Reflections on Art and Life
The following is a scholarly paper I wrote during my graduate studies at the New York University in the Fall of 2009, a requirement for professor Ronald H. Sadoff’s class “Film Music: Historical & Aesthetic Perspectives”. Here I use much technical language, but non-academic readers will find that the exposition of the relationship between the music and the psychological plot is quite accessible. The three main parts of the paper describe the musical building blocks (Syntax), the way they express emotion (Musical and Filmic Codes), and the way they impart meaning (Textual Analysis). I recommend tracing the article while watching the film.
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Director: Guy Green
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
“If so many men, so many minds, certainly so many hearts, so many kinds of love.”
A Patch of Blue, based on Elizabeth Kata’s With Bells and Drums, is one woman’s journey from darkness into light. Set in the 1960s in a lower class tenement apartment neighborhood of Los Angeles, the film paints a portrait of eighteen-year-old Selina (Elizabeth Hartman) who is confined to a life of servitude to her abusive prostitute mother (Shelley Winters) and a drunkard of a grandfather (Wallace Ford). Blinded in childhood by her mother who in an adulterous rage mistakenly threw at her a bottle of acid, Selina deals with her physical and emotional scarring by following a routine of cleaning, washing, cooking, and threading bead necklaces in order to meet the demands of her family. She suffers verbal and physical abuse by her mother, and, as the story unfolds, we learn that in the past Selina was also sexually assaulted by one of her mother’s customers. Her grandfather, although slightly more sympathetic, does not offer much hope or protection for Selina as he spends his days earning factory wages and his nights—drowning them in liquor at the local bar. Selina, who has never attended school or ventured much outside of her apartment, constructs for herself an idea of the outside world from listening to the radio.
Into this dysfunctional and cruel world stumbles a stranger whom Selina meets one day in the park. Gordon (Sidney Poitier) helps her to get rid of a caterpillar which frightened her by crawling under her blouse, and she, unaccustomed to kindness, responds to him with warmth and interest. Their friendship develops as Gordon begins to teach Selina how to function independently in her surroundings and tries to convince her that she can live a meaningful life away from her abusive family. They both enjoy each other’s company and find in each other a refuge from the outside world. Selina, who has suffered a lifetime of abuse, clings to Gordon as the only source of hope and kindness in her life, and develops a strong romantic attachment to him. Gordon, in turn, who is older and pragmatic, is more restrained with his feelings, but finds that Selina’s physical blindness enables her to live in ignorance of racial boundaries and to see his character independently of the color of his skin. It is the height of the Civil Rights movement and Gordon is black while Selina is white.
The issue of race is, of course, present throughout the film and predominates as Selina’s mother becomes enraged upon discovering her daughter’s relationship with Gordon. However, the film as a whole explores much beyond the skin color of the main characters. A Patch of Blue is a testament of the redeeming and transforming power of human kindness. It is also a study of human connection as the film portrays affection, emotional attachment, companionship, warmth, friendship, love, sexual desire, restraint, and all the blurred lines between them.
Jerry Goldsmith scored A Patch of Blue at the age of thirty six as a composer with considerable experience in writing for radio (CBS Radio Workshop, Frontier Gentleman), television (The Twilight Zone, Dr. Kildare, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and cinema (Oscar nomination for Freud). Although most remembered for action, suspense, and science fiction soundtracks (Star Trek), Goldsmith scored A Patch of Blue with intimate tenderness and restrain of musical means. Out of 105 minutes of the film only 31 minutes are scored. Goldsmith’s instrumentation is limited to a chamber string orchestra, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, harp, harmonica, saxophone, vibraphone, marimba, celesta, guitar, and percussion. The entire score is constructed from a few short motivic ideas, all associated with Selina. Goldsmith uses them in different combinations with each other to develop longer themes representative of the evolution of Selina’s character and her relationship with Gordon.
The following discourse focuses on analysis of three representative cues from the film:
1. The Park [8:28 – 10:27]
2. Bead Party [32:50 – 34:33]
3. Finale [1:41:45 – 1:45:08]
The cue begins as Selina stands alone under a tree in the park realizing that her grandfather has walked away. Vibraphone strikes an open fifth in the upper register and harmonica answers with a two note stepwise motive. As Selina spreads her blanket, harp and vibraphone enter with theme (a) in FM in triple meter punctuated at the end of every phrase by string orchestra.
The theme continues in FM with harmonica carrying the melody underpinned with gentle harp arpeggios and soft chords in the strings. As the camera pans upward toward the canopy of the tree, the theme rests on EbM chord, giving way to improvisatory arpeggios and trills on the flute in the upper register. A small leaf falls down on Selina’s blouse and as she picks it up, the piano answers the flute with a short one-hand motive in upper register of seemingly random notes. Selina plays with her hair and then begins to feel the leaf with the tips of her fingers. A new theme (b) in triple meter is introduced by the piano, strings, and guitar establishing the tonality of AbM:
The piano plays the melody with the chordal accompaniment while the strings outline the harmonic structure with sustained thirds in tremolo in upper register and the guitar accentuates every measure with a single note. The first four measures of theme (a) in AbM are then sequentially transposed to GbM with a small variation at the end of the phrase. Selina presses the leaf to her lips to feel its softness. As she stares into a distance with her blind eyes and a glowing pleasure on her face, her hair is softly lit from the side. The theme rests on BM and the flute returns with another playful improvisatory outline of the new tonality accompanied by downward glissandos in the harp. The camera soft-dissolves to a smiling, healthy, and seeing Selina—Selina’s vision of herself as she might be, were she not blind—and the vibraphone solo strikes a third. The flute echoes the opening motive of theme (b) but then gives way to fast non-thematic sixteenth notes on celesta. New Selina rises and walks away from the tree. The harp plays a downward scale as Selina joyfully skips away barefoot, her skirt and hair flowing in the air, and a new theme in triple meter in EM enters with the harmonica playing the melody and the harp providing the accompaniment.
Selina runs farther away as she dances and twirls around. She runs to another tree and begins to climb on it. Theme (c1) then modulates sequentially to DM with only minute changes in the melodic line. The theme modulates again to CM, this time with the presence of strings. At the end of four measures, with an upward glissando in the harp and a sudden swell in the strings the melodic line and the soft texture of the theme are transformed to an outburst of sound.
Selina runs down the hill with her arms wide open as the violins in upper register carry the melody with the accompaniment of the lower strings and the harp, while the piano, celesta, and orchestral bells add bright punctuations in the upper register. Selina dances around a tree swaying her hair from side to side, as the harp accentuates the end of every phrase with an upward glissando. After eight measures, theme (c2) modulates sequentially from Dm to Cm. As Selina walks through the long shady branches of the weeping willow, the music subsides and the harmonic motion rests on BbM7 with the strings sustaining the chord, the piano recalling the head motive of theme (b) and the flute answering contrapuntally with the head motive of theme (c1). The new Selina dissolves back to the blind Selina sitting under the tree, with an expression of longing on her face, staring with her unseeing eyes into a distance. The music stops as the chirping of birds brings her back to reality.
The cue begins as Gordon offers Selina juice. Clarinet plays three pitches: E, A (below) and sustained G embellished with a harp arpeggio outlining a GM11 chord followed by a plagal cadence in strings (CM-GM), reminiscent of theme (a). Gordon smiles at Selina and all three musical elements modulate sequentially to FM, followed by the vibraphone striking the chord of EbM, continuing the downward modulation pattern. When Selina begins to thread the beads, the guitar further propels this process by introducing two pitches G# and C# which function as a dominant and a tonic in establishing the tonality of C#M – theme (d).
The V-I figure in the guitar is followed by a parallel stepwise motion in the saxophone and oboe with the Fx (double-sharp) suggesting the mixolydian mode. The same two motives are then repeated three times with the ornamentation by the flute.
When Gordon picks up the needle and the thread from Selina, double bass begins to outline the tonic, subdominant, and the dominant triads of C#M with occasional glissandos in a rhythmically relaxed pattern. Then it becomes an ostinato figure providing an accompaniment to the ornamental melodic line in the piano punctuated by two-note clicks of a castanet followed by a woodblock.
While the bass line remains consistently predictable, the triplet figures and the castanet/woodblock clicks are undergoing constant metrical variations. The clicks coincide with the beads sliding down the thread and landing on their predecessors. As Gordon becomes more efficient in threading the beads, the texture of the castanet/woodblock clicks and the triplet figures in the piano becomes denser. Saxophone, oboe, and clarinet join in with their own ostinato pattern reinforcing the I-IV-V progression in the bass, strengthened by pizzicato in the strings.
When the threading of beads becomes a fun game for Gordon and Selina, the music abruptly modulates to EM with the flute and oboe carrying the melody and the strings with harp providing the ostinato accompaniment punctuated by castanet/woodblock clicks.
The two-measure sequence is then repeated a step down in DM. When Selina laughs hysterically and the necklaces one-by-one drop into the bead box, the ostinato accompaniment ceases, and the strings reinforced by the piano outline V-I jumps followed by the triplet/downward-fifth motive in the flute, accentuated by the castanet/woodblock duo in a hocket-like exchange. The harmonic rhythm increases as the instruments outline a circle of fifths progression beginning on CM, followed by FM, BbM, and EbM. Strings and piano with the castanet/woodblock pair double the pace of the harmonic rhythm and outline V-I jumps further spiraling the circle of fifths through AbM, DbM, GbM and break it unexpectedly with AM. The bass V-I jumps are then followed by the triplet/downward-fifth figure in the flute and bassoon beginning in DM, moving stepwise through CM, BbM, and AM. When Selina cannot take the excitement anymore and begs Gordon to stop, the progression comes to a halt with the harmonica playing two pitches: A and G followed by a sustained FM9 chord in the strings.
The cue begins as Selina and Gordon are sitting down in Gordon’s apartment, awaiting the arrival of the bus driver who is to take Selina away to a school for the blind. They are facing each other, about to say good-bye. The vibraphone brings back the triplet/downward-fifth motive in the tonality of Cm and harmonica answers with a two-dyad motive in downward stepwise motion.
Gordon steps away to look through the window and sees that the bus has arrived. The triplet motive returns for the third time and is answered by the flute and the clarinet, extending the dyad motive into a longer phrase, followed by a modulating transition in the strings. The triplet theme then returns with the vibraphone and harmonica, but this time a step below – in Bm. Selina rises and Gordon tells her that it is time to say good-bye. Selina throws herself at Gordon and clings to him. The triplet theme returns in EM with the piano playing the melody accompanied by the vibraphone.
The theme then sequentially modulates to DM as Gordon gently pushes Selina away, her hands stiff and awkward, unsure of whether to hold on or to let go. The motive modulates again to CM, but then slips to Bm, hints at Em and with a rising unison in violins it arrives at a half cadence in BM implying that the tonality of Em is here to stay.
Not so, because the half cadence resolves deceptively to GM. The piano continues to play the triplet motive but the strings now carry the primary melodic line in the upper register. The bus driver knocks on the door and, when Gordon opens it, asks for Selina. The theme once again modulates a step down to FM.
Selina walks away with the driver leaving Gordon standing alone by the door. The triplet theme modulates to EbM but stops to sustain the EbM9 chord with the strings and a harp arpeggio. As Gordon closes the door and takes off his jacket, clarinet and oboe twice recall the two-dyad motive from the beginning of the cue and the harp answers each time with prolongation of the EbM9 chord. Suddenly Gordon notices that Selina left behind the music box he had given her before. As he grabs the box and storms outside to catch Selina before she leaves, a playful theme in the irregular meter of 5/8 unfolds in the tonality of Fm.
The violins sustain the notes in high register, while the low strings outline the chord with pizzicatos, and harmonica recalls the two dyad motive. As Gordon runs down the stairs, the harp plays an upward scale in the phrygian mode. The 5/8 theme then returns for the second time. Gordon reaches the street, but it is too late.
The triplet theme returns in the upper register of the piano in AbM, followed sequentially by GbM. Gordon pauses to look at the music box and walks back up the stairs to his apartment. When the theme modulates downward again to EM, it is brought to a halt by the strings which interrupt with the introduction of AM chord as if to propel the downward spiral to DM, but the triplet motive in the piano returns in EM.
When the strings continue independently to GM, the triplet motive holds on to EM, and the strings continue their progression to FM. The final credits roll and theme (a) returns in FM, this time stripped of triplets and in faster tempo with the woodwinds and harmonica carrying the melody accompanied by the strings and electric guitar walking the bass line.
This modified theme, like the original theme (a), momentarily suspends the tonality of FM in favor of its chromatic mediant AbM, but, unlike the original, it continues further, to the chromatic submediant (DbM). However, the modulation is quickly diverted by the CM chord which brings about the perfect authentic cadence establishing FM and the music ends.
Goldsmith’s score carefully mirrors the action on the screen and at times mickey-mouses it (the Bead Party cue). Although the composer carefully limits the melodic material and associates it with Selina, he freely uses it to portray emotions of various characters. The following is an outline of the three cues illustrating a close connection between the formal structure of music and the mise-en-scène:
*8:27 [Blind Selina. Theme (a)]
– 8:58 [A leaf falls from the tree. Improvisatory theme on flute]
– 9:04 [Selina examines the leaf. Theme (b)]
– 9:25 [Selina drifts away. Improvisatory theme on flute]
*9:29 [Seeing Selina. Improvisatory theme on flute.]
-9:41 [Selina dances. Themes and (c1) and (c2)]
*10:20 [Return to reality. Motives from theme (b) and theme (c) combined]
*32:50 [Intro – Gordon offers juice to Selina. Woodwind and harp interplay.]
*33:08 [Selina threads the beads. Theme (d)]
*33:24 [Gordon threads beads. Theme (e)]
*1:41:45 [Gordon and Selina waiting for the bus. Theme (b)]
*1:42:20 [Saying good-bye. Theme (b)]
*1:43:42 [Music box and chase. Theme (f)]
*1:44:11 [Too late. Theme (b)]
*1:44:46 [Final credits. Theme (a)]
Musical and Filmic Representation: Musical and Filmic Codes
1. The Park [8:28 – 10:27]
An open fifth struck by the vibraphone as Selina’s grandfather is seen walking away in a distance creates a sense of emptiness. This feeling is reinforced by the harmonica’s two-note downward motive, but the entrance of theme (a) in a major tonality brings a sense of hope. The triple meter of the theme suggest a slow waltz, and a momentary tonicization of the chromatic mediant (AbM) brings a promise of something extraordinary. The predictable punctuation of the phrase by the strings and the symmetrical shape of the melodic line create a feeling of comfort and safety.
When Selina makes herself comfortable on the blanket under the tree, the melody is carried by the harmonica accompanied by the harp and one senses an aura of “folksiness”, a casualness of one’s own backyard. In this context, the harp sounds almost like a hammered dulcimer, evoking a feeling of country or folk music. Harmonica’s association with the genres of blues and jazz adds an aura of playful relaxation and ease typical of lower-class frontier America. As the camera pans upward toward the canopy of the tree, the ornamentations of the flute’s melodic line illustrate the lightness and playfulness of a falling leaf.
Theme (b) which immediately follows on the piano as Selina begins to examine the leaf, first with the tips of her fingers and later with her lips, creates a feeling of melancholy.
The theme, although initially stated in AbM carries much harmonic ambiguity in that it does not remain closely tied to the tonic, but rather, with the walking bass line of Ab-G-F-G and the repetitions of the G in the melodic line functioning as an extension of the basic harmonic structure of the phrase, create a sense of drifting. This feeling is compounded exponentially by the many sequential modulations of the theme, which always follow the downward stepwise motion.
The return of the improvisatory theme in the flute accompanied by downward glissandos in the harp and the return of the vibraphone, signal a turning point where reality and dreams converge as Selina begins to imagine herself as she might be if she were whole, healthy, and seeing. A group of fast random notes on the celesta serve as a call, an interruption, or an invitation (perhaps an invitation to a dance or a playful child’s activity), as they imitate the sound of a music box. When theme (c1) enters to accompany Selina’s barefoot dance on the grass, the harmonica and the harp once again create a feeling of “folksiness” and casualness.
However, this intimate feeling is quickly swept away by a sudden swelling in the strings and an upward glissando in the harp, as the basic theme is transformed into an outburst of orchestral sound.
As Selina runs down the hill and the violins carry the melody in the high register, the timid stepwise motion of theme (c1) is replaced by the bold leaps of theme (c2). The instrumental texture becomes denser with violins playing in parallel sixths and the woodwinds together with the harp interjecting playful glissandos accentuated by the shimmer of orchestral bells and celesta, creating an atmosphere of a spontaneous outburst of unbridled happiness. The feeling of “folksiness” is completely abandoned in favor of a sense of cosmopolitan glamour as Selina with abandon sways her hair from side to side holding on to the tree. The triple meter now fully evokes a feeling of a waltz danced in a large ballroom. The same downward step modulation which previously created a sense of melancholy drifting, here serves to evoke a sense of joyful abandon and timelessness. When the adventure comes to a halt, as Selina walks through the long shady branches of the weeping willow, the sustained BbM7 chord in the strings underpinned by a slow arpeggio in the harp and the ostinato repetition of the triple motive, prolong a sense of wonder and timelessness interrupted only by a gentle chirping of a bird.
As Gordon offers Selina juice, the sustained GM11 chord in the strings outlined with a harp arpeggio, ushers a feeling of wonder and possibilities. Gordon looks at Selina intently as she thirstily gulps the entire container without stopping. The sequential modulation from GM to FM prolongs the feeling and serves as a prelude to what is to come. When Selina begins to string the beads, the guitar establishes the new tonality of C#M by outlining the dominant and tonic pitches evoking a sense of expectation.
The presence of mixolidian mode in the woodwinds paired with the call-and-response structure between the bass line and the remaining voices creates a feeling of reciprocity and partnership, as illustrated on the screen when Gordon helps Selina by selecting beads for her.
When Gordon picks up the needle and the thread from Selina and the double bass begins to outline the tonic, subdominant, and the dominant triads of the tonality of C#M with occasional glissandos in a rhythmically relaxed pattern, one senses a touch of awkwardness as if Gordon was not fit for the task. At first, the glissandos seem to imitate stretching of the string, as if the beads were to encounter an obstacle in Gordon’s hands in finding their proper place on the thread. But, as the bass figure becomes rhythmically stable, a sense of a groove is established, such that the task of stringing beads now becomes smooth and automated. In addition, the sliding bass line evokes a connection to rock-and-roll music and creates a sense of fun and playfulness. As the two-note castanet/woodblock pattern of clicks closely mickey-mouses the landing of every bead on the top of its predecessor, the triplet figure in the piano from theme (b) creates a sense of filigree lightness characteristic of pearls.
When the woodwinds join in with their own ostinato pattern reinforcing the I-IV-V progression, the rock-and-roll allusion becomes strengthened as the repeated sixteenth notes are reminiscent of a background vocal style popular in the 1960s among rock bands, such as the Beatles.
This association creates a sense of fun, freedom, and adventure. The task of treading the beads ceases to be a chore and becomes an exciting challenge. Here, as in the previous cue, sequential modulations by downward stepwise motion dominate, evoking a feeling of timelessness and abandon. The increasing pace of the harmonic rhythm and a spiraling circle of fifths progression express Selina’s and Gordon’s exhilaration.
The triplet motive in vibraphone on the tonic of Cm followed by harmonica’s answer on the supertonic suggests a question-answer structure, except that here these are reversed. While the vibraphone remains grounded on the tonic, harmonica once again restates its question, this time in subdominant.
Minor tonality and sparse instrumentation create a sense of sadness and desolation. As the theme modulates in the familiar downward stepwise motion to Bm, it paints a feeling of detachment and denial. The complete absence of any dominant chords creates a feeling of purposelessness and numbness. When theme (b) returns with the addition of strings playing a simple melody in counterpoint to the triplet motive, it evokes a lullaby.
When Gordon runs after Selina to give her the music box she left behind, theme (f) strikes not only with its irregular meter of 5/8 but also with a combination of three different thematic ideas used before: the lullaby motive in the upper strings taken from theme (a) stripped of triplets, the two-note harmonica motive, and the tonic-subdominant outline of theme (a) are combined in a minor tonality in a faster tempo.
All these elements compound to create a sense of urgency and a flood of memories. The upward scale in phrygian mode on the harp paints a feeling of pressure and discomfort. As the harp outlines the pitches of the scale, it does not stop on the tonic but instead continues one step further to the phrygian tone half step away, evoking a sense of miscalculation, tension, and interruption. The last pitch of the run reverberates in the air as Gordon stands alone on the sidewalk realizing that it is too late.
The return of the simplistic triplet theme (b) on the piano after the tension of the previous theme (f) in the irregular meter of 5/8 creates a sense of emptiness and hollowness.
When the strings interrupt the sequential modulation of theme (b), one perceives an aura of finality.
As the strings continue to interrupt the piano, carrying their own downward sequential spiral through AM-GM-FM, the triplet motive holds on to the tonality of EM. This interplay creates a sense of profound loss and emptiness mixed with denial and disbelief.
When the final credits roll and theme (a) returns stripped of all triplets and in faster tempo in a major tonality coupled with playful instrumentation, it flies in the face of the depth of the emotion just experienced. The quick arrival at the perfect authentic cadence in a major tonality sounds false and cheap, creating a distasteful feeling of an attempt at appeasement and condescension.
This happy-go-lucky incarnation of theme (a) unexpectedly forces the listener to conclude that all ends well, but the sudden bipolar shift of emotion is not credible and creates a sense of an abrupt disconnection from the film. It is as if a piece of band-aid was slapped on a freshly open wound to herd the audience through the reality of rolling credits and to send it out into the world mended and whole.
Musical and Filmic Representation: Textual Analysis
1. The Park [8:28 – 10:27]
The Park cue is a prophetic foreshadowing of Selina’s imminent transformation. The opening theme (a) played by harmonica and the harp, which in this context sounds almost like a hammered dulcimer, creates a sense of casual “folksiness”. Selina is comfortable with who she is and functions to the best of her ability in the world she knows. She “gets by”, as she later explains to Gordon. Yet the characteristic triplets in the piano theme (b) reveal that there is more to Selina than what meets the eye. She is a sensitive and a gentle young woman with a thirst and curiosity for something outside of her closed off world.
The theme’s prevalent developmental device of sequential modulation by downward steps suggests Selina’s withdrawal from the outside world and signals that her presence in it is only temporal, as if of a passing visitor. Just like her theme, constantly receding into a distance, she is destined for another place. Her theme also expresses a sense of hurt, rejection, yearning, and a lack of closure.
The Park sequence is Selina’s sensual awakening. Her triplet theme continues its dance as she pulls the fallen leaf out of her hair, examines her with the tips of her fingers and presses it gently against her lips. When Selina drifts away, she imagines herself transformed into a healthy, seeing, beautiful girl. As she daydreams, her thematic material undergoes a transformation as well, revealing a deeper longing hidden within. When the “new” Selina begins to dance, her theme is still timid as is evident in its sparse instrumentation and a stepwise melodic contour, with the harmonica representing her common and uneducated background.
The narrow range of the melodic line and its repetitious nature illustrate Selina’s limited world. The folk inflection of the harmonica paired with harp (dulcimer) bring to mind the cheapness of an amusement park filled with the sounds of a barrel organ stuck on a mindless annoying tune. But, as the theme continues, it undergoes a sudden burst of transformation. With a swelling in the strings and an upward glissando in the harp, the timid stepwise motion of the melody is replaced by bold leaps and a much denser instrumental texture, creating an aura of a cosmopolitan glamour.
Selina dances freely and sways her hair in a sensual manner. Here Selina’s deep desires are revealed as she comes in touch with the sense of her budding sexuality and emerging womanhood. Her timid folksy barrel-organ tune of a dance is now fully drowned in a ballroom waltz, short only of a gown and a prince charming. The cry of her heart is to be healthy, happy, beautiful, and desired.
As the triplet motive returns, clashing against the interval of a 9th sustained from the “Glamour” theme, Selina is brought back to reality of who she is, that much more lonely and rejected.
The Bead Party sequence is an allegory of Gordon’s relationship with Selina. The two sustained chords of GM11 and FM11, as Gordon observes Selina’s thirst for juice, illustrate his sense of wonderment with Selina’s inexperience and childlikeness. The rock-and-roll inflections from the electric guitar, the sliding double bass and later the woodwinds evoking background vocals in a pop song, illustrate how Gordon brings a sense of fun and adventure into Selina’s life. He adds a new flavor to her common, folksy ways having the advantage of a broader and educated life.
The bead sequence picturing Gordon stringing beads in an efficient way, illustrates his methodical influence in Selina’s life. The recurring triplet motive associated with Selina suggests that Gordon is, figuratively speaking, stringing the beads of her life. He is trying to bring order into her chaotic, purposeless world. When he says to her, “You need a partner for stringing beads and a system”, the music evokes his thoughtfulness, organization, and pragmatism.
In the Finale cue the harmonica returns with its downward two-note motive expressing a sense of loss and sadness. For Selina this loss seams to go beyond losing Gordon, for she is losing herself, or at least the part of herself that he has awakened. The harmonica is a reminder of the old folksy Selina expressing her apprehension as she is about to redefine her world once again.
With the return of Selina’s triplet theme (b) and its downward modulating spiral, we sense her progression from disbelief to numbness, and then disconnection from Gordon. When theme (b) returns with the addition of strings playing a simple melody (a derivative of theme (a) stripped of triplets) in counterpoint to the triplet motive, evoking a lullaby, we sense that Gordon’s feelings for Selina are mostly of a paternal nature, or at least this is how he chooses to channel them.
When Selina throws herself at him, he holds her for a while but then gently pushes her away and kisses her on the forehead. In his pragmatic way, he stills any outbursts of passions in her and does what is most noble and beneficial to her – lets her go onto a life of growth and self-discovery away from him.
When Selina’s theme returns after she has gone and Gordon is standing on the sidewalk holding the music box, the sense of loss is compounded by the aloneness of the piano and the continued downward modulations.
The further interplay between the piano and strings as they continue the downward spiral while the piano holds on to the same key, illustrates the final stage of the relationship between Selina and Gordon.
As she, in her simplicity, insists that things stay as they are, he is gently propelling the process of detachment.
That A Patch of Blue dared to portray an interracial romance between a white woman and a black man only two years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and in the year of Malcolm X’s assassination, had monumental implications. While the film returned $6.8 million to the studio(2), suggesting that the thematic material was right for the time, the kiss scene was nevertheless cut from all prints released in the South(3). The film generated much controversy from various racially-charged angles. While the Ku Klux Klan protested the release of the film in Memphis, Film Quarterly complained that “the implicit moral [of the film] is that affection between a Negro man and a white girl is all right so long as the girl is blind, ignorant, undeveloped and 18 years old. We will have got somewhere when she’s a bright 25-year-old who knows what she’s doing.”(4)
However, to focus exclusively on the issue of race would be to miss the fuller scope of the drama. The film along with its soundtrack explores a plethora of layers of human connection, including affection, emotional attachment, companionship, warmth, friendship, love, sexual desire, and restraint. Love between Gordon and Selina does not blossom not because she is white and he is black, but because they belong to different worlds. Their educational and social backgrounds are different. Gordon’s choices of music in his apartment include jazz and classical and he sings along with his grandmother’s music box in French, revealing a wider scope of cultural influences than Selina’s. At the same time, Selina’s thematic musical material poignantly illustrates her lack of education, childlike simplicity, immaturity, and inexperience. Barry Keith Grant in his book American Cinema of the 1960s: Themes and Variations(5) discusses the age difference between the characters, pointing out that while we don’t know Gordon’s age, Sidney Poitier was 38 at the time of the release of the film and Selina was 18, being played by the 22-year-old Elizabeth Hartman. Selina and Gordon belong not only to different social and cultural groups, but, perhaps more importantly, they represent different life stages and levels of maturity.
The predominant harmonic developmental device of downward sequential modulation of the thematic material suggests from the onset that there will be no permanent attachment between the characters. Selina’s themes leave an impression that she is a passing visitor meant to touch our life for a short time and then drift away. Gordon releases Selina because he sees his role in her life as one of setting in motion the process of her personal growth, and by providing her with means to do so apart from him, does so in the most noble and considerate way. Selina in her immaturity interprets Gordon’s kindness as romantic love, but Gordon’s feelings are more complex as they combine a sense of wonder, affection, and protection, as expressed in the Bead Party cue and the Finale cue. As he tells her before they part ways, “There are many kinds of love”, he gently lets her know that his love for her is not able to blossom into the romantic kind she longs for.
The many incarnations of Selina’s theme express not only Selina’s transformation of her character but also the evolution and the crystallization of her relationship with Gordon. Jerry Goldsmith’s ability to navigate this emotionally layered drama with a restraint of thematic material and transparent instrumentation testify to his sensitivity and mastery of compositional craft.
(1) – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003), 130.
(2) – Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (The Penguin Press HC, 2008), 159.
(3) – Ibid, 159.
(4) – Ibid, 160.
(5) – Barry K. Grant, American Cinema of the 1960s: Themes and Variations (Rutgers University Press, 2008), 142.
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