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UND 53329

Artwork copyright (c) 1998 Universal City Studios Productions, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Heartwarming, romantic portrait of life

I do hope that Martin Brest's career isn't forever blighted by the disaster of Gigli.  Hollywood's short memory will probably dictate that it will be, but to forget his previous movies would be a great loss.  Meet Joe Black, his retelling of Death Takes a Holiday, is far from his best film - overlong and with a curiously detached performance by Brad Pitt - but visually it is absolutely sumptuous, with every shot being perfectly, beautifully framed and lit.  His film before that, Scent of a Woman, was even better.  Disliked in some quarters because it was seen to be overly sentimental, I thought it was excellent, with one of Al Pacino's best performances.  And his film before that, Midnight Run, was even better still, with Robert de Niro and Charles Grodin in hilarious film.  De Niro was so much funnier in comedies when he wasn't in very many of them.

Another thing those three films have in common is great scores.  Danny Elfman's Midnight Run is the funkiest and most straightforwardly-entertaining of his career, and Thomas Newman's Scent of a Woman is intelligent, creative, moving and - unlike a lot of his efforts of the time - consistently listenable from start to finish.  Brest turned to the same composer for Meet Joe Black and he wrote his most popular and, probably, best score.

Never before or since has Newman written a score so dominated by long-line melody.  Apparently he just doesn't like doing it, doesn't get a kick from writing traditional orchestral music, which is a great pity because when he does, there are few -if any - finer in Hollywood.  Admittedly the score doesn't get off to the most promising of starts, with "Yes" being somewhat dour - Brad Pitt is, after all, playing a human incarnation of death.  But in "Everywhere Freesia", the second cue, the score begins to hit its stride already, with trademark Newman off-kilter rhythms being played off to great effect.  "Whisper of a Thrill" is stunning, one of the most impassioned and beautiful he's written; the score's secondary theme is introduced for the first time, a minor-key theme that stresses beauty but with an undercurrent of regret, loss, mistakes - a magnificent achievement.  "Fifth Avenue" marks a change of pace, going off into jazzy territory, but without ever losing Newman's deftness-of-touch.  

There are many highlights, but the most striking thing about the score is the writing for strings.  Never being too "Hollywood", they actually remind me of the restrained writing of Newman's cousin, Randy, in a score like Awakenings or the sumptuous Avalon.  Newman just doesn't write this kind of music often, so it is always an idea to savour the moment when he does.  And trust me, there's enough to savour here.  The whole score is worthwile but the absolute highlight is saved for the end - the ten-minute "That Next Place".  A dizzying, dazzlingly beautiful piece of music, it's difficult to imagine how a film music fan of any persuasion couldn't be thrilled.  

Meet Joe Black plays as some kind of tone poem about life itself, from a highly-romantic point of view.  Dennis Sands's warm recording only makes it seem even better.  Also mixed in are a few jazzy arrangements of old standards, along with a lovely performance combining "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World", sung by the wonderfully-named Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

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  1. Yes (2:05)
  2. Everywhere Freesia (1:45)
  3. Walkaway (1:52)
  4. Meet Joe Black (1:44)
  5. Peanut Butter Man (1:44)
  6. Whisper of a Thrill (5:42)
  7. Cheek to Cheek (1:25)
  8. Cold Lamb Sandwich (1:44)
  9. Fifth Avenue (1:12)
  10. Frequent Thing (:55)
  11. Death and Taxes (1:17)
  12. Served its Purpose (1:24)
  13. Sorry for Nothing (:47)
  14. Mr Bad News (1:36)
  15. Let's Face the Music and Dance (1:23)
  16. Question (1:25)
  17. Someone Else (5:19)
  18. What a Wonderful World (3:28)
  19. That Next Place (10:10)
  20. Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (4:53)