In 2010 the movie soundtrack to “True Grit” was disqualified from Oscar consideration due to the fact that its score contained too much “pre-existing” material.
The film, based on Charles Portis’s 1968 novel of the same name, takes place in Arkansas during the late 1800’s. The film score’s composer, Carter Burwell, based much of the music for the film off of 19th century church hymns (thus violating the Oscar’s “pre-existing” material rule). I understand the Academy’s decision, because you don’t want a movie soundtrack to be up for an Oscar if it just takes a bunch of pre-existing songs from other artists (because that isn’t very original), but in this case I really think there should have been an exception.
For starters Carter Burwell arranged and rewrote these hymns for a variety of instruments; he didn’t just have musicians perform the original scores. Second, the score is very true to the period. I am by no means an expert on US history but I’m pretty sure that 19th century church hymns would have been very prominent in Arkansas during the period of time in which “True Grit” takes place. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, this score is just plain beautiful. Just listen to Iris Dement’s rendition of the old church hymn “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.” Listen to that voice! Dement has this haunting, almost otherworldly tone to her vibrato. I can honestly say that I have never heard any singer quite like her. Much like the atmosphere and landscape of the film this music is very raw, stripped down, and eerily beautiful.
So, as an homage to this fantastic film and Carter Burwell’s brilliant soundtrack, I arranged and recorded a solo guitar rendition of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”. Hope you like it!