Bright Lights Film Journal

Maurice Jarre, Film Composer (1924-2009)

Everybody knows the music Maurice Jarre wrote for Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago (“Lara’s Theme”). Much less well known are the scores he wrote before Lawrence – including one of Alain Resnais’s first short subjects (Toute la Memoire du Monde, 1956), and the short films and, later, features of French poetic surrealist, Georges Franju.

The best of these is the score Jarre wrote for Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans visage, 1960*), a masterpiece of Cocteau-esque horror/poetry about a scientist and his mistress who murder several young women in order to obtain skin grafts for the scientist’s disfigured daughter (Edith Scob, wearing a mask, above). This is the first and greatest of Jarre’s suspense scores, characterized by a tinkly harpsichord that Jarre later reused in The Night of the Generals (Anatole Litvak 1967) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969). The film is unimaginable without it.

Jarre’s collaborations with Franju – including also Therese Desqueyroux (1962) and Judex (1963) – are at least as significant from an artistic point of view as his long-time creative partnership with David Lean (he scored every one of Lean’s films from Lawrence of Arabia through Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage to India). The IMDB credits Jarre as the composer of more than 160 film scores, including The Longest Day (1962), The Train (John Frankenheimer 1964), The Collector (William Wyler 1965), Is Paris Burning (Rene Clement 1966), Grand Prix (Frankenheimer 1966), Isadora (Karel Reisz 1968), The Damned (Luchino Visconti 1969), The MacKintosh Man (John Huston 1975), Mandingo (Richard Fleischer 1975), The Man Who Would Be King (Huston 1975), The Last Tycoon (Elia Kazan 1976), Witness (Peter Weir 1985), Gorillas in the Mist (Michael Apted 1988), Dead Poets Society (Weir 1989), and Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne 1990).

He was a consummate professional.

* Yes, Billy Idol stole the title.