Somewhere In My Memory by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Home Alone…Song #25/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Last night, my lovely wife announced that she was tired of her work-related stress and that to combat it, she was going to give herself a strong dose of Hallmark Christmas movies medicine. So, about two-thirds of the way through the evening, she disappeared downstairs to our den in the basement and began to take her tonic. A while later, as we lay in bed, I turned to her and asked what movie she had watched. After thinking for a while, she admitted that she couldn’t actually remember the title, because, “They’re really all the same”. Well, today’s post concerns a movie that is definitely not like the others. Today, we put our hands to our faces, let our eyes grow wide as we realize the focus of today’s post is none other than that holiday classic, Home Alone.

Home Alone was released in 1990. It starred a young actor named Macaulay Culkin, who was only ten years old at the time. Culkin’s shocked facial expression at the realization that his family had left for vacation without him has gone on to become one of the most iconic Christmas entertainment images of the last thirty years. Home Alone has grossed almost half a billion dollars in sales since its release, making it the second biggest-selling Holiday movie of all time (just slightly behind Jim Carrey’s rendition of How The Grinch Stole Christmas). In addition to the movie being a box office hit, both Macaulay Culkin and composer John Williams ended up with Academy Award nominations…Culkin for Best Actor and Williams for Best Original Song for Somewhere In My Memory. It is funny how, at times, the inspiration for the most successful movies can originate from the simplest of moments. In the case of Home Alone, the idea for it came from Director Christopher Columbus, who, when packing for a trip with his own family, offhandedly remarked to his wife that they had better remember to pack the kids as well as whatever else they were packing. Apparently, as soon as Columbus had uttered those words, his mind started thinking about the possibilities of what might happen if they had actually forgotten one of their children and had left them behind. By the time the plane that Christopher Columbus was on had landed, he had a complete eight-page outline of the entire movie. Over the course of the next few weeks, he fleshed the story out and was shopping it to movie studios a short while later. Warner Brothers signed on right away, and the process of creating a professional script and hiring the cast took place not long afterwards.

The story of how the movie was made is filled with tidbits of entertainment trivia. For instance, if you have seen the movie, then you know that once Macaulay Culkin’s character, Kevin, realizes that he is home alone and has time to process that information, his mood changes, and he begins to think about all of the things he wants to do that normally he is not allowed to. One such indulgence is being able to eat all of the snacks he wants while watching a violent gangster movie on TV. The movie he starts watching is called Angels With Filthy Mouths. This black and white “movie” was inspired by a real movie called Angels With Dirty Faces starring the great James Cagney. However, the movie that Kevin watches was actually made specifically for the movie by Director Columbus. It is entirely fake. As authentic as the look and the sound of it are, this movie-within-a-movie was shot with different actors while the main movie was being shot with the real cast. It is this kind of attention to detail that helps elevate Home Alone from being “just another kids’ movie” to being recognized as the classic it has become.

Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern…the not-too-clever criminal masterminds from Home Alone.

According to Columbus, there were a variety of logistical hurdles that he had to overcome during the shooting of the film. For starters, Macaulay Culkin was only ten years old when this movie was made. Because of rules enacted to protect child actors, Culkin’s work day could only be so many hours long each day and could never go past ten o’clock at night. Thus, all night time scenes had to be shot within a very small window of time each day. Furthermore, because he could only shoot for so many hours per day, you will notice that there are many scenes in the movie in which Culkin, as lead character, does not appear at all. His absence was due to time limitation rules in place for him, which forced Columbus to fill in the downtime with tightly planned scheduling that made the best use of the other adult actors’ time. When you watch the movie with this information in mind, it is amazing how rarely Macaulay Culkin actually appears on screen with other adults. Think of all of the dramatic scenes in which the burglars are attempting to enter the house where Kevin lives…there are many back-and-forth action scenes, but almost never is MacAulay Culkin in the same room at the same time as Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, the thieves. All of those action sequences were shot separately: one set of scenes for Pesci and Stern and a completely different one for Culkin. The magic lay with the edits.

Composer John Williams holding one of his five Academy Awards out of the 52 he has been nominated for, including for Home Alone and, specifically, “Somewhere In My Memory”.

In real life, I always maintain that Christmas time isn’t about the presents but is, instead, about family and love. When Christopher Columbus set about finding the right person to create the musical score for his movie, he consulted with fellow director, Steven Spielberg. Having worked a lot with John Williams, Spielberg was quick to nominate his friend for the job. It was a fortuitous choice because Williams instinctively knew from the script that as much as this was an action-comedy movie, it was really a movie about the importance of family. Kevin’s family spends most of the film desperately trying to get back home to find him. Kevin spends most of the movie…while avoiding the bad guys…wishing his family was there with him so he wouldn’t have to deal with so many issues on his own. The emotions that freely flow when the family is finally reunited at the end somehow feel genuine, despite the slapstick nature of the film to that point. John Williams captured that feeling of the importance of being together with one’s family at Christmas time perfectly with a short piece of original music that plays over the opening credits called “Somewhere In My Memory”. The song is a combination of orchestral playing and choral singing. The lyrics are short but poignant and spell out the movie’s theme in a few short lines:

Candles in the window

Shadows painting the ceiling

Gazing at the fire glow

Feeling that gingerbread feeling.

Precious moments, special people

Happy faces, I can see.

Somewhere in my memory

Christmas joys all around me

Living in my memory

All of the music, all of the magic

All of the family, home, here with me.

As mentioned earlier, John Williams received an Academy Award nomination for this song, to go along with his 52(!) other Oscar nominations for his music, making him the second most nominated individual in Academy history after the great man, himself, Walt Disney.

As I write these words to you, I am alone in the house on an overcast day. I am sitting in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights. There are presents starting to appear under the tree. Everywhere I look around me, I see ornaments and decorations that remind me of the people who gifted them to me and my family. But, most of all, I feel the presence of my family with me in this room. I have always believed that this time of year is for creating a sense of warmth and of magic for the ones you love. So, I have done what I can to create an environment that is welcoming for all who enter, but mostly, I have tried to make a world for the ones I love, so that they feel safe and protected and, most of all, loved to bits. I will know if I have succeeded by the memories that my girls take with them to adulthood. Once they have their own homes and families, I hope that they will look back upon their childhoods and remember, with warm affection, how Christmas felt in our home. Christmas is a feeling, as much as it is an event. And that feeling is about family and love.

The link to the video for the song “Somewhere In My Memory” by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Home Alone can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the movie trailer for Home Alone can be found here.

The link to the official website for Macaulay Culkin can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Opening Theme: Schindler’s List by John Williams…Song #21/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The country of Israel is known as the homeland of those with Jewish ancestry. The creation of Israel was one of the political consequences of World War II. After suffering through the Holocaust, it was determined, going forward, that all people of Jewish ancestry needed a safe haven to return to in times of trouble. As many Jewish people experienced during the War, being Jewish in a foreign land was often a precarious position to be in. As many Jewish citizens attempted to flee in the face of German policies that placed their very lives at risk, there were many countries that refused them entry for political and religious reasons. Thus, when WWII ended, those Jewish people who had survived banded together and swore to never again be cast adrift on the world’s stage. So, the country of Israel was created to be the Jewish Homeland for ever more. ***Of course, politics and history being what they are, how the State of Israel came to be is not as black & white as I am making it out to be. Its creation is multi-hued, to say the least. But, for the sake of contextualizing today’s musical selection, the essential facts are important to know so I have presented them as such.

The Holocaust, or “Final Solution”, was a formal policy devised and implemented by members of the Nazi Party of Germany during the 1930s and into the 40s. The aim of the Holocaust was to remove all people of Jewish ancestry from Europe. The policy was carried out with tremendous efficiency. Starting in Germany, itself, and then spreading out to all countries that were conquered by the German Armed Forces during the War, the Holocaust was a cold, highly-organized administrative effort that saw laws enacted that limited the rights of Jewish people to work, attend school and to own property. They were even required to be seen in public wearing identifying yellow stars. As the lives of Jewish citizens were increasingly restricted, they were soon rounded up by military officers/police and placed in certain small, confined areas where they could be monitored. Their former homes, businesses and possessions were looted and then sold to others who were officially approved by the German government. Those Jewish citizens who were forced into these confined areas were then shipped by trains to work camps erected by the Germans. In some cases, these camps were used strictly for extermination purposes. In other cases, the Jewish people who ended up there became slave labourers who produced goods needed by the German war machine. By the time WWII ended, it was revealed that over six million people of Jewish ancestry had been killed in the Holocaust. As the scale of the atrocity was first being reported, many found the news difficult to believe. How could murder occur on such a vast scale, seemingly under the watchful eyes of the world?! Well, since that time, the stories of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust have been told in the hope that by doing so, we may be better able to prevent such cruelty from manifesting itself again. In the words of the survivors, the world must never forget.

Oskar Schindler.

Amid the great cruelty, there were moments of great courage and sacrifice. One such story that seemed to stand out from the horror was the case of German industrialist Oskar Schindler. The short strokes of his story are that after the German Blitzkrieg had rolled through Poland and the “Final Solution” had begun to be implemented as official policy there, many German profiteers appeared on the scene to scoop up the spoils of war for themselves at a reduced price. One of those profiteers was a small-time industrialist known as Oskar Schindler. Schindler was no saint when he first arrived in Poland. In fact, one of the very first things he did upon arrival in Krakow, Poland was to bribe his way into Krakow and commandeer a factory for his own purposes and profit. The factory he appropriated was one that made enamel products. As Schindler moved into the factory, it came to his attention that some of the employees that he was going to need to effectively manage it were, in fact, Jewish. This was particularly true of a man named Stern, who was the bookkeeper. Using money as bribes, Schindler was able to pay off the German officers in charge of Krakow so that they would leave his Jewish employees alone. Just as all of this was happening, the new local German officer in charge of Krakow, Amon Goth, was charged with rounding up all of the Jewish citizens of Krakow and placing them in a holding area that became known as the Krakow Ghetto. From there, these citizens would be shipped to a new work camp that Goth was in charge of building. The purpose of this camp was the killing of Poland’s Jewish people. Needless to say, there was much chaos and cruelty on display during the process of rounding up the Jewish citizens of Krakow, which was a fairly large city to begin with. As panic took hold of Krakow’s Jewish community, many learned of Mr. Schindler and how he had protected his Jewish employees through bribes. Suddenly, those seeking protection began showing up at Schindler’s factory begging to be allowed in. Before too long, the list of those deemed as “essential employees for the war effort” grew and grew. Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper, managed the list. As one can imagine, that list became the difference between living and dying for over one thousand Jewish citizens of Krakow, Poland. No one knows the exact moment that caused Oskar Schindler, Nazi Party member, to change from a war profiteer to a humanitarian and saviour but that transition did happen. It even went so far that when German officer Goth built his new extermination camp, Schindler asked to move his factory nearby so as to have access to “more labour” (when, in fact, he was trying to shield Jewish people right up until the end when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. The Jewish people whose lives were spared because their names appeared on Mr. Schindler’s list became known as the Schindlerjuden or “Schindler’s Jews”.

Director Steven Spielberg.

In 1962, in the spirit of “Never Forget”, one of the Schindlerjuden decided that Oskar Schindler was a hero and that his story needed to be shared with the world. A man named Poldek Pfefferberg made it his mission to get Schindler’s story published. Finally, in 1982, a novel was written by an Australian writer named Thomas Keneally called Schindler’s Ark. It was based upon Pfefferberg’s story of his time with Oskar Schindler. A few years after that, a review of Keneally’s book was given to director Steven Spielberg to read in the hopes of turning it into a movie. At first, Spielberg, who is Jewish, felt overwhelmed by the cultural importance of such a story and was reluctant to touch it. He tried to get several other directors to take the project on (such as Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski), but each declined for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Eventually he agreed to helm the project but only if it could be filmed as more of a documentary than a feature film. The movie was shot on location in Poland and used all German and Polish actors as the extras for the film. Spielberg filmed the movie in black and white to give it a historical feel. Most scenes were filmed with hand-held cameras, too. A then relatively-unknown actor named Liam Neeson was hired to play the role of Oskar Schindler. Ben Kingsley, of Gandhi fame, was hired to play Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper. Ralph Fiennes was cast as the ruthless German officer, Amon Goth. Schindler’s List went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, for Spielberg.

Composer John Williams.

Through it all, Spielberg has stated that the experience of making this movie was like no other, and that he required counseling and much emotional support in order to merely complete his task of finishing the movie. Many of those who worked as extras and as crew members relate similar tales of how devastatingly emotional it was to make this movie. One of the most important people who was asked to become involved in this project was somebody who didn’t appear on screen for a single second…it was Academy Award winning musical composer and film scorer extraordinaire, John Williams. As you may know, Williams shot to fame as the composer of the highly successful Star Wars series of films. When Spielberg first showed Williams the initial scenes that he had shot, Williams turned Spielberg down, saying that this movie required a better composer than he was. To which Spielberg replied that he agreed with Williams but that Mozart and Beethoven were already dead, so Williams was the next best choice he had. For the opening theme, Williams contacted renowned violinist and cellist, Itzhak Perlman. It is Perlman who captured the essence of this story by playing notes that appear as tears. For many, the opening theme is an excruciatingly sad piece of music. It is heartbreak as expressed in notes and chords.

Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews at his grave site in Israel. Schindler is the only member of the Nazi Party to be granted a honorary citizenship by the State of Israel.

One of the things that Steven Spielberg did with Schindler’s List that helped to make it the great film that it is, concerns how he ended it. It is easy to take a story like the Holocaust and to wallow in the tragedy of it all. Make no mistake, the Holocaust was as horrific as a story can be. However, Spielberg knew that the counterbalance of horror and loss is hope. Spielberg knew and author Keneally knew and Schindlerjuden, Pfefferberg knew that unrelenting pain is unbearable, and that to simply pound audiences over the head with gore and pain would cause them to turn away in the end, which is the opposite of the “Never Forget” philosophy. So, at the end of the movie we get to meet those who have survived. We meet the Schindlerjuden. The importance of ending Schindler’s List in this fashion is to show the extent of the good that Oskar Schindler did in protecting as many Jews as he was able to in Krakow. Each one of those people who survived went on to do something with their lives that would not have happened if not for Schindler’s intervention. Some survivors turned out to become doctors and artists and teachers…most became parents of children who would never have been born without the help of Oskar Schindler. The power of helping out in times of trouble is shown in a way that makes a narrator’s voiceover explanation unnecessary. When there is Hope, there is Life. The Schindlerjuden are the proof of that.

In the world in which we all live, each person is worthy of life. This was true back in the 1930s, and yet much of the world turned a blind eye to genocide as it played out in Europe. It remains true in the 2020s. The story of the Holocaust is an important story to keep retelling, not just because of how it affected Jewish people. It is an important reminder that our history is replete with instances of groups of people being targeted for abuse and/or extermination because it suits the political agenda of others to do so. One need look no further than to cases of Pro-Nazism being on the rise around the world, including in my own country of Canada. Anti-semitic attacks are rising in lockstep. The times appear to be approaching a danger point once again. The importance of never forgetting has never been more relevant than it is right now. As much as I admire what Oskar Schindler did for the Jewish people in Krakow, Poland, I would rather that we all live in a world where such valour is not required at all. Instead, let’s strive for a world in which we would live in societies built upon the premise that all lives are worthy, and then live our lives by treating each other accordingly. That is my Hope.

The link to the video for the composition “Opening Theme: Schindler’s List” by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the film Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the stories of those who experienced the Holocaust, can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow, Poland can be found here.

The link to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022