In 2000 Newman composed Erin Brockovich **, for which Julia Roberts received her Oscar. The OST is available on Sony SK 89239 (23 tracks - 35:10) and offers Newman a chance to experiment with elements of jazz and rock as well as his trademark interval patterns, chromatic oddities and strange tunings. The CD offers Newman fans an opportunity to enjoy substantial amounts of his piano playing. These cues are striking: 1 (“Useless”), 4 (“Classifieds”), 6 (“On the Plume”), 10 (“Two Wrong Feet”), 15 (“Holding Ponds”) and 20 (“Water Board”). Newman also scored Pay It Forward **, the OST for which is Varèse Sarabande CD 302 066 195 2 (27 tracks - 45:44). Previews, terrible reviews and poisonous word-of-mouth resulted in my vow to skip this one forever, although the score is mildly interesting, mostly as a descendant of American Beauty. Here is the tantalizing list of instrumental soloists on the OST: electric autoharp, dutar, guitars, song bells, wave drum, processed loops, tap eko gate 1, freeze 3, prepared guitars, alto flute, spit rhythms, processed glass, slow tube, phonograph, EWI, processed saz, and Newman on “piano, etc.” Listen to tracks 17 (“Pay It Forward”), 21 (“Desert Drive”) and 25 (“Velocity Organ”). Also in 2000, Newman contributed an efficient, guitar-driven main title theme to David E. Kelley’s award-winning TV series Boston Public **.
American Beauty (1999) **** is not only one of the best films of the year, but also likely a classic American tale of turn-of-the-millennium self-absorption. At the time of release, which now seems like 100 years ago, there were reports of stores on the West Coast boasting of excellent sales for the OST, a masterpiece by Newman, and his score became both widely admired and incessantly imitated. The hypnotically repetitive wooden mallets and many other percussive effects, some of which suggest articles found while cleaning under the sink, out in the garage, or down in the basement, help to create a unique sonic world, especially with the occasional yearning string or piano counterpoint or even electronic variations. The OST on DreamWorks 0044-50233-2 (19 tracks - 37:31) is one that happily exists as a piece of contemporary music separate from the success of the movie. Newman received yet another richly deserved Oscar nomination (his fourth) for original score, as well as a Grammy and the BAFTA Award.
The Green Mile (1999) ** 1/2 is the other highlight of a very good year for Newman and is particularly recommended to fans of his felicitous use of pizzicato, notably on tracks 4 (“The Mouse on the Mile”), 14 (“Circus Mouse”), 17 (“Two Run-Throughs”), 23 (“Morphine & Cola”) and 26 (“Done Tom Turkey”). The OST on Warner Bros. 9 47584-2 (37 tracks - 74:37) contains the first mention I recall of “the Fox Newman Scoring Stage,” named of course in honor of Alfred Newman, and the obligatory credits for instrumental soloists, including bowed traveling guitar, Vietnamese banjo, laud, jaw harp, bass marimba, vibraphone, struck metal, tonut, phrase samples, bowed bass dulcimer, violin, alto flute and flute, oboe, bass recorder, drones, saz, and naturally, Newman on “piano, etc.”
Movie music fans are forever debating virtues of a soundtrack separate from the film in which it is a single component. Since this music was never intended to exist separately from the movie, some argue that if you remember the music, buy the soundtrack and actually listen to it, you are wasting your time and money. Nonsense. More than half of my Jerry Goldsmith soundtracks are more interesting than the movies for which they were composed, in many cases the music being the only point of interest. There are numerous Newman soundtracks I have heard but never expected to experience in context. It was a big mistake to check out the DVD of Meet Joe Black (1998) * 1/2 and sit through it for the sole reason that Newman wrote the music. At a pitch meeting, it may have seemed a good idea for handsome blond expensively attired Brad Pitt as Death to fall in impossible love with Claire Forlani, but any first-year film student could have told the producers that Death prefers to play a good game of chess or badminton. There are not enough negative things to say about this awful film, except to add that Newman’s luscious and expansive melodic accompaniment does not help at all. If anything, his professionalism makes the movie even worse. Rarely has an orchestra seemed more wasted. On the Universal OST UD-53229 (20 tracks - 52:01) a few cues fare better: listen to tracks 2 (“Everywhere Freesia”), 5 (“Peanut Butter Man”), 9 (“Fifth Ave”) and 19 (“That Next Place”).
Move on to The Horse Whisperer (1998) ** 1/2 and the OST CD on Hollywood HR-62137-2 (28 tracks - 57:56), especially if you are a fan of films about horses. There is some lovely orchestral and chamber music writing separate from the obvious western provenance, and this may be your last chance to enjoy Robert Redford before he became a local waxwork. The CD insert with names and credits is again a major soundtrack collection consideration. How else can you be sure that instrumentalists are playing guitars, mandolins, phrase loops, prepared guitar, bowed bass dulcimer, violin, percussion, phrase loops, EWI, flutes, cello 1 and 2, oboe, English horn, pedal steel guitar, piano, birdsong and wind, with Newman on piano? As is often the case with Newman OSTs, there are multiple credits for the ubiquitous “etc.” Outstanding cues are #s 19 (“Your Misfortune”), 23 (“Grace”), 27 (“Percheron Stallion”) and 28 (“End Title”).
Coming in the next and final installment of the Thomas Newman Buyer’s Guide: Everything else!