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"American Beauty" And Its Music

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While it has been some time since I have seen the movie "American Beauty", as I remember it, Kevin Spacey portrays Lester as the films main character, a middle aged man experiencing a mid-life crisis. After being fired from his job, Lester decides to return to his high school career as a burger flipper, smoke marijuana, lift weights in the garage, and try to impress his daughter's high school friend. During this series of events, the other characters in the film go through crises of their own, until the film comes to a close and Lester is killed.

Upon listening to the music that accompanied the movie, it became quiet clear to me the significance it held to the film. It served not only to set the various moods in the story, but also to evoke a wide gamut of feelings in the films audience. It portrayed the emotions of the characters in the film with musical harmony and dissonance, and further acted as a unifying element between events and lives in the film. The movie had a score written for it by Thomas Newman, as well as a sound track composed of various artists. The combination of these two varying music styles diversified the films ability to impact its audience, and project a message.

The film begins in the same manner that it ends, with a monologue by Lester. In this initial speech by Lester we are informed of the normality and comical misery of his current existence. Lester's sarcastic and indifferent tone is complimented by the beginning of the movie's score composed by Thomas Newman. This jovial and almost tribal sounding portion of the score echoes Lester's tone with a sort of irony that seems to enhance the sadly humorous nature of his life. At the close of this monologue Lester describes himself as feeling "sedated", and again the deeply resonating sounds of this initial piece in the score complimented by a synthesized piano, drums, and various strings, confirms the oddity and numbness of his sensation.

The next time we are confronted with a portion of the score from the movie, it alludes to very different emotion. Lester is talking to his daughter and realizing the fact that they are no longer close. This portion of the score is far more sonorous then the previous. Its slow underlying tones are long, mysterious, and sad. They are accompanied by a simple piano that tells a similar pensive and cheerless story. During portions of the movie similar to this one, the music is left to play alone for sometime. It is perhaps accompanied only by the sounds of crickets in the distance, or domestic noises of a house in the evening. Allowing the score to speak principally for the emotions of the characters is perhaps the most powerfully unifying element in the movie. As the audience hears this music and feels its slow sorrow, they seem to remember it themselves, and when it is resurrected later in the movie so are the emotions connected to it.

It must be mentioned however, that the score composed by Thomas Newman does not only portray feelings of deep thought and melancholy, but serves also to evoke feelings of excitement and even eroticism. This becomes evident when Lester is watching his daughter's friend at a cheerleading exhibition. The scene is consumed by the quick paced and almost erratic cymbal, uneasy drum tape, and variety of jungle like noises. This is highly effective, especially in contrast to the previously mentioned part of the score. This ecstatic music prevents the viewer from entering an introspective and thoughtful state, while the portion mentioned earlier does just that.

The second time we hear the saddening portion of the score, we are introduced to Lester's new next door neighbor Ricky, and his family. Immediately the same feelings of pensive sorrow are evoked, and Lester's situation is brought to mind. This is a very strong case as to how the score serves to unify not only the movie as a whole, but the plight of a certain character with that of another. Ricky's abusive family life and unfulfilled existence are not so different from Lester's, and the music that underlies both lives puts the viewer lost in thought; lost only in the melodic music to convey this weighty emotion.

As was noted in the introduction, aside from Thomas Newman's score, the film has a sound track of its own compiled of many bands and many sounds. Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watch Tower" blares loud in Lester's garage when he first begins lifting weights and smoking dope. This music choice seems very appropriate, as the audience can relate this classic rock to Lester's mid-life crisis and his attempts to relive his youth. The era from which this song was produced also speaks of a time in which this sort of drug use



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