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BOND: Live & Let Write (Music) - Thomas Newman

Chris Morley goes Oscar hunting with Thomas Newman.

Time now to hand in our badges & standard issue revolvers for the final time as we reach the end credits of our look at those who've stepped up to write music for Bond - the last on our list being Thomas Newman, who has worked on the two most recent entries in the series; Skyfall and Spectre.

Coming from something of a musical dynasty, it might not be such a surprise to learn that Newman's initial interest was in musicals rather than film score composition. Indeed, an early mentor during his studies at Yale was Stephen Sondheim, the man behind A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber Of Fleet Street among others.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts & Masters in Music, family friend John Williams invited Tom to do a little light orchestration on Return Of The Jedi, having himself worked with Newman's father Alfred & uncle Lionel. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the young Newman came from sound musical stock which gave John the confidence to let him loose on Darth Vader's death sequence no less...

A meeting with producer Scott Rudin got him a first full score for 1984's Reckless, which he called a tough job. Evidently a successful first go, though, as the remainder of the Eighties would find him working on the likes of Revenge Of The Nerds, Desperately Seeking Susan & The Lost Boys.

The Nineties got him his first Oscar nominations for the scores to The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women & Unsung Heroes. He did at least pick up both a Grammy & a BAFTA, though still no Oscar, for his first collaboration with Sam Mendes on American Beauty in 1999.

It was Mendes who suggested focusing on mood & rhythm, Newman doing so mainly through relying on percussion. By his own admission he "favoured pulse, rhythm, and colour over melody" and got to work creating those with piano, bongos, tabla, cymbals, marimba & xylophones. His real goal was to preserve what he saw as the "moral ambiguity"of the film, finding that "It was a real delicate balancing act in terms of what music worked to preserve [that]."

In something of a departure from his usual sort of project he would follow his cousin Randy, who'd enjoyed great success with the Toy Story series among others for Pixar, and work with Andrew Stanton on music for Finding Nemo in 2003. In an interesting bit of trivia it was the first such film Randy hadn't worked on but still the Newmans managed to keep it in the family.

Three years later, Newman was up for an Oscar yet again for The Good German, but yet again lost. Being a good sport, he responded to a joke at his expense by correcting its inaccuracy in telling director Errol Morris that he hadn't actually been nominated & lost eight times but "No, I've failed seven but this will be my eighth" was indeed the case as he lost yet again.

Teaming up once more with Andrew Stanton on Wall-E so nearly offered him the chance to put that particular unwanted statistic to bed, nominated for Best Original Score & Song for Down To Earth, a co-write with Peter Gabriel. The pair lost but Thomas did at least get to share a Grammy with the former Genesis frontman.

It wasn't until 2012 that Thomas Newman got his teeth into 007, working on Skyfall after finishing up with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which featured Judi Dench, having a bit of a breather from playing M, among its cast). Of being selected as the newest man to step up & score a Bond film, Newman said
"I very shyly gave [Mendes] a call or emailed him and said, just so you know, I’d be overjoyed to do it, but would never want to be presumptuous. He emailed me back, saying I was just about to call you, let’s meet for lunch!"
Just three years down the line Newman did something he'd never previously done in his career twice over - return to score the sequel to a film he'd also written the original music for. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel found he & Dame Judi returning to India, before returning to British soil for Spectre, his final score of 2015.

The score for Spectre would at least give Newman a chance to revisit a few familiar instruments, as an interview with Score It magazine revealed,
“Taking over the James Bond score with Skyfall was “difficult and daunting”, in Newman’s own words. All the more that he was succeeding the fan-beloved and John Barry-approved David Arnold who’d been in charge since The World Is Not Enough.

When you have to tackle the very distinctive theme of such an iconic franchise, it is both a blessing and a curse in Newman’s opinion. A blessing because you have an easy bait to catch the audience and drag them into the story, and a curse because you wonder which new elements you could add to it.

The composer humbly admits that the challenge dwells in “breathing life into the score while remembering it had a life before you.”

The composer pays tribute to Barry by using harps and highlighting the suaveness and sexiness of the spy, and at the same time, the score is completely imprinted with his usual quirkiness and idiosyncrasies, especially regarding the instrumentation.

Known for his use of uncommon instruments or sounds such as the zither, Aboriginal chants or the chirping of cicadas, he incorporates in the Spectre score a choir, the Mexican percussion ensemble Tambuco, synthesizers and drum machines.”
Newman was evidently in the sort of mood for going back, as he would start 2016's to do list with the music for Finding Dory. He'd have to wait a year to work with Dame Judi once more on Victoria & Abdul as she went from playing spymaster to Queen of England!

Then came 1917, his final pairing to date with Mendes. And along with it came another Oscar nomination, his fifteenth by now, and, once again, Newman missed out on the award!

Both Sam Mendes and Thomas Newman have stepped aside from the James Bond franchise for Cary Joji Fukunaga & Hans Zimmer to take over as director & composer respectively, with Billie Eilish supplying the all-important theme tune, as Daniel Craig prepares for one last outing as Ian Fleming's gentleman spy.

And so ends our look back through the careers of the composers of the James Bond films, with one last footnote to come in the form of a rejected theme for a recent outing of 007s, one from a well respected British band who were passed over in favour of Sam Smith. The final writing's on the wall next time, then...


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