Thomas Newman is a composer whose name you may not know, but whose music you undoubtedly will – over the past twenty years, he has been responsible for scoring a number of popular and important movies. He works well in a number of ways – sure, he can knock up a grand orchestral cue, but his knowledge of instruments and his use of minimalism when scoring produces some very individual scores.
In this piece, I highlight some of his most beautiful pieces to listen to, and encourage you to seek out more of his work. Search for the scores to Little Women, How To Make An American Quilt or The Horse Whisperer, to give you a fair start, but not before you listen to these.
Any Other Name (American Beauty)
Perhaps better known as the plastic bag theme, this piece is well-known for having inspired a similar show in thousands of adverts since its release. This is an example of a score that is not a particularly pleasant listening experience in its own right, but it fits so perfectly with the film that it enhances the viewing experience considerably. This piece is the movie’s main theme, making a stronger comeback at the end – it is minimalist and incredibly familiar.
Nemo Egg (Finding Nemo)
The second composer to score a Pixar film (the studio’s first four entries were scored by cousin Randy), Finding Nemo marked Newman’s first animated score too. This score played to Newman’s quirky strengths, an example being the movement of the orchestra matching the nature of fish. The title track is one that catches the score’s thoughtful feeling and the emotion at its heart.
End Titles (The Shawshank Redemption)
As shocking as it may seem, The Shawshank Redemption was poorly received on release – perhaps the spectre of Stephen King’s name being attached to it frightened audiences away? This is a score that balances between restraint, symbolising the Shawshank prison itself, and the melodic hope theme. I’ve chosen the end title music become it is the culmination of the film musically – this is a burst of orchestral satisfaction, and it captures wonderfully the note on which the film ends. (If you fancy a touch of sadness instead, search ‘Brooks Was Here’ from the same film – if you’ve seen it, you know what a tearjerker it is.)
Perdition (Road to Perdition)
The Road to Perdition score was, to paraphrase Newman, designed to accompany the events on screen and illuminate the thinking of the primary characters – seeing as the film is a sombre tale of loss and revenge, the score carries a lot of dramatic weight. I pretty much wrote this piece to share this piece of music, which uses the piano and strings to convey the melancholia of the film.
That Next Place (Meet Joe Black)
Here’s another movie that had a bit of poor reception, but time has not been as kind for Meet Joe Black. It’s three hours long, and deals with a love affair that Death has whilst human – the poor pacing and the lack of character depth did not win viewers round. One aspect that was praised was the score, especially the grand orchestral theme at the movie’s end – this is that theme.
Coffey on the Mile (The Green Mile)
It could be said that director Frank Darabont was trying to recapture lighting in a bottle, such are the similarities between this movie and The Shawshank Redemption. The score is nowhere near as strong as the latter’s, but it works just as well in capturing a sense of setting, and the intimate, personal nature of the events in the film.
The Letter That Never Came (A Series of Unfortunate Events)
Here’s a film I really quite liked as a kid, but have grown to not particular enjoy – maybe that’s a shame, maybe not. The film saw three orphans escape from a number of perilous situations, all whilst being pursued by their murderous uncle Count Olaf. This piece is a touching little piano theme, which helps generate the first ounce of feeling for the children (something the film itself does not always manage to do).