Soundtrack: Scent of a Woman

I want to feature soundtracks that I feel are not only excellent, but also have contributed and influenced the larger body of film scores. I have chosen  Scent of Woman because this was one of Thomas Newman’s biggest films to score. He went on to score The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty and many other big films. His score for American Beauty was picked up all over the place, imitated in ads and other movies. It was one of those scores that had impact in the mainstream outside of the context of the film.

However, if you listen to Scent of a Woman you can hear how Newman’s style has a strong thematic presence and vibrant arrangement. In this soundtrack there is a focus on strings and clarinet, particularly in the Frank Slade theme and the more boistrous tracks, where as American Beauty’s simple, sparse piano arrangement became a popular sound after the release of that film.

The Scent of a Woman has a great woody sound with the bold clarinet providing a warmth and character. A sound not often found in film scores. For obvious reasons (this film was about a retired Lieutenant and a private school boy), it conjures the pride and austerity of military and institution. The strings are used to great effect in both the more reflective moments and also the more strident phrases. This soundtrack sound like autumn and dusty rooms in the soft light of the morning.

I listen to this soundtrack when I am writing, because it offers a great ambiance, that is reflective but not melancholy. The dance pieces La Violetera (Jose Padilla Sanchez, Spanish composer known in Paris for his compositions for the Moulin Rouge and the use of La Violetera in Charlie Chaplin’s City of Lights) and Por Una Cabeza (Carlos Gardel, contributing largely to the music for tangos) are surprising little treasures necessarily included in this soundtrack. They offer a moment of flair and romance in what is otherwise a very western, if not American sounding score.

While the film may not have reached classic status, it was good at the time and won Al Pacino his first and only Oscar (a crying shame). Pacino is obnoxious in the film, as he is supposed to be and it kind of runs along the same lines as Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting…except take Robin Williams out and pop Pacino in instead. The soundtrack seems to have held up better than the film itself in this case. Worth a look.

Scent of a Woman, 1993 released by MCA Records. You can pick it up at Amazon for a few bucks.

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