches which refer to the important geographical setting, the piece covers a wide number of needs in the movie.
Played over opening and closing credits, it is primarily used to indicate the sometimes comic, sometimes serious intervention of `the angel,' at critical points in the plot .
The secondary, or "Milagro Theme," is most closely associated with the actions of Amarante. It may be here that the `too romantic' label was affixed, but the touching quality the piece adds to important scenes surely induces the greatest emotional attachment between audience and characters when depicting the friendship which grows between the young researcher from the East and the seemingly crazy old man. Hearts open widely to the latter, who is given life and meaning well beyond his amusing actions on the screen.
There was no soundtrack album released for “Milagro Beanfield War,” but courtesy of Dave Grusin's Grammy-winning jazz record “Migration” (and subsequently his “Orchestral Album”), a suite of music from the film has become available.
On this we hear a full version of “Pistolero,” used to denote the fiery Latin blood which has been raised by the beanfield controversy in the local population. It's a marvelous piece one could well have heard more of in the film.
Lost completely is the bright and charming “Lepita,” written for Amarante's pig. The absence of such compositions from "Milagro Beanfield War" provides a good bit of support for the composer's absence from the cinemas to see this motion picture.
There is more incidental music with a Chicano flavor, including `Fiesta” as well as a spirited piece with a cantina sound which is very effective in the community scenes.
It is difficult to say what percentage of those who closely follow Dave Grusin's film scores would pick this one as `the Oscar' among his pictures. But a spot in the top ten, it definitely deserves. In any case, there can be little disagreement with the composer's assessment that “the ambience, I thought, was right.”
Supervising Music Editors: Else Blangsted & James Flamberg
Associate Editors: Eric Beason& Nancy Fresen
Stars: Chick Vennera, Carlos Riquelme, Sonia Braga, Christopher Walken, Rubén Blades, Daniel Stern, John Heard
Director: Robert Redford
Producer: Robert Redford
Released: Universal 1988
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Music Time: (approx) 27 minutes