by David A. Koran
Okay, I figure this one of those pieces, when you hear it, you find it trite and annoying, or fall madly in love with it... I happen to be one of the latter. As you listen to this disc (our copy is on CD), without having seen the movie, you hear the opening cue and feel like you're entering the grandeur of Washington, D.C.. Both the "Main Titles" and the "End Titles" reprise themes that are heard throughout the score, preempting many of the emotional and comedic moments that, through the talents of director Ivan Reitman and actors Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Frank Langella, make the film a true comedy for the 1990's. Composer James Newton Howard even takes the comedy to the score in the "You're On" cue where the stand-in for the President of the United States, Dave (both played by Kevin Kline), is ushered into the public eye while the President partakes in an extra-marital affair. As Kline plays a visual joke on screen, JNH's score remains "in-step" with the joke, enhancing the humor and playfulness of scene.
As I mentioned earlier, we open with the "Main Titles" cue, a playful little melody that keeps speed and focus with the camera pan during the titles to where it opens to a crescendo on the panoramic view of Washington D.C. The cue becomes more stately as it focuses on the White House, a sense of impending action and interaction. This is an extremely well orchestrated piece (thanks to JNH, Brad Dechter, and Chris Boardman) sparingly using various sections of the orchestra when needed, not over emphasizing the strings and using the woodwinds solidly to add to idea of singularity. The use of the single woodwind of the clarinet as "Dave's" instrument highlights it's symbolism as an ordinary piece trying to fit in with the unknown, much like the character does while filling in for the President. The use of the clarinet in this manner is furthered in it's use in "The Picnic", the second cue on the disc. JNH reprises the main melody throughout this piece, playfully making whimsical entrances and exits. The third cue, I believe, is out of sequence, since its title "To The White House" appears when word about the untimely accident that befell the real President reaches Dave's motorcade and he is whisked away to the White House to assume the President's role. And the grandeur motif of the Washington panorama (as heard in the opening titles) returns for a subtle entrance. Nearing the end of the piece is a solo piano, playing, what I believe to be the First Lady's theme, expressing Dave's first encounter with her (played by Sigourney Weaver).
The fourth cue, as mentioned above, entitled "You're On", highlights the majesty of the American Presidency as Dave takes his new role as stand-in. Dave's solo woodwind is re-introduced but quickly muted by a barrage of brass and orchestra as Dave is overwhelmed by the public spectacle (see the film) and "ham's it up" with ad-libbed verse that is set to counterpoint the rising melody as he's silenced by being abruptly pushed into a waiting limousine. Once again, out of sequence is cue five, entitled "Are You Threatening Me?" which doesn't fit with the melodies inherent within, the solo piano expressed as the First Lady's theme in "To The White House". However, near the end, the majestic march that you would expect for a Washington-type confrontation rears a noble but ominous scheming undertone (parallel to Frank Langella's character). The fifth cue, "She Hates Me" returns the flighty melody from the opening titles re-arranged with Dave's theme as Kevin Kline's character goes through a montage of media cuts (T.V. programs, newspapers) of him trying to do presidential things to impress or try to swing the First Lady's opinion of him (since at this time she still has no idea it's the stand-in and not the real president doing all the kind gestures). Near the end of the cue is the rising piece, slightly re-tuned from "You're On" that is reprised in the "End Titles".
Cue seven, "The Teaching Montage" is a re-iteration of Dave's theme as the President (stand-in) visits a school with the First Lady and the entourage. This piece segues into a piece that follows shortly thereafter in the film called "Do You Like Magic?" where Dave finds a lonely child and tries to cheer him up with a magic trick. Once again the solo woodwind of the clarinet signifies Dave's role within this touching scene and the First lady's observation of the event and her internalized reaction ("Is this guy really the president? [The guy she married.]) and end with a re-interaction of Dave's theme highlighted with a string and brass accompaniment ending abruptly on the crescendo. "Dave Passes Out", cue number nine, is a relatively odd in it's beginning, somber but then taking on a minor treatment of the White House theme, thus ending quietly and abruptly. "The Tunnel" finds itself at an interesting point to underscore the film where Dave (Kline) takes the First Lady (Weaver) out a secret tunnel that supposedly Eisenhower built to sneak away from the formalness of the White House and the presidency. This point in the film is where Kline and Weaver connect after she finds out that "Dave" is the stand-in and not her husband, and proceed with a heart-to-heart as what to do about both of their situations. The theme with in this part of film should have the next cue entitled "The Picnic" or "The Outing" but is titled "How'd You Get Started?" from a question Weaver asks Kline during their heart-to heart talk outside the confines of the White House. Once again, it remains quite somber, and rises with the brass as each of them talk about Washington, D.C. and their lives, taking a right turn with a march reminiscent of "You're On" that ends the cue. Just before finalizing the film and the soundtrack with the reprise of major themes in "End Titles", JNH brings us into the moment when Dave leaves his role as the president to return to his regular life, feeling bothsad at the loss of new friends (Ving Rhames, and Sigourney Weaver) but happy that he did the right thing (that "thing" requires some plot spoiling so it won't be revealed).
Most of these pieces remained constrained instrumentally, but mainly due to the size of the recording orchestra (probably numbering no more than 100 or so players), but able to produce a wide selection of melodies. There are several well defined themes throughout the cues, tying them directly to the on screen visuals in a convincing manner. For basic enjoyment, this piece is something somewhat ordinary, but it finds it's way into your selection of great themes for these types of movies. It's getting to be a hard score to find (I picked up an extra copy due to wear and tear on the original, but haven't seen it replaced or around locally for quite some time). Enjoy!