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Soundtrack review: Newtown (Various artists – 2017)

Documentary

Soundtrack review: Newtown (Various artists – 2017)

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Filmed over the course of nearly three years, the filmmakers use unique access and never before heard testimonies to tell a story of the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history on December 14, 2012. Newtown documents a traumatized community fractured by grief and driven toward a sense of purpose. Joining the ranks of a growing club to which no one wants to belong, a cast of characters interconnect to weave an intimate story of community resilience. A team of composers including Fil Eisler, Mark Barden, Jeff Beal, George Clinton, Chris Drake, Deborah Lurie & Robert Duncan, Dino Meneghin, Blake Neely, Mark Renk, Mikael Sandgren, and Rob Simonsen contributed to this score. I’ve rarely reviewed a compilation like this. I remember the incident vividly as from the many mass shooting incidents in America in the past few years this one touched me the most because the tragedy involved so many kids. I remember I stood shocked for hours, unable to move, watching the developments in disbelief.

The score opens with a few cues by Fil Eisler who contributed the most; “Parade”, the opening cue, is a dark combination of a wailing string motif over a menacing and unforgiving undertone. It’s not an emotional parade, it’s a serious and shocked sound. The composer tones it down with “Boxes / Skydive 1”, a mellow guitar based cue that is dreamy and whimsical in parts when the violins and chimes join in and I don’t know what it is about this particular cue but it almost makes me tear up as I think about dreams that will never come true and smiles that will never shine again. The music is minimalistic but warm and innocent and it’s even harder to listen to when I think of the context. “The world needs to know” shows once again a different side of Fil Eisler than the one I last heard in “CHiPs”; I like the poignant minimalistic ambience he creates, dark and meaningful music that leaves a mark.

I recognise Jeff Beal’s cue “Accidental lobbyists 1” instantly since his sound has become very familiar to me. Deborah Lurie and Robert Duncan contribute with “Meditation” in which a female voice softly vocalises and elegy. Even if so many composers wrote music for this album there is something in the tone of the music that ties them together; none of the cues are too heavy or too dramatic. They are all emotional, poignant and heart breaking without being exaggerated; the minimalistic tone of “Newtown” works very well and makes its point without getting loud. The music is respectful and mostly quiet and I get goosebumps at the sombre gospel mail choir from “We’re all victimised”; those voices and the soft guitar undertone is all this cue needs to get to me. “I have memories” is the most emotional cue from Fil Eisler while Dino Meneghin’s “Newtown variation 2” is the most nervous and shivering cue. Another surprise was Blake Neely’s cello theme “Desolation”, quiet and restrained and my favourite cue from the score.

“Newtown” is a score that above all gives me the sense of a shock that hasn’t gone away, of people moving slowly, of pieces being picked up. Even if the tone is mostly dark and sad, each composer brought his own soft brush and minimalistic craft to create a warm and melodic texture through which a ray of hope tries to shine in George Clinton’s “Moving on”. It’s a collection of beautiful melodies but I don’t know if I am strong enough to watch the documentary.

Cue rating:  92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 25 / 36

Album excellence: 69%

Highlights:
Boxes / Skydive 1 (Fil Eisler)
The World Needs to Know (Fil Eisler)
He Needed Me in a Different Way (Chris Drake)
Meditation (Deborah Lurie & Robert Duncan)
Nicole Writes Hugo / We’re All Victimized (Mark Renk & Fil Eisler)
I Have Memories (Fil Eisler)
Mudfest (Rob Simonsen & Fil Eisler)
Moving On (George Clinton & Fil Eisler)
Desolation (Blake Neely)
Skydive 2 (Fil Eisler)

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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