John Morris, not to be confused with the other John Morris who scored Peyton Reed's teen comedy Bring it On in 2000, has to be one of the most undervalued American composers ever. The entire film industry stood up and took note back in 1980, when Morris released his poignant score for David Lynch's film The Elephant Man, earning universal respect due to its moving string sections and confident orchestration. This would be the composer's ultimate breakthrough before sinking back into a sea of mundane projects. This state of affairs would prove an obstacle to Morris' artistry. In spite of everything, John Morris has managed to fashion some tremendous music throughout his career, on a level that Hollywood could not possibly comprehend.
John Morris was born in October 1926 in Elizabeth, New Jersey (U.S.A). The composer's early career was made easier thanks to the surfacing of Mel Brooks, a clown-come-director with the most delightful personality, an eccentric Jewish comedian with an instantly identifiable sense of humour. Morris' first three compositions comprise a Ron Winston picture in 1970 ("The Gamblers") and two Mel Brooks spoof movies in 1968 and 1970 once again ("The Producers" and "The Twelve Chairs"). While John Morris would profit from his long-term collaboration with Mel Brooks, scoring another 7 movies together, it could be argued that the comicalness of these movies overtakes the musical backdrop, despite the fact that these elements are perfectly combined.
"Blazing Saddles", Mel Brooks' third film, hit the screens in 1974, and marked John Morris' return to orchestration from a few years pause. By that time, Mel Brooks' cinematic concept was somewhat of a love-hate relationship with critics; on the other hand, John Morris was getting more and more successful in capturing his audience's interest. As a matter of fact, the uplifting tones and familiar climate of Morris' score for Blazing Saddles won the hearts of the audience and the critics. Most importantly the title song (a joint effort with Mel Brooks supplying the words) was recognised with a nomination at the Academy Awards in 1975 for "Best Original Song". The score for Blazing Saddles wasn't John Morris' only fruitful work from 1974, as he also composed the soundtrack to another Mel Brooks comedy the very same year "Young Frankenstein". Although the film is typical of Brooks' sense of humour, Morris' music is a fine piece of dramatic scoring; the ambiguity here being that the American film industry did not seem to notice the score at all. The music for "Young Frankenstein" contains the most gorgeous violin sections ever, providing emotion for Brooks' film that would be non-existent otherwise.
At the end of the seventies, nearing the awkward consumer-boom era of the 80s, Morris was drafted into both the commercial TV arena as well as some rather pointless productions. This period would however bring along some fairly interesting projects like "World War II, when Lions Roared" in 1994, as well as a 1996 documentary called "With God on our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America". In such productions, John Morris' music was rather traditional but never less satisfactory. During the course of his commercial years, he continued scoring films for his friend Mel Brooks, as well as "Ironweed" by Hector Babenco in 1987, and most notably Michael Toshiyuki Uno's 1988 movie "The Wash".
The composer's most intense and inspired soundtrack came around in 1980: the score to David Lynch's Elephant Man. John Morris arranged his beautiful strings sections in such a perceptive manner that it has an immediate impact on the film's audience. With a clear understanding of the cinematic material he was dealing with, Morris set out to make film score history.
The soundtracks listed below are all available on CD, and we also recommend you look out for "Silent Movie". Our review of The Elephant Man has more detail about this particular soundtrack, and also check our review of "The Producers" Stage Musical (subsequently made into a film musical) for which Mel Brooks has sole credit for composing the music.
Here are som CD covers signed by John Morris. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click any thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.