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Nancy Wilson: A Marriage of Music and Film

By Anthony Kuzminski

On Tuesday morning January 31st, when the Oscar nominations are announced, I’ll be hoping, praying and looking for composer Nancy Wilson’s name to be announced for her husband’s (Cameron Crowe) film, “Elizabethtown”. I can not think of a single film this past year where the musical score had such a vital and important role to the film; one that was as imperative as either of the lead characters (played by Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst). It’s unlikely for the Academy to nominate a non-orchestral score, but I can guarantee you that when those five nominees are announced, none of them will hold the emotional weight of Nancy Wilson’s “Elizabethtown” score. The twenty-one tracks on the recently released CD are more than interludes to a bigger canvas, but undersized and intensely emotional songs that ring true whether you’re in a theater, at home or simply alone listening to them on your Ipod.

A few weeks ago, I was doing some writing and had VH1 Classic on in the background when Heart’s “Never” came on the small screen from their self-titled smash from 1985. All I could think about is what a long way she has come since her MTV video days. When Cameron made his directorial debut in 1989 with “…Say Anything”, Nancy contributed to the soundtrack and since then has proceeded to provide music to each of his films going forward. With each film, the canvas she has painted and composed on has grown wider culminating just this past October with “Elizabethtown”. Surprisingly, “Elizabethtown” featured more music than any of Crowe’s other films, so much so that a fourth CD of music from the film will be released in early February 2006.

“Elizabethtown” uses music as a way to augment the story and the characters within it. From Tom Petty’s “It’ll All Work Out” to Ryan Adam’s “Come Pick Me Up” to Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” to My Morning Jacket’s “Where To Begin”, the film is covered head to toe with remarkable music. However, some of the film’s sweetest moments needed a softer touch. These more intimate scenes have been scored by Nancy Wilson. Best known for the sister duo Heart, Nancy has turned into an accomplished film composer over the last fifteen years. Surprisingly, “Elizabethtown” marks the first time that her scores have been released in full on CD (by Sony Records). Let’s only hope this is the beginning to seeing Nancy’s other complete scores be commercially available on CD. If you feel you have enough of Nancy’s music from the first “Elizabethtown” soundtrack, you are mistaken as the score soundtrack is equally essential.

It’s one thing to evoke emotion through lyrics, but Wilson accomplishes something greater here through not only her marriage to Crowe but the marriage of cinema and score, where she was able to evoke emotions deep from within. Most music today’s hits us in the heart through the lyrics which we can relate to, however, I have found whether Nancy’s score is enhanced by performances of celluloid or whether they come up randomly on your Ipod shuffle you will find yourself in a trance. “River Road”, “Fiasco”, “Family Table” and “60B” are as powerful as any score James Horner or John Williams would compose for a sweeping fantasy flick or period epic. With each string strummed on her acoustic guitar, Nancy Wilson pulls on our hearts and those of the characters her husband has created as well.

I love big epic orchestral scores that add an emotional core to films, but Nancy’s score is something truly special. When listening to the cd, there are no words and no images, it is just her acoustic guitar swinging around your feelings, heart and mind. Wilson’s compelling score takes more than just her husband’s characters on a journey, but us as well.

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