A Fan Letter to James Horner
Dear James Horner,
There are approximately three things I think about on a daily basis: Harry Potter conspiracies, what shade lipstick to buy next, and the 1997 film Titanic.
Whilst the plum vs blue dilemma and the futile ‘Nagini/London Zoo Boa Constrictor debate’ may have little to do with you, my obsession with James Cameron’s masterpiece, in fact, owes everything to you. Without that score, the world (or, at the very least, my world) would simply not be what it is today.
I first saw Titanic after buying the VHS second-hand for my mum, thinking she would love the present from my primary school’s Christmas Fete. I was a thoughtful child in some ways, but had I known what heartbreak was in store, after taking Jack and Rose to our hearts, I might have thought a little harder.
It took me years to watch the film all the way through. I always got up to the bit where the little girls were put in the lifeboat, with their father saying goodbye – ‘it’s only for a little while…’ – and had to stop. ‘There’ll be another boat for the daddies’ would break anybody’s heart, but especially one that, to this day, cries at the HSBC advert where the old ladies pay for a girl to go to fashion school.
I’ve watched it in full many times since then. When I got to university, one of my new best friend’s favourite films was Titanic and we watched it with a fervour you could only call religious. Rising to our feet for the key change in ‘My Heart Will Go On’ was cemented in our repertoire, just as we always put our arms out and exclaim ‘I’m flying Jack!’ whenever we’re on a boat, or in Madame Tussaud’s, fondling a Kate Winslet waxwork.
To say the film has been a big part of my life is no exaggeration. Having been too young to see the film in the cinema upon its original release, Titanic 3D opened up a new wave of fanaticism. My continuing obsession with your score was fuelled by hours spent listening when I was supposed to be writing my dissertation. Likewise, I would receive texts from friends saying ‘Just listened to ‘Rose’s Theme’ again. I can’t stop crying.’
That’s all because our connection with the film would be very little without your score. Yes, we love the steamy hand moment and Jack’s lion face when he kisses Rose as the ship sinks (‘Jack! This is where we first met!’), but without your haunting melodies (which sounds far too trivial a word for music that moves me to tears so easily), the impact of Titanic, as a film, would not be so long-lasting.
When I saw the score performed live in April, at the Royal Albert Hall, you did a talk beforehand and I had no idea that it would be such a cherished memory in just two months time. You explained the process of scoring Titanic and how you had to make sure the audience felt what Jack was feeling – that he was truly ‘King of the World!’ You said you had to make the audience believe, and hope, that the ship wouldn’t sink, even though, like Victor Garber at the end of the film, we knew it was going to, not only because it’s a ‘mathematical certainty,’ but an historical one as well.
You succeeded. I watch that film time and again, not to break my heart over and over, but because that feeling of elation when the ship sets sail is intoxicating. The passion between Jack and Rose is invigorating and when, finally, when the hour comes for the ship to sink, I know I’m sharing an experience with everyone else in the room, our feelings brought to life by your truly mesmerising score. Hope, grief, anxiety and love were just a few of the emotions you evoked in a score that remains my favourite, perhaps forever and always.
On a lesser scale, I once lip-synced for my life (RuPaul’s Drag Race-style) to ‘My Heart Will Go On’ for a friend’s birthday, knowing not only that is was the only vague talent (I use the word ‘talent’ in its loosest definition) I could offer, but also that it was the best, most rousing song I could possibly perform. Even now, at an age where restraint should probably be ingrained, I still struggle not to get to my feet at the epic key change. Let’s face it, Celine Dion isn’t holding back, and nor will I.
Nor will my friend who finally popped her karaoke virginity aged 22, performing the song proudly and passionately to an audience of exactly one person (me). Your work has been with us during so many key moments in our lives.
I just wish I had written this letter sooner.