Monday, October 12, 2009

More Than Newman

Earlier in the year I watched Marek Kanievska's Less Than Zero. It was an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' book of the same name. Now, I'm not a regular book reader so take this as you may, but Less Than Zero is my favourite book. I like all of Ellis' work, but that is the best and it's my favourite book, period. So watching the film was somewhat strange. It failed, naturally, but one aspect that it captured perfectly was the music.

The soundtrack has been available since the '80s and features an assortment of artists. One of the wonderful things about Ellis' books is his use of music and how his characters - the hip yuppies that are they - are so desperate to be cool that they latch on to anything that is perceived to be "hip" when, in actual fact, they generally are not. In regards to Less Than Zero, sometimes it fails (Poison, Slayer) and other times it works (The Bangles' cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter", Black Flames' cover of "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)" and so on.

However, the film's true highlight was Thomas Newman's original score. Unfortunately, it has never been released and the only copies of it are bootleg. I managed to finally locate one and it's a sublime thing indeed. At times it is as if Newman was actually composing his score for the novel and not the film. The film probably should have been scored like Wang Chung did for To Live and Die in L.A. with a very percussion-heavy score (drums in a musical score = so very 1980s). Instead, for the majority, what it is is a moody, atmospheric and dread-filled piece of music. There's a moment early in the book, not replicated in the film, where the lead character is driving through Los Angeles and he describes the sky is blood red with the palm trees swaying in the breeze. The score captures that eerie feeling, the film does not. But, then again, the film erased a lot of the most powerful moments from the book including the gay aspect of Robert Downey Jr's "Julian" as well as the infamous rape orgy that concludes the book.

In fact, the recurring theme - titled on the bootleg as "I Need $50,000 - is an early variation of the crescendo-heavy scores he would perfect later in his career. Take a listen to "Love Theme" from Newman's Meet Joe Black and you'll find that it is the exact same, but with all the '80s synthesizers taken out. Newman music here though features the common strings and piano that he became known for through scores like The Shawshank Redemption and Road to Perdition.

Less Than Zero remains one of the many early Newman scores that has remained in unreleased pergatory. Take a listen to his also-unreleased score for Men Don't Leave (1990) and you'll find similarities to his American Beauty and Erin Brockovich scores. I'm also keen to notice that this very style of score is still being used today by the likes of Angelo Badalamenti, whose work on Mulholland Drive is very similar.

Below are two pieces from Newman's Less Than Zero score, plus - just for fun - The Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter" that was covered for the film's soundtrack (the video clip even features scenes from the movie).

Meanwhile, Ellis' sequel to Less Than Zero is out next year and it's called Imperial Bedrooms. Can't wait!


FWOG. A blog. By Fi and Wendy. said...

OK, I'm checking in here any time I need to know anything about movies (or Portia de Rossi's home town) – Margaret and David eat your heart out...

FranklinBluth said...

Question: Which is the best Bret Easton Ellis adaptation in your opinion?

Glenn Dunks said...

American Psycho. And while it is problematic, I do think The Rules of Attraction is the most Ellisian adaptation.