Despite winning an Australian Screen Music Award for his Moby Dick soundtrack, it would
not be unfair to say that Christopher Gordon is a relatively unknown composer. It would be
a travesty, however, if things remain that way for long.
If this score had been for a theatrical release it would be my unequivocal Oscar pick.
I’m not exaggerating. No recent offering from Hollywood luminaries Horner, Williams
and Co. matches its scope, detail or sheer emotive impact.
Unlike many film music writers, Gordon conducts, orchestrates and produces his
compositions without assistance – and it shows. There is a structure and intricacy to
the music that is clearly the work of a single, inspired vision.
In following On The Beach’s narrative development, he divides his score into six
sections; each with its own themes, tonal features and emotional flavour. While the first
comprises only one cue (the apocalyptic prelude to the drama), the other five could easily
be developed into full-length soundtracks of their own.
Gordon writes gorgeously melodic motifs, but he never reiterates them carelessly. Where
they pop up in more than one section, they appear subtly as part of an invisible thread
that sews the detailed orchestrations into a seamless whole.
The most striking themes are introduced in A New Day, which provides a gentle, wry
optimism that contrasts with the grimness to come; and Moira And Towers Meet, which
commences the title section that is the score’s romantic heart. A lyrical string
motif segues to a jaunty, folk-influenced romp that is replete with exhilarating,
It is a highlight on a soundtrack of many highlights. There are eloquent solo passages
for violin, viola, cello and horn; a haunting child soprano; militaristic brass and drums;
sparkling harp and piano; a dazzling Broadway-style orchestral-jazz indulgence; and
sombre, elegiac orchestrations – sometimes with chorus – that swell and fade as
the desolation closes in. It is intelligent and beautiful music, echoing every nuance and
paradox of human spirit in the face of oblivion.
The movie closes with an excerpt of moving verse from American poet Walt Whitman.
Considering the rare poetry of the soundtrack, it seems supremely fitting that this was
Publication date: October 26, 2000