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Newman’s triple threat scores big for composer

Vet calls '98 his best creative year

“Creatively, it’s been the best year I’ve ever had,” says Randy Newman. “And at the age of 55, I’m pretty happy about that.”

A perennial Oscar favorite — he’s been nominated nine times, though he’s never won — Newman is a likely comic score nominee again this year for his delightful music for Disney/Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life,” and a potential nominee in the dramatic score category for “Pleasantville.”

His two candidates in the best song category are somewhat longer shots: “That’ll Do,” which he wrote for Peter Gabriel to sing in “Babe: Pig in the City,” and “The Time of Your Life,” which Newman sings over the end credits of “A Bug’s Life.”

In addition to the scores for two hit movies, 1998 was capped by Rhino’s release of a four-disc career retrospective, “Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman,” and the completion of his first non-movie album since his 1995 musical “Faust” — or, going back even farther, “Land of Dreams” a decade ago. DreamWorks Records will release the new record, “Bad Love,” in the spring.

Newman doesn’t think the public notices his movie work despite composing orchestral scores for “The Natural,” “Parenthood,” “Avalon,” and “Toy Story”. “The songs are probably the most distinctive thing I do,” he says. “Whether they’re good or bad, whether you like them or you don’t, they’re at least different enough to be uniquely mine.”

So why does he keep doing movie scores? The answer is simple: “I like to write for orchestra. I go flitting around from one to the other. And I ought to continue to do both, probably.”

In “Pleasantville,” Newman provides the emotional underpinning for the film, from his re-creation of a ’50s family sitcom theme to his Americana underscore. “When color enters the scene, things begin to fall apart and people start to feel some passion, the music has to reflect it. So I did,” he says.

Scoring “A Bug’s Life” was much tougher. “That was the most difficult job I’ve had. I had done it before, to some extent (on “Toy Story”). But this was more like an action thing. It was constant movement, they’re going at 150 miles an hour, so I had to go fast. It was a lot of notes. And there’s an epic scale to it, even though it’s an animated picture.”

Newman is proud of this past year’s movie output. “Some of the stuff would stand as 20th-century music,” he says. “Like Bartok on a bad day.”

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