Mr. Cellophane

In a location adjacent to a place in a city of some significance, what comes out of my head is plastered on the walls of this blog.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hello, Newman.

Now, I've been enjoying film music for a long time. One name that stands out in my mind is David Newman. There's something about his music that I just love. While not my favorite composer (Goldsmith tops my list), he is a composer I return to, time and again.

Though the list could change at some point, these are (right now) my ten favorite Newman scores:

Anastasia (1997 - Fox) - Newman's lone Oscar nomination (so far...) was for Don Bluth's fitfully engaging re-telling of the tale of the last surviving Romanoff. Newman didn't get to flex his talent for themes, relying on the pleasant-if-forgettable song score for thematic material, but there are many fine moments, such as the lengthy prologue, the final confrontation with Rasputin and the gorgeous finale.

Disorganized Crime (1989 - Touchstone) - A criminal's pursuit by two cops leaves his disparate cohorts to rob a Montana bank on their own in this undistinguished but enjoyable caper comedy. Lively music, augmented by guitar and harsh harmonica riffs to reflect the scenery. Listen for a neat take on The Magnificent Seven in the end credits.

Jingle All the Way (1996 - Fox) - A fine cast does what it can with the unfunny slapstick and unfelt emotion of this alleged comedy. The Turboman theme is a properly muscular piece and Newman grants the sequences of supposed hilarity with his usual craft.

The Kindred (1987 - F/M, neither) - A group of grad students stumble upon an odd genetic experiment. That the creatures are right in front of them and not CGI'd in later is one of the nicest things to say about this so-so thriller. Newman's music for the various attack scenes is exciting, none more so than "Epilogue".

Malone (1987 - Orion) - Former FBI agent Burt Reynolds wants to leave the life behind, but danger lurks in the small Midwestern town he happens upon. Newman's talent with Americana music (cf. the Brown family theme in Critters) gets a workout with many beautiful passages. The drum machine is something of a distraction, but the main theme and the creepily sincere villain theme make up for it.

Matilda (1996 - Tri-Star) - Well-crafted mix of dark comedy (based on a Roald Dahl book) and family film. Newman's score nicely captures the childlike innocence of the title character and the chaotic world she faces (the music for the chase through Trunchbull's house leaps and bounds with excitment).

The Phantom (1996 - Paramount) - Newman's score for the comic book adventure is highly enjoyable, buoyed by a driving main theme and filled with exciting setpieces.

The Runestone (1990 - Hyperion) - An eclectic cast goes up against an ancient monster in this uneven thriller. A little too electronically oriented at times, but Newman's music (when it needs to be) is powerful stuff. The flute rendition of Sigvaldson's circular motif in "Sigvaldson Offers Assistance" is a particular highlight.

Throw Momma from the Train (1987 - Orion) - Uproarious comic pisstake on Strangers on a Train. The inherent darkness of the story is nicely contrasted with peculiar orchestrations (a sitar here, a slide whistle there) and some moments of quiet beauty (the coin collection scene).

Undercover Blues (1993 - MGM) - Married spies Jeff and Jane Blue can't catch a break from fighting evil, even when they have a little girl to take care of. Newman's score for this not-bad little comedy is a delight, from its whistled main theme to its jazzy New Orleans band work.

This is not to say that his work is without flaws. For one thing, his tendency to utilize 'sexy' music for female characters grates, as if I couldn't tell that Rene Russo (Mr. Destiny), Marley Shelton (The Sandlot or, for all that I think she's 'meh' in the attractiveness department, Julia Roberts (I Love Trouble) are sexy without the music telling me.

Also, Newman's tendency to stick to the temp track can be problematic, like Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and Beethoven making appearances in the opening of The Nutty Professor and especially Dave, Mrs. Doubtfire and Back to School fluttering around Tommy Boy (though given the number of addtional composers listed in the end credits of the film, this was likely a rush job with very little time to second guess).

Still, even lesser Newman scores have their pleasures, like the clever electronic watercooler noise in Nutty Professor 2: the Klumps, alerting us that Buddy Love is bubbling under the surface. Also, for the grousing about Tommy Boy in the last paragraph, there was that hugely amusing Copland-style fanfare following Tommy and Paul's failed cow tipping run.

Likewise, I can't be truly angry with Newman's temp track scoring, mainly when it gives us a riff on his brother Thomas' theme from The Player in Matilda's "Hair Tonic".

Why did I write this...besides this being his birthday? I don't know. I can't help but wonder why Newman doesn't get more assignments...or, at least, assignments of higher quality (some of his most recent projects: an Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel, a Big Momma's House sequel and that Christmas Story sequel that everyone, the other one).

Tell me that the man behind these scores doesn't deserve better:

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