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FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE
Lovely early score from Newman is one of his most beautiful
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1991 Universal; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
A truly charming film, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is one of the best chick flicks. Jon Avnet's film, adapted from Fannie Flagg's novel, tells (mostly in flashback) about the lives of two girls and their experiences growing up in a tiny Alabama town. It's not the typical syrupy romantic stuff, with some touching moments dealing with life and death, and some thought-provoking racial material. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy leading the cast in the present-day, and Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker (who was lovely even then) in the past.
For film music fans, this is notable as one of Thomas Newman's earliest assignments, certainly one of the first in which he used an orchestra. From the opening bars of the main title, "Ghost Train", it is obvious that his music was very well-developed even at such an early stage - the gorgeous oboe melody which opens the score could easily be from Little Women or How to Make an American Quilt - but then it's a surprise when the piece develops into a soulful gospel piece, with fine (wordless) vocal performance by Marion Williams. One of the composer's most memorable themes, it is a real treat for all fans of Newman, offering a side to him which hasn't really been heard again (with the arguable exception of parts of The War).
Much of the rest of the score has a real pastoral feel to it, not unlike those other "women's films" I mentioned in the previous paragraph. In "Whither Thou Goest I Will Go", the composer achieves a similar kind of atmosphere to that created by Elmer Bernstein in his classic To Kill a Mockingbird - there's a degree of innocence to the music even when it's underscoring far more serious scenes, with the exception of the dark, brooding "Klansmen". Newman composes this style of soft orchestral music so gloriously, it's a great pity he doesn't do so more often - but in any case, scores like this one are to be treasured. In particular, his writing for winds is beyond reproach. The occasional reprise of the gospel style of the opening cue (most notably in "Night Baseball"), some more comic scoring in a bluegrass style ("The Bee Chamber") and some hymns, arranged by Newman and sung beautifully by Williams, blend in nicely with the score. It's a rather rare album now - though still available from second-hand sellers, including at the Amazon link above at the time of writing: just be careful not to pick up the song album, which includes just two Newman cues; this score album was released a few months later - and one of Newman's finest early albums.