The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Justin Hurwitz: 5 Film Scores That Inspire My Own Music
Justin Hurwitz
Justin Hurwitz
Composer

Justin Hurwitz is synonymous with jazz. While studying music composition and orchestration at Harvard, he met the director Damien Chazelle, and has since gone on to compose scores for the jazz-centric films Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash, and La La Land. The latter, an homage to Hollywood musicals, won Hurwitz the Oscar for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (for "City of Stars").

(Of their collaborations thus far, the exception is the moon landing biopic, First Man, for which Hurwitz composed a retro electronic soundtrack.)

For their fifth film together, Babylon, an epic set in the early days of Hollywood, Hurwitz wanted to defy expectations of what 1920s jazz should sound like. "It's such a familiar sound, and it's such a quaint sound," he says. "If you look at what was being played underground or what was being played at parties and clubs, music was a lot more interesting and a lot more wild than the stuff that ended up being committed to wax or whatever they recorded on back in those days."

Hurwitz's score — perhaps his most ambitious yet — manages to be faithful to the time period yet completely modern, taking inspiration from EDM and rock and roll. "Given that Damien wrote the wildest movie ever," he says, "we wanted to really err on the side of wildness."

Below, the composer shares five films with soundtracks that continue to inspire his own music, including the score that most influenced his Oscar-winning work on La La Land.

MORE: Inside 'Babylon' Composer Justin Hurwitz's 'Avant Garde' Take on the Age of Jazz (Exclusive)

1
The Wizard of Oz
1939
The Wizard of Oz
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Directed by: Victor Fleming | Music by: Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg

​​We had it on VHS, and I just remember watching it over and over and over again. I'm sure it’s the first musical — or substantial musical — that I ever watched, and probably also gave me my love of musicals and made me appreciate how happy and funny and joyful and sad songs can be in a movie. I mean, there's nothing more beautiful than “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

2
Cinema Paradiso
1988
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Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore | Music by: Ennio Morricone

Cinema Paradiso gave me an appreciation for how much a score can tug at your heartstrings.

3
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
1982
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
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Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Music by: John Williams

John Williams writes the most evocative and unforgettable themes. And they just never leave you. It doesn't matter how many years or decades later, the themes bring back the entire experience of the movie.

4
Jurassic Park
1993
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Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Music by: John Williams

From the opening horn line into the gorgeous main theme, John Williams' music creates a world that you never forget. So many of his scores do that, but those two I single out — E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park — because I remember them being important movies from my childhood.

5
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
1964
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Directed by: Jacques Demy | Music by: Michel Legrand

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a movie that Damien introduced me to in college, and it opened my eyes to jazzy film scores and the concoction that Michel Legrand did so well, which is a jazz rhythm section fused with a lush orchestra. Anybody who's seen that movie and seen La La Land knows that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was a gigantic inspiration for La La Land.

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