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American Beauty
Composed, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:
Thomas Newman

Co-Produced by:
Bill Bernstein

Orchestrated by:
Thomas Pasatieri

Dreamworks Records

Release Date:
January 11th, 2000

Also See:
The Green Mile
Shawshank Redemption
Meet Joe Black
Fried Green Tomatoes

Audio Clips:
1. Dead Already (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (244K)
Real Audio (158K)

8. American Beauty (0:33):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (262K)
Real Audio (163K)

11. Weirdest Home Videos (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

14. Angela Undress (0:31):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Winner of a BAFTA Award and a Grammy Award. Nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

American Beauty

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Sales Rank: 22369

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Buy it... if you have an open mind to eclectic and eccentric film scores with catchy rhythms and a variety of bizarre instrumentation for a seemingly incongruous concept on screen.

Avoid it... if you assume that the score will be as attractive on album as it certainly is in the film.

American Beauty: (Thomas Newman) So few character films about American suburbia have succeeded with the vibrant, care-free, cynical humor of Sam Mendes' American Beauty that critics and audiences launched it to Oscar gold. Superb acting performances and a script worth dying for brought to life six extremely well-rounded characters that each represents a facet of the society on which American Beauty comments. Explorations of identity rarely stir up religious conservatives with the effectiveness of this film, and for its smart and deprived sense of humor alone, the production deserves significant respect. Composer Thomas Newman provided a score for American Beauty that would become an icon in the music industry, despite failing to win the Golden Globe or Academy Award for which it was nominated. Much fun has been poked at Newman, in fact, for his outward disgust and associated facial contortions at the moment of this Oscar loss (as seen on the split-screen format of the televised event), one of no less than eight times he has lost without winning a statue (as of 2008). Still, the funky rhythms and instrumentation of his music for American Beauty have inspired an entire generation of television commercials with a similar sound, many of which related to the automotive industry, oddly enough. There are, from time to time, film scores that are an absolutely perfect match for the content of their overarching production, but which, for whatever reason, largely fail when heard on album. American Beauty is perhaps one of the most vivid examples of such a score. Its unconventional style, often summarized by the words "eclectic" and "eccentric," is extremely well suited for the disposition of each character in the film. It would seem, on the surface, that a movie about the everyday characters of American suburbia would merit a score closer to Elmer Bernstein's The Deep End of the Ocean, a heartfelt expression of disillusion and loss. But the tone of American Beauty demanded something different, something as distinctively defiant as its main character. Newman's score embodies that sound so well that the music is an absolutely necessary souvenir for fans of the film.

For the average film score collector, however, there will be some head-scratching involved. No matter how brilliant its individuality, American Beauty is a score that simply doesn't translate to album unless you have a keen appreciation (or at least a clear memory of) the film's story. Alone, it risks becoming a dull and unremarkable listening experience outside of the catchy marimba and xylophone rhythm (heard in the opening and closing tracks) that remains so famous. To understand the score's unique appeal, all you have to do is recall Newman's ability to conjure affable, almost-jaunty rhythms and populate them with a variety of bizarre instruments. There are a few cues with hints of a traditional orchestra (mainly in the form of strings and flute), but for the most part, American Beauty is defined by the marimba, xylophone, tablas, bird calls, dulcimer, banjo, ukulele, detuned mandolin, phonograph, steel guitar, ewi, and, of course, Newman's own piano performances. The tone of these instruments is often harmonic and surprisingly relaxing, and the overdubbing of these elements is often very well handled. The score has the characteristics of new age world music, which effectively conveys the alienation that suburbia inflicts upon the film's characters. With the touch of each instrumental deviation carrying the score, it's easy to get the feeling that the music requires several listens at a high volume to fully appreciate. Many won't make it throughout the first, however. That's because the score has no outward expression of theme to tie its parts together. There is no American Beauty theme, which makes sense in the context of the film. But Newman's clunky rhythmic scores live or die on how well the instrumentation and pacing can function as the necessary glue. In some cases, as in the composer's small-scale character dramas of the early 2000's, the lack of identity is a killer. In other cases, from American Beauty all the way to the appropriately mechanical WALL·E, the lovability of the style alone carries the experience.

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The shifting marimba and xylophone rhythm in the opening and closing moments of the score doesn't really have a distinct thematic construct, but Newman does provide one on piano for the young love affair between the characters of Jane and Ricky. Even here, the cues "Mental Boy," "Structure & Discipline," "Any Other Name," and "American Beauty" are minimal in stature and could easily pass by a casual listener without notice. As such, the marimba and xylophone rhythm really does steal the show. Luckily, it makes a few other appearances in slightly different form on album, including "Lunch w/ the King." Like many of Newman's similarly rendered scores, there are individual tracks that stand out. None is more intriguingly awful than "Choking the Bishop," which treats the ungodly topic to a chaotic, detuned mandolin performance (is it out of bounds, at this juncture, to speculate about whether a person could actually masturbate, or, for that matter, fornicate to this music?). The "Root Beer" cue merges an obnoxious tubular bell effect with sound effects that imitate a cordless drill and bird calls... a truly sick representation of suburban life. All of the fantasy scenes involving Kevin Spacey's character are, in fact, accompanied by frenzied metallic percussion and tubular effects that are difficult to tolerate on album. In the end, this album will not be appealing to the Newman fans who define their love affair with his music by pointing to Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and Little Women. This isn't even a crossover effort to the degree of Fried Green Tomatoes. The contemplative moments of American Beauty may have shades of The Green Mile and Meet Joe Black, but they are not developed enough to matter. On album, the score-only product with 37 minutes of Newman's material makes you nostalgic for the hype over the quality of the film, but it's not readily listenable. This is one of the rare occasions when a score collector might be better off purchasing the popular song album for American Beauty and hearing seven of the very best minutes of Newman's score along with a more enjoyable collection of songs. You have to admire Newman for this score, and one could sympathize with his Oscar disappointment, but let's face it: scores as eclectic and eccentric as this on album could lead to madness. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for Film: ****
    Music as Heard on Album: **
    Overall: ***

Bias Check:For Thomas Newman reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.17 (in 29 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.11 (in 54,274 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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 Track Listings: Total Time: 37:29

• 1. Dead Already (3:18)
• 2. Arose (1:05)
• 3. Power of Denial (1:43)
• 4. Lunch w/the King (2:26)
• 5. Mental Boy (1:43)
• 6. Mr. Smarty Man (1:10)
• 7. Root Beer (1:07)
• 8. American Beauty (3:06)
• 9. Bloodless Freak (1:38)
• 10. Choking the Bishop (1:53)
• 11. Weirdest Home Videos (2:03)
• 12. Structure & Discipline (3:06)
• 13. Spartanette (0:59)
• 14. Angela Undress (1:43)
• 15. Walk Home (1:34)
• 16. Blood Red (1:20)
• 17. Any Other Name (0:37)
• 18. Still Dead (4:06)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes extensive credits, but no extra information about the film or score. Individual performances are listed below:

    Michael Fisher: tablas, kim-kim drums, bird calls
    George Doering: mandola, appalachian dulcimer, lap steel guitar
    Rick Cox: banjo ukulele, bass tin whistle
    Steve Kujala: flute
    George Budd: processed bass flute, phonograph
    Chas Smith: pedal steel guitar
    Steve Tavaglione: flute, ewi
    Bruce Dukov: arpeggiated violin
    Bill Bernstein: detuned mandolin
    Thomas Newman: saz, piano

  All artwork and sound clips from American Beauty are Copyright © 2000, Dreamworks Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 1/26/00 and last updated 6/22/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2000-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.