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netribution > features > reviews > soundtracks > american beauty

by laurence boyce | June 22nd, 2001

The Soundtrack to American Beauty

If you've listened to Radio 1 lately you may have caught Jakkata's catchy pop tune "American Dream". Using Thomas Newman's main theme from American Beauty, it not only shows how to successfully integrate a soundtrack into a song (note to Robbie Williams: you ever head towards John Barry's back catalogue again and you will get a slap) but also how versatile and interesting the original score actually is.

The already mentioned opening track and main theme ("Dead Already") sets the tone for much of the score: a bouncy, Latin rhythm set to exotic instruments. This kind of arrangement serves the film well: despite its dark undercurrents, American Beauty is ultimately a reaffirmation of life and the music continually hints at this uplifting notion. Similarly, the instruments (including Kim-kim Drums,mandola and even the Appalachian Dulcimer) help convey this sense of life beyond suburbia.

Many of the tunes have an innocent quality to them. Tracks such as "Arose" and "Angela Undress" are simply rendered and sound if they could emanate from a music box. It is to Newman's credit that these tracks avoid obvious sentimentality and are instead imbued with a pathos that some composers have difficulty creating.

Having said this, the score still has necessary touches of melancholia. The wonderfully titled "Choking the Bishop" is full of discordant rhythms that throw the listener off balance whilst tacks such as "Mental Boy" and "Structure and Discipline" are low key, piano based tracks with a decidedly sombre tone.

Newman has created a great score, which takes in many levels of mood yet -one of the greatest challenges for a film composer- sounds quite unique. The soundtrack, as released in the UK, continued only two pieces of Newman's score the rest being (admittedly well chosen) pop songs. I would urge you to seek out a copy of the full score. Newman is a composer of great talent (he has also done sterling work on the "Shawshank Redemption" score) and the "American Beauty" soundtrack is an integral and excellent part of one of the best films of the past few years.

Dreamworks Records

CD Number: 0044-50233-2

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The Hidden Fortress
Mulholland Drive
Back Against the Wall
The Bank
Dark Blue World
Beginners Luck
Gosford Park
The Pledge
The Center of the World
The Man Who Wasn't There
Baby Blues
The Score
The Circle
The Navigators
Mike Bassett:England Manager
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The Man Who Cried
Crime and Punishment in Suburbia

The Way of The Gun

Green Desert

Three Below Zero

Requiem For A Dream

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One Day In September
There's Only One Jimmy Grimble
Miss Julie

Purely Belter
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Dancer In The Dark

Angels of the Universe

The Exhibited

Billy Elliot

The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (2nd Edition)
The Filmmakers Handbook
Imagining Reality - the Faber Book of Documentary
Before You Shoot

American Beauty


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