Score by Dave Grusin
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Story: The effects of a broken marriage on parents and child is explored against a background of racing, boxing and the fashion world.
While the worlds of horse racing and boxing set the backdrop for “The Champ,” the story `s central core is one thing - the depth and majesty of love, and that is what Dave Grusin has captured in his beautiful main theme for this film.
At first grasp, this grand orchestral theme seems far too tall for its action. The opening scenes of people working with horses appears to be overcome by the magnificent main title. Veering here from his usual style of waiting for the audience to form its opinion, the composer has warned us that this is not a lightweight motion picture - not a movie about horses, boxers, a cute kid, the wealthy mixing with the semi-derelict or even a tug-of-love battle.
As a motion picture which, through story, direction and certainly acting, unfolds layer upon layer, the theme - which is played in full form, at beginning, middle and end of the film- is crucial to conveying its gravity and meaning beyond the plotline.
Although “The Champ” contains a good deal of varied music, it is this main theme which is the glue binding together all the episodes to capture the intensity of mutual love between the father and son.
So alerted, the viewer subliminally takes in each succeeding scene on a slightly deeper level than might otherwise occur.
Music plays a critical role in “The Champ,” even beyond that awesome main theme. The lively and irresistible Caribbean music, which runs under scenes of the horse walkers at work, does as much as anything else to demonstrate the happy, warm and even wholesome world in which T.J. is growing up - quite contrary to what one might conventionally think about the suitability of such an environment for any child.
We are somehow swayed into believing that it was the best possible of atmospheres for him. The road-running scenes are also enhanced by such merry and invigorating music (“A Cha-Cha do Brazil") that rings with the happiness shared between Billy and T.J. It's a curious rhythm, but easy to enjoy and fall in with. More exhilarating sounds are provided in the gym workout scenes, mixing orchestral and rock.
Whereas the main theme's principal element is depth and splendor, “Letting Go” (subtitled "T.J.'s Theme") is more sweet and sentimental, tending to concentrate on a different kind of love, that of his newfound mother and what she is quickly learning to feel for him.
Incidental music is used throughout the picture and runs the gamut of genres - most of it source music - from a fusion sound heard from the car radio to a lounge orchestra playing `fashion show' fare, and from honky tonk in a gambling scene to Mozart lending a serene atmosphere to Annie's yacht. In each case, it's not just a matter of providing background music, but identifying the worlds of the characters involved.
The score received an Oscar nomination for 1979, and reflects the interesting music Dave Grusin was writing and performing following a virtual renaissance after His return to a recording career at the keyboard. It is not only an artistic score, but finely conducted as well. Numerous excerpts can be heard on the soundtrack album. Failing to obtain this, both “What Matters Most” (the main title) and “Letting Go” are to be found on Dave Grusin's “Cinemagic,” which has the benefit of still being obtainable on CD. Set alongside some of his other great film music, both pieces shine out.
Music Editor: Joe Tuley
Music Consultant: Richard Perry
Music Supervisor: V. Lojewski
Stars: Jon Voight , Faye Dunaway , Ricky Schroder, Jack Warden
Director: Franco Zefferelli
Producer: Dyson Lovell
Released: MGM 1979
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Music Time: (approx) 51 minutes