Saturday, January 09, 2016

"American Beauty" And Sappy Movie-TV-Commercial Soundtrack Music

Have you noticed how lame movie soundtracks are? TV soundtracks? Music in TV commercials? It's worse than Muzak now; it's New Age shit. It's either loaded up with synthesized strings or a dull wash of anesthetized, meandering chords. The average idiot Jennifer Lawrence movie, the latest dumbass romance film of any kind, even the dopey Daddy-Is-a-Moron film comedy, will have repetitive meditative noodling going on.

It's bland music for bland scenes like "Dad goes for his morning jog" or "it's 9am and the business office is coming to life" or "Yuppie couple realizes they are attracted to each other while they look at naked statues at the museum." Inane moments of screen time are matched to a few idiot notes repeated on a marimba, or a Casio programmed to "fake violins."

This shit's been adopted for TV commercials, which try and hypnotize you by playing two or three notes over and over while you're told what headache reliever to buy.

I believe the father of this horrible Muzak is Thomas Newman, cousin of Randy. Randy's soundtrack music can be pretty sludgy but Tom's is written to a formula of predictability. It goes on and on; people listen to it the way they chew gum that's lost its flavor. It's just a monotonous, somehow-comforting ritual.

For me, music intended to soothe is enraging and distracting. The first Thomas Newman soundtrack that had me growling with disgust was "American Beauty," a sicko film that promised pedo-Lolita lust. Instead it was just metrosexual wimpiness that ended up with some bizarre message that most fag-haters are actually latent homosexuals…and probably most men who crave young girls would be just as happy with young boys.

The music for this drek-flick was a creepy combo of "perky" marimba percolations and oh-so-pretentious portentious smears of aural goo. The "best" of the soundtrack is below, 12 of its 40-odd minutes. If you can stand it, congrats, the Percodans have rendered you permanently mellow.

Thomas Newman's father was the famous Oscar-winning soundtrack composer Alfred Newman, who died way back in 1970. Alfred, along with Max Steiner, Franz Waxman and Erich Korngold and a few others, specialized in grandiose, symphonic sweepings that bore the general term "semi-classical." Folks that couldn't stand to put on a symphony or even Ravel or Debussy because there were quiet or difficult moments, could get "the best" of symphonic music with this lush, easy-listening stuff.

But by the 60's, Alfred Newman was out of style (and almost dead). There was Henry Mancini. There was Dominic Frontiere, John Williams and Bill Conti, who would give you one bombastic and memorable piece of music for a movie's climax. Maybe if you were lucky, a film like "Theater of Blood" would have a haunting semi-classical opening theme (by Michael J Lewis). The average commercial flick might open with a catchy Burt Bacharach or John Barry song. But by the 80's nobody was buying movie soundtracks because the generic music sucked. It was the duty of small labels like Varese Sarabande to bother with most of this boring crap.

Thomas Newman, who got his first Oscar nomination for "The Shawshank Redemption," quickly joined Danny Elfman in self-parody. Newman would go on to join his cousin Randy in being nominated over and over for predictable background music. In Tommy's case it was for "Road to Perdition," "Finding Nemo" and "Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events" among others. Give him a cloying topic like "The Help" or "The Iron Lady" and he would dutifully create busywork-music for it, helping a lazy director set the "oh, this is a comedy" mood, or help a wooden actress with a "this is supposed to be serious" scene.

You can do some of this yourself, especially for TV commercials. Take two fingers. Place them on a keyboard in a music shop. Toggle those two notes back and forth. That's the soundtrack to a dozen TV commercials for latte, yogurt, gluten-free cheese, tasseled loafers and pubic hair remover.

While "elevator music" has been part of our lives since the 50's, it used to be scorned. Albums of it by Mantovani and his pals were not taken seriously at the Grammy awards. Companies that intentionally reduced the formula to a science, such as Muzak, didn't even bother marketing that stuff to record stores. Now every movie is pluckin' ridiculous, with dumbed down New Age hokey-yoga baby-on-board lullabies and narcotic repetition, far removed from David Rose's notorious "Holiday for Strings" or Strauss's annoying "Pizzicato Polka."

If you have any taste, you probably won't be able to stand more than 2 minutes of the "best" of "American Beauty" below. It's on the blog only as criminal evidence of the state of soundtrack music today. You'll prefer being waterboarded. The "Medication Valse" from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is less numbing and more satisfying as movie soundtrack music. So is Liberace plinking the keyboard and playing "Humoresque." Movie and TV and TV commercial soundtracks aren't funny.


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