He Shoots He Scores #7: American Beauty

This week’s featured film score is Thomas Newman’s quiet, moving, clever score for the great Sam Mendes film American Beauty.

American Beauty is a film about suburban life, and it is painfully, brutally honest. Thomas Newman’s score is quiet and subtle but if you listen perceptively, you’ll hear it in the movie and realize what an important part of setting the mood it is. It is sometimes sad, sometimes haunting, sometimes even comic, but most importantly it’s effective and works well with its corresponding scene in the film, a film I haven’t seen in a while but remember quite clearly.

Newman is one of the best working score composers today. His work on films such as this one, Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, In the Bedroom and WALL-E is moving, spirited, courageous, thoughtful and staggeringly wonderful. His scores are refreshingly subtle, lingering in the background and refusing to become too prominent; they do what scores should. Instead of pumping and blasting, his music respectfully sits and soothes in the corner, adding depth to scenes that might otherwise be considerably lesser in overall effect. American Beauty is my favourite of his scores.

I’ve selected a few pieces from the album below for you to listen to. Let me know what you think of this film’s score or Newman in general.

Posted on July 6, 2012, in He Shoots He Scores, Movies, Music and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I used to be obsessed with Dead Already. Heard it every day for quite a while. Great score. Great film 😀

  2. I’ve always thought American Beauty has a great score and soundtrack. But it isnõt mentioned enough by others. One of my faves,

  3. I agree with you. Thomas Newman manages to grasp the mood of the film and give its atmosphere more layers with his beautiful music. His Revolutionary Road score reminds me of this one and I like them both. Interesting, that those two films are about suburbia.

  4. A bit unrelated but.
    I just watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and thought the score was absolutely brilliant. Have a listen.

  5. I’ve been meaning to rewatch this, but this actually one of the few well respected movies my dad really doesn’t like.

  6. I love this score. I also love his opening theme for Six Feet Under TV series. One of my favourite opening title sequences and a brilliant theme.

  7. Alex Withrow

    By far my favorite Newman score, I love everything about his work here. From the stillness of the American Beauty theme to the playfulness of Choking the Bishop, it’s just bliss. Definitely deserved the Oscar.

    • Choking the Bishop is one of my favourite tracks; it’s quite cheeky and clever. The main theme of the film is beautifully simple too and a great example of Newman’s talent.

  8. Oh that’s a great soundtrack, so memorable too. “Dead Already” is my favorite.

  9. Great post, I had heard this music before but couldn’t figue out which movie it was from. Thanks for reminding me it is such an amazing score.

  10. It’s been mentioned by one of the posters, but the score was not among the 5 Oscars American Beauty was awarded. The man has never won an Academy Award. I also don’t care how well-respected the film is because I tend to eye popular films more suspiciously. But here you have a challenging film that thinks outside the box and that also looks good and that has a very original score.

    Thomas Newman has been blamed for the change in style, which still amuses me whenever I think about it. Often the American Beauty score would be compared to The Shawshank Redemption and that back then were the glorious days of Newman’s orchestral scores. They clearly haven’t listened to The Player.

    Another thing that’s important to know about Thomas Newman’s music is that there are certain players he has worked with throughout his career. So if you listen to Thomas Newman’s scores, a lot of what you hear are George Doering, Michael Fisher, or Rick Cox, who are all accomplished musicians in their own right.

    I’d still say that American Beauty is my favourite Newman score, but I also love so many of his other scores. I liked your assessment of the score; this is how I feel about the score as well. I love the subtlety in this score. Another favourite piece of mine is “Arose”. Its only one minute long, but one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s funny how some people don’t get it because the score is all there is to know. You assess it by itself, not in comparison to score tradition. But well… Another score where you can see that effectiveness with his less is more approach is “Unstrung Heroes”. It’s barely there, but it totally does its job.

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