American Beauty

Thomas Newman

" Newman brings an especially positive meaning to the word original. "

Written by Martin Provost - Review of the regular release

Director Sam Mendes' first motion picture draws the viewer into the story of a suburban man who liberates himself from emotional paralysis when he meets his adolescent daughter’s beautiful best friend, Jane. The brilliant script walks the fine line between drama and comedy – Mendes gives us a serious satire that is never ordinary. As Jane says in the film: "There is nothing worse in life than being ordinary".

Jane's reflection could equally well have come from composer Thomas Newman. Over the years, Newman's scores have never succumbed to the ordinary. Even in films like Little Women, Oscar and Lucinda or the more traditional Americana sounding orchestral fare in Meet Joe Black and How to Make an American Quilt, Newman consistently expands the realms of conventionality supported by Thomas Pasatieri's remarkable orchestrations. Newman brings an especially positive meaning to the word original.

The musical palette used in American Beauty is as complex in tones and colors as the characters depicted in the film. As he did in Diane Keaton's Unstrung Heroes, Newman creates a web of miscellaneous percussive elements enriched by an array of varied string instruments (slide guitars, dulcimer, banjo and ukulele to name a few). The marimbas, other mallets and the rhythms intertwine intricately to make the opening and closing cues stand out. A few other pieces, "Lunch with the King", "Bloodless Freak" and "Weirdest Videos" convey a similar tone, but while enjoyable, they don't have the same punch as the first and the last cues. Since its release, the opening and closing cues have been copied or have inspired numerous other composers for film, tv or commercial scores. Though this Thomas Newman trademark sound can be heard everywhere, Newman himself now seems to have moved beyond that particular scoring style.

Exceptional in this score is the playful use of different rhythms, as in the two very short pieces for metallic-sounding percussion, "Root Beer" and "Spartanette". "Choking the Bishop" is yet another energetic short cue for detuned mandolin and other strings plucked rapidly. These percussive-oriented sections are interspersed with a number of subdued cues that reflect the sadness and loneliness that seems to emanate from these characters' lives. "American Beauty", "Structure and Discipline", "Blood Red" and "Any Other name" are quite brooding and ambient, underscored with subdued, elongated notes for violins, accompanied by soft piano. In "Mental Boy", after a few seconds of weird noises, comes a beautifully innocent motif on piano. This same motif is revisited in "Angela Undress", leaving us wishing for more.

In comparison with James Horner, who allows his themes to fully develop and brings them to completion, Newman tends to keep his cues brief (except perhaps for the ten magnificent minutes of "That Next Place" from Meet Joe Black). Since we don't have any big main theme to hook on in American Beauty, the shortness of the cues and the variation in the moods seem less frustrating than in some other Newman efforts.

By juxtaposing distinct instruments, sounds and intricate rhythms, Newman has created a colorful mosaic of varied, fleeting moods. It is a creative and diverse listening experience that stretches the imagination. Newman's "out of the ordinary" track record remains unbroken. This is worth picking up.

Winner of the BAFTA Award for Best film music
Winner of the Grammy Award for best score soundtrack album for a motion picture, television or other visual media.


1. Dead Already (3.18)
2. Arose (1.05)
3. Power of Denial (1.43)
4. Lunch with the King (2.26)
5. Mental Boy (1.43)
6. Mr. Smarty Man (1.10)
7. Root Beer (1.07)
8. American Beauty (3.06)
9. Bloodless Freak (1.38)
10. Choking the Bishop (1.53)
11. Weirdest Home Videos (2.03)
12. Structure & Discipline (3.06)
13. Spartanette (0.59)
14. Angela Undress (1.43)
15. Marine (1.34)
16. Walk Home (1.19)
17. Blood Red (0.38)
18. Any Other Name (4.06)
19. Still Dead (2.46)

Total Length: 37.23
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 25 votes - average 3.86/5)

Released by

DreamWorks 0044-50233-2 (regular release 2000)

Conducted by

Thomas Newman

Orchestrations by

Thomas Pasatieri