Home > Reviews > AMERICAN HISTORY X – Anne Dudley


October 30, 1998 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Tony Kaye, the director of American History X, was so incensed when New Line Pictures re-edited his film against his wishes, he threatened to remove his name from the final cut and replace it with Humpty Dumpty. He believed that the core of the film, its very essence, had been stripped away by the barbarous production company, and that the finished product was now only half the movie it used to be. Having seen New Line’s end result, I can only wonder just what Kaye’s original cut was like, because as it stands American History X is still one of the most emotionally shattering, intellectually stimulating, totally amazing movies I have seen in years.

Basically, the film tells of the story of two brothers, the eldest of which – Derek (Oscar nominee Edward Norton) – is a devout member of a neo-Nazi group in Venice Beach, California. However, Derek is no “regular” skinhead. He backs up his tirades of racial hatred with alarmingly plausible census statistics and financial projections. He is charming, charismatic, literate, well-educated and passionate. He has a swastika tattooed over his heart, and his younger brother – Danny (Edward Furlong) – idolises him. After Derek is imprisoned for killing three black youths who were stealing his car, he becomes a modern day martyr to the cause in Danny’s eyes, and is elevated to near- sainthood by the mindless thugs who subscribe to his prejudiced propaganda. But while in prison, Derek slowly begins to see the error of his ways, and vows to prevent Danny from making the same mistakes as he did.

As well as Edward Norton’s breathtaking performance of restraint and savagery in the lead role, young Edward Furlong’s supporting performance is mesmerisingly eloquent, while Beverly D’Angelo’s turn as the brothers’ mother is amazing, as we watch her will literally crack and break before our eyes. Filmed in a combination of surrealistic monochrome and vibrant colour, American History X is a complete triumph of storytelling, a film which makes an indelible mark as you are watching it, and leaves you reeling as the curtain closes. The other important element in the film is Anne Dudley’s massive, haunting score. I would urge anyone who, like me, questioned her talents after she won the Oscar for The Full Monty to take a listen to this and be amazed.

Tony Kaye’s brief to Dudley was “make it big and elegiac”, and that is exactly what she has done. With a huge Stravinsky-style string section and a soul-stirring boy’s choir (included to represent the story as seen through Danny’s eyes) prevalent in virtually every cue, this score is one to savour. This is not to say that this purely is a beauty score, though. On the contrary, much of the score has a heightened sense of foreboding and tragedy bubbling just underneath the surface of the beautiful music. You can sense the inner turmoil in early cues such as ‘American History X’, ‘The Assignment’ and the utterly tragic ‘A Stranger at My Table’ which, superficially, are slow and graceful, and have a kind of Gothic stateliness to them. However, the unsettling timpani rolls and discordant brass phrases hint at the terrible anger and frustration felt by the characters until it finally, furiously, erupts into orchestral frenzy during tracks such as ‘If I Had Testified’, ‘Raiders’ and ‘The Right Questions’.

One other cue, the phenomenal ‘Playing To Win’, which underscores much more than just a basketball game, is thrusting and powerful, driven by a dominant percussion rhythm and bold, sweeping strokes that seem to pulsate like a heartbeat, once again disproving the common fallacy that women can’t write good action music. As the score advances into its final moments, and Derek finally begins to undergo his redemption and re-integration into society, the music becomes a sorrowful yet beautiful lament, gradually building in intensity until it eventually reaches an emotionally overpowering, operatic conclusion in ‘Benedictus’, where full might of the orchestra finally comes into play, accompanied by the angelic boy’s choir singing in Latin.

For those of you who have not yet seen the film, I won’t give away the ending, but you can rest assured that Dudley’s music, when combined with Kaye’s heart-rending finale, leaves you in tears. Looking back on the early cinema releases of 1999, the score for American History X is right up there with Meet Joe Black, and Message In A Bottle as one of my favourites of the first quarter year (it was released in the UK in March). Anne Dudley, who until this release looked destined to be remembered as the woman who cheated Danny Elfman out of his Oscar, has redeemed herself totally in my eyes. American History X is a mature, confident, affecting work which accompanies one of the best debut motion pictures for a long time, and should be enjoyed, appreciated and acclaimed. I know the opportunity has now passed, but this one SHOULD have been up for an Oscar…

Buy the American History X soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • American History X (4:46)
  • The Assignment (2:36)
  • Venice Beach (1:28)
  • Playing To Win (3:49)
  • People Look At Me And See My Brother (1:41)
  • If I Had Testified (4:05)
  • A Stranger at My Table (3:31)
  • Putting Up a Flag (2:06)
  • Raiders (3:02)
  • Complications (1:38)
  • Starting To Remind Me of You (1:43)
  • The Right Questions (3:24)
  • The Path to Redemption (2:56)
  • We Are Not Enemies (2:05)
  • Two Brothers (2:31)
  • Storm Clouds Gathering (2:04)
  • Benedictus (3:35)

Running Time: 48 minutes 19 seconds

Angel 7243-5-56781-2-6 (1998)

Music composed and conducted by Anne Dudley. Orchestrations by Anne Dudley. Recorded and mixed by Paul Hulme and Roger Dudley. Album produced by Anne Dudley.

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