Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Film Score of the Month - Less Than Zero (1987) by Thomas Newman

JohnnyTwoToes shares his second most favorite Film Score and its good as gold!

This is a bit of an soundtrack oddity. The film score for the late 80's crime drama Less Than Zero is not available for purchase except in an ultra rare cd 'promotional' disc. If you are lucky enough to find one, it will probably be very expensive. So why do I recommend it? It IS available for your listening pleasure on YouTube in its entirety (and on this blog too). Simply type in 'Thomas Newman Less Than Zero Score' and you will see the various listings of the tracks from the 'promotional' score cd. It has been remastered and one track, originally fifty-five seconds long is now expanded to two minutes and fifty-five seconds long. 

At full the score is now a little over forty-eight minutes, including the video suite that is included and is simply one of the best scores I have ever heard. I have made no attempt to conceal my love for Thomas Newman's music for film, especially his earlier works, but his emotionally strained score for this 1987 film based on the Bret Easton Ellis' debut novel, is my second favorite film score, with only Blade Runner narrowly squeaking by. The newer version even has a suite complete with screenshots for the suite from the film. 

If you have not seen Less Than Zero, I strongly suggest you do. It is a tragically sad film about drug addiction but the bonds of friendship that remain. The film was met with mixed reviews, but I have not seen a more anti-drug film in a long time, quite as effective as this one. It is even more so, now, knowing that Robert Downey Jr., who plays Julian, a drug addicted recently graduated high schooler who has run afoul of a local dealer named Rip (James Spader), was himself battling drug addiction all through the making of this film. It was not until early in 2000, Robert FINALLY beat the addiction and his career could not be going better, now. 

Back to the score. It is Christmas and Clay (Andrew McCarthy) has returned home after he receives a cryptic call for help from his former girlfriend, Blair (Jami Gertz). So Clay heads back to LA and see what he can do. To his horror, Blair and Julian are into the drug scene and Julian is in serious trouble. 

The film opens with the 'Early Phone Call' from Blair to Clay as he is freezing his butt off at college back east. Newman's score starts quiet and slow and as the scene progresses, it builds into a solid crescendo of warm synthesized tones and chords with ever so quiet percussion in the back round. A single and lonely guitar strums subtly, although noticeably. The song quickens and the scene unfolds in a series of black and white flashbacks to get us to the present day in LA. It is a mournful piece of music, suggesting a happier time when they were all together before betrayal sent them all on their separate ways. 

'Zuma Beach' and 'Heading To Palm Springs' are two tracks that feature some percussion and some sax as the friends try to remedy their situation as friends, once again. They are good road music pieces. 'Going Through Withdrawal' is my favorite track of the score. This was the track that originally was only about fifty five seconds long but now has been expanded to its entire length, thankfully. With dreamy synth and a piano ( played probably Mr. Newman, himself, as he does on all of his score recordings) building the chords begin to pulsate like a clock with a lonely sax as Blair and Clay try, desperately to get Julian to kick his drug habit. The scene itself is a time lapse scene and the music lets us be a spectator as Julian's body goes through the agony of filtering the toxins out. 

'Quick Escape' is a percussion only track signifying Rip's efforts to keep Julian under his  shoebut Clay, Blair and Julian escape after a short tussle with Rip and his goons. 'Seeing Blair Again', 'Julian On The Stairs', 'Rip's Hotel Suite', 'I Need $50,000' all feature the strained synthesized strings with a beautiful theme, common to all three that never gets tired or old. It is that beautiful. 'Blair and Her Dad', 'Feeling Nostalgic', 'Sex At The Loft', 'The Cemetery' and 'The Loft Has Been Trashed' all stick to the dreamlike state the film's tone takes. 

The final song, 'Julian's Dead' is where Newman cuts loose one last time with the reprise of the opening track, only this time after the first few minutes, a full orchestra sends continues in all of its painfully glorious splendor. The film features an aerial shot over the desert landscape with Newman's sweeping score as the camera settles in on Clay's car and the three after they realize Julian has passed. It is a tragic track but swelling, gorgeous and heart felt. 

There are no bad tracks on this album. Each one tells the story it needs to and for me, this is a personal and intimate score; something that hits me like a freight train. It deeply affects me each time I listen. I think about my own past, my own demons I deal with (as we all do), the bad choices I made, the good and the ugly. There were rumors that circulated as to why this was never "Officially" released. Some for personal reasons of Mr. Newman himself. I respect that. It is awesome that this exists on YouTube, though, now for all to listen. It is a terrific film and a phenomenally tragically sad score that will soften your hearts and take your breath away, like it does for me. Every time. 


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