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Newman: ‘Help,’ ‘Iron Lady’ exhibit contrasting styles

Eye on the Oscars: The Music - Thomas Newman

Composer Thomas Newman, who rarely does more than one or two movies a year, did four in 2011 (and a fifth to be released next year), including two of the year’s more talked-about films: “The Help,” for which he provided a warm and gentle score; and “The Iron Lady,” which called for a bigger, bolder orchestral effort.

“The Help,” a box office hit about the uneasy relationships between white and black women in the civil rights-era South, required especially subtle music: “I wanted the music to be part of the storytelling to underline character and compel the story. I wanted to stay away from civil-rights (issues),” he says.

The locale, Mississippi in the 1960s, held a special resonance for the composer. His mother was born in Clarksdale, Miss., and he often spent time there as a boy. “It was in the Mississippi Delta, about an hour south of Memphis,” he says. “Just the feeling of Mississippi, the perfume of it, was something I could really relate to.”

The 10-time Oscar nominee visited the location (Greenwood, standing in for Jackson, Miss.) during shooting, “absorbing the flavor, just the feeling of a night or the humidity of a day,” he says. The colors of the score — which included acoustic guitar, dulcimer and glass harmonica — contributed to the atmosphere of the film.

Singer Mary J. Blige visited the scoring stage while Newman was recording orchestral passages; she incorporated Newman’s music in her song, “The Living Proof,” which runs under the end titles.

While Newman was in London finishing the score for next year’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” he got a call to screen the Margaret Thatcher biopic “The Iron Lady” and meet with director Phyllida Lloyd; he spent the next two months penning music to accompany Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent.

This score, Newman says, is “very thematic, much more expressionistic (than ‘The Help’). There were some moments of almost British military-band (music), some Elgarian influences, some huge orchestral and choral moments.” The London ensemble included 87 musicians and 28 in the choir.

Newman also wrote two action-movie scores for movies released in 2011: “The Adjustment Bureau” and “The Debt,” both hybrid electronic-plus-orchestra scores with, he says, “some pretty cool grooves.”

EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE MUSIC
Lyrics bring pix to life | Stars tune up plots | John goes Gaga over inanimate romance
SCORE CARD
From rising stars to Oscar winners, seven composers talk about the method to their musicality:
Henry Jackman | Alberto Iglesias | Dario Marianelli | Michael Giacchino | Abel Korzeniowski | Conrad Pope | Thomas Newman

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