The Ear of the Beholder: The Use of Music in “American Beauty” Music in film is sometimes worked I strictly because

it has to be, It is used because the studio or director is trying to promote the song or the person who sings it; or even because they feel the need to qualify for one more Oscar nomination because it looks good on the poster. Many soundtrack are made up of current pop tunes in order to sell more soundtracks, which also makes more money for the studio. They insert a rando song by Jennifer Lopez that has nothing to do with what is going on in a particular scene to fill an empty space with something that sounds good. It seems like the opposite strategy was used in the scoring of “American Beauty.” The exquisite filming and wonderful writing is perfectly synchronized with the breathtaking musical score which skillfully combines original music written by Thomas Newman with popular music chosen that fits every scene. Screenwriter and co-producer Alan Ball describes Newman’s score as “amused but brooding at the same time.” The tone of each scene is set by the musical theme within it. In many of the fantasy sequences involving Angela, the music takes on a very different mood than the rest of the score. The music in these scenes is very percussive, focusing on cymbals and drums to create a trance-like effect on the audience that mirror’s Angela’s effect on Lester. Only in the bathtub scene does the music differ from the other sequences; it is still sensual and inviting but underneath that the orchestration sounds somewhat sinister. Lester is being drawn into something he should not pursue, and the music shows this. The scoring in the various fantasy shots lacks any real form, the music is discordant and doesn’t follow any standard musical pattern. This represents to the audience that Lester’s desires are taking him toward a dream that cannot exist in the real world. One that, if acted upon, could have some very damaging consequences on both of their lives. On the other side of the scale is the orchestration for the famous (and oft-mocked) bag scene. The music is composed mainly of a very simple piano theme. A set of repeated notes perfectly conveys the simplistic beauty that Ricky sees in everyday life. This same theme is repeated at the very end during Lester’s final monologue when he finally sees that beauty. The skillful orchestration is combined with the equally thoughtful soundtrack choices. Every song used in the film reflects deeply on the character’s motivations. In one of the earliest shots, the camera closes in on a recent picture of the smiling and happy Burnham family. Then the camera pulls back to show them sitting at the dinner table. Lester and Carolyn are at opposite sides of perfectly polished table, with Jane sitting between them. They appear to be the perfect suburban family consuming their evening meal. In the background the song “Bali Hai” is heard playing. The song is from the musical “South Pacific”, where one of the characters sings about an island that the soldiers were forbidden to enter, an unattainable, unseen perfection. The first line we hear is Jane asking if they always had to “listen to this elevator music.” Carolyn replies with “No. We don’t. And when you’ve prepared a nutritious yet savory meal that I’m about to enjoy, you can listen to whatever you’d like.” With this line we see that the music choice is not just a sweet-sounding musical whim but an eerie testament to Carolyn’s need to “project an image of success at all times.”

And the storm breaks because Lester’s brand new 1970 Pontiac Firebird is parked in the drive way.” The song fully expresses her newly found freedom and more powerful outlook on life. we see Lester speeding through town.” a song reminiscent of what he sees as the best time of his life. except this one has a very funny slant to it. but any true filmmaker will realize the effect of a beautiful score and how much a few clear notes on a piano can capture the essence of the entire film. In a parallel driving scene.” Later in the scene when Carolyn has progressed to a total rampage Lester very calmly picks up the plate of asparagus and throws in against the wall. smoking pot in his car while singing along to the Guess Who’s “American Woman. yes I’m unreliable.In another scene we see Carolyn driving home from her recent power trip at the shooting range. he remembers what he used to be like. Music is one of the most important elements in a successful film. In a later dinner scene. She is belting out the final words to the song “Nobody is gonna RAIN ON MYYY PARAAADE!!!” when she pulls into the driveway. Jane and Carolyn stare in shock as Dean sing’s “call me unpredictable. After he comes out of his metaphorical coma upon meeting Angela and Ricky. we hear the usual Musak chosen by Carolyn. It’s easy to trivialize this factor. She is driving crazily through town and singing along to Bobby Darin’s version of “Don’t Rain on My Parade. When Carolyn and Lester are arguing about his decision to ‘lose’ his job. Every beautiful film is made of equally perfect parts. The parade has been rained out. .” It’s almost as if the music was seeing Lester’s side of things. Lester’s music choices always seem to focus around his lost youth. we hear in the background Dean Matin singing “call me irresponsible.