The Good German/Newman

February 3, 2007

 

Thomas Newman is not a newcomer when it comes to attending and receiving Oscar nominations. The Good German is his eighth nomination since 1995. Steven Soderbergh, director of the picture, is also no stranger to the Oscars having won for his film Traffic in 2000. Cate Blanchett and George Clooney, costars, have also won Oscars in supporting roles with Clooney for Syriana, and Blanchett for Aviator. Sounds like a winning combination yet to date the film has yet to even come close to recovery of its 32 million dollar budget. The story involves a murder investigation that involves an American military journalist (Clooney) and his former mistress and driver (Blanchett and Macguire). The setting takes place in Berlin shortly after World War II.

The film has been discussed as a return to the ‘noir’, the score a return to the golden age style of music, complete with black and white and even fixed camera lenses. What I found was an attempt without really succeeding. The black and white just didn’t have the look of an old noir film like Out of the Past from Tourneur or a noir score like Raskin’s Laura. This is not a bad score at all, its just not the noir flavor of Webb, Deutsch, or Rozsa. It leans heavily toward the classical side of the spectrum where you can hear strains of Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius. But on closer examination there are the sounds of Newman in tracks such as “A Good Dose”, “Kraut Brain Trust”, or “The Good German”. Overall I have to say that this score is a radical departure from what you have been accustomed to hearing from Thomas in the past. The opening track, “Unrecht Oder Recht” (Main Title), does come close to a more traditional golden age sound but there was still something lacking in the orchestration and arranging of it. A track such as “A Nazi and a Jew” is too modern sounding with its chordal harmony and unusual effects at the end of the track. One of the more difficult challenges I have found with listening to Thomas Newman are the excessive amounts of tracks. This soundtrack logs in with 29 of them in 45 minutes of playing time. In fact there are only 6 that are over 2 minutes so it is difficult to get yourself settled into something because its going to change before you know it. The last three tracks “Always Something Worse”, “Godless People”, and “Jedem Das Seine” total nearly 8 minutes and offer somewhat of a summing up of the score with “Always Something Worse” restating the main theme and ending it with a crescendo, “Godless People” is the end title, and “Jedem Das Seine” is a somber conclusion with a gypsy like violin and oboe restating the “Good German” theme.

The overall sound of this score is rather dark and very very somber with little use of any major keys. There are no loud percussive chords, synthesized tracks, nothing to make you want to turn the volume down. Yes, “The Brandenburg Gate” is a bit on the noisy side but it certainly is well within the bounds of normal listening. If you enjoy Thomas Newman this soundtrack will be an interesting style change. Perhaps if an analog recording had been done, old fashion tri-x film had been used, and the name of the film had been changed it would have been more of a success. The film didn’t have that sharp biting contrast and while the golden age style was attempted it failed.

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