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SCORE: The Good German (Thomas Newman)

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The Good German

Music by Thomas Newman

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A review of the soundtrack album by Mikko Ojala

 

The Good German by Thomas Newman is a strangely compelling listening experience and a younger composer's journey in the footsteps of his father and the other great masters of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Thomas Newman was to my mind an unlikely candidate to score this Steven Soderbergh's reverent homage to the film noir genre but he pulled it off with convincing panache and skill. Here he seems to channel the past masters in style but still retains his own unmistakable touch sound and orchestration wise, the mixing of these two proving to be an almost hypnotic experience steeped in musical shadows, femme fatales, intrigue and danger around every corner.

 

Newman's own crystal clear and often gossamer thin orchestrations, again courtesy of Thomas Pasatieri his regular orchestrator, are at times bolstered by a heftier string and brass (horn) sound but he conjures up a very passing facsimile of the sound and style of the earlier era, full of gloomy and doom laden musical motifs, a sinuously sensuous love theme for solo violin and a thundering melodramatic main title theme for the horns and pounding timpani, smaller motifs for mystery and intrigue appearing throughout and a simple and an honestly warm Americana theme popping up a couple of times in the midst of all the musical skull duggery, a rare but welcome guest. Newman's favourite woodwinds, cor anglais and oboe make frequent appearances as well always lending subtly tragic and apprehensive air to the melodies they perform, the score having a sort of lingering and yearning feeling throughout under the veneer of mystery.

 

It is noteworthy that while Newman at times lets loose some grand orchestral gestures, the general atmosphere of the score is restrained, the intrigue often scored by rising dark string harmonies and the glittering sharp sounds of a single harp. Personally I think it would be interesting to hear Mr. Newman using a full symphonic ensemble with the entire spectrum of instruments but he still seems to be most comfortable with the reduced forces.

 

Unrecht Oder Recht (Main Title) is a definite highlight, presenting all the above mentioned themes in quick succession, an overture in short, and a good musical road map to the themes of the score. This main theme heard in the Main Title appears throughout in subtle variations, somewhat more frequently than in an average Newman score, as do all the themes, a welcome change from his usually isolated thematic appearances. Tracks like The Kraut Brain Trust and The Brandenburg Gate offer more energetic scoring and variety in the otherwise mystery shrouded musical world.

 

Action pieces on the album are short but furious, horns and strings usually providing the momentum and tension for these brief scuffles, the composer again using his own sensibilities while evoking the film scoring style of the Golden Age. And finally the love theme, which is one of Newman's finer creations is treated to a set of beautiful variations ranging from flute setting to a duet of oboe and violin, the theme having a perfect bittersweet quality of film noir's great love themes for the femme fatales, seductive but with a hint of danger. This idea is also one of the main attractions of the album and tracks like A Good Dose, The Good German, Always Something Worse and the album finale of Jedem Das Seine are among the best on the OST.

 

I feel that the score album is just long enough at 44 minutes as the composer definitely includes all the highlights and more. The soundtrack is also thematically quite subtle and gloomy in general so it can wear you down as many of the tracks have a lingering feel, the music languidly wafting forward, part atmosphere, part thematic storytelling. But for those who love the film noir genre and intelligent and succesful modern application of some of its classic stylistics, this is a lovely musical memento.

 

 

4/5 stars

 

-Mikko Ojala-

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The score is really one of Newman's best in the last decade but I feel the OST suffers a bit from the extended gloom and morose attitude through it its running time to be considered a classic.

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I wouldn't put it as a classic either. I think its a strong 4 star effort. There are times though when the lack of warmth in the score is evident. It can come of as being cold at heart and there's only so much gloominess one can take.

I still stand by the idea that Angels in America is Newman's best work of the last decade, if not his career.

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brilliant review as always, inky! it's definitely a very interesting newman score. I do think it has strong and impressive moments, though overall I'm not a big fan at all, I'm ashamed to say. but I really enjoyed reading your ever so articulate thoughts on it.

would love to see you write a review of angels in america someday.

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