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Under Fire (1983) was one of the best films Jerry Goldsmith ever scored in his illustrious career—and earned him some of his best notices from the mainstream press. The film stars Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy and Gene Hackman as American journalists covering the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. A love triangle forms between the characters, coinciding with Nolte and Cassidy’s deepening involvement in the conflict in favor of aiding the leftist rebels.
Goldsmith’s masterful score combines several seemingly disparate elements: full orchestra, cutting-edge (at the time) synthesizers, guitar solos by the esteemed Pat Metheny, and pan pipes (actually commercial PVC piping cut to Goldsmith’s specifications). The pan pipes for the indigenous peasant uprising were a bit of artistic license in that the instrument is actually native to the South American Andes, not Nicaragua. (When someone pointed this out to Goldsmith years later, he kidded, “Yes, I know that, and where have you been all these years?”)
The Under Fire score is a minor masterpiece, led by the husky Sandinista march blending pan pipes and the eerie tones of Goldsmith’s electronics—the composer’s background in science fiction scores perhaps came in handy for giving an eerie, otherworldly feel to the film’s landscapes of countryside villages turned into bloody warzones. Other themes evoke the love story between Nolte and Cassidy (this melody doubles as the romantic theme for the martyred Sandinista leader—a narrative linking perhaps open to interpretation) and the lonely, odd-man-out Hackman character.
Under Fire was, in a way, the “gateway” score from Goldsmith’s primarily acoustic experimentation of the 1970s to the electronic rhythm sections he explored in the 1980s; never before had he used keyboards as such a driving force for the musical constructions, and in Under Fire the synthesized tones do wonders in presenting the central characters’ emotions in a way both intimate and fresh.
Adding to Under Fire’s prestige is the fact that the album, produced by Goldsmith with longtime recording engineer Bruce Botnick, was specially devised to showcase the score as a musical work unto itself. Goldsmith wrote two standalone selections for the record (tracks 1 and 7) and after completing the recording sessions in London decided to record additional overlays and linking material in Los Angeles. The record came out so well that many of the album mixes were retroactively dubbed into the film itself.
Although the record does leave off some notable cues—such as the brief, low-key main title and the equivalent film version of “Bajo Fuego,” no masters could be located anywhere, not even in archival sound, to expand the album. (We hope collectors don’t “revolt”—ha ha.) This release features the U.S. CD debut of Goldsmith’s outstanding Under Fire soundtrack album so as to put this superlative work back into circulation at an affordable price. (Existing CDs from Warner Bros. Records in Japan and Germany fetch import prices at best.) The two-track 1/2” album masters have been newly mastered for this edition, and definitive liner notes are provided by Jeff Bond and Al Kaplan featuring archival interview comments by Goldsmith, new remarks by engineer Botnick, and a breakdown of all the film cues combined for the album tracks.