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BOWFINGER – David Newman

bowfingerOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy have spent much of the last five years or so  attempting to recapture their respective glory days, when smash movies such as 48HRS, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, All of Me and Roxanne were the norm. Their first on-screen collaboration, the hit comedy Bowfinger, has helped kick-start both their careers and set them both back on the road to the top of the Hollywood tree. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that their film should be about the people on the flipside of tinsel town, trying to make a buck and get a break in the cutthroat and unforgiving movie business.

Directed by Frank Oz, the film stars Martin as the eponymous Bobby Bowfinger, a down on his luck movie producer with big ideas and a head for business, but without the finances or the breaks he needs. Salvation presents itself in the shape of Jiff (Eddie Murphy), a goofy delivery boy who just happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to action star Kit Ramsey (also Eddie Murphy). With a script written by his accountant and a supporting cast that includes a bright-eyed starlet fresh from the sticks (Heather Graham), a washed up drama queen (Christine Baranski) and a handsome but boneheaded leading man (Kohl Sudduth), Bowfinger shoots the movie “Chubby Rain”, an alien invasion comedy which will star Ramsey – without him knowing it!

With the success of scores like Money Talk and Rush Hour in the last couple of years, funk is back in vogue. Bowfinger’s original music is by David Newman who, after a year off following the popular and Oscar-nominated Anastasia, returns to the scoring fray with a score which could be best described as being his take on the super cool Lalo Schifrin music of the 60s and 70s. Performed by the “Bowfinger Band” consisting of two guitars, bass, sax, trumpet, keyboards and drums, five of the six cuts on the CD solidly adhere to this style of strutting, self-assured music, which grooves along for 15 electrified minutes. Although I am not familiar with some of Newman’s less famous works, I believe that this is his first journey down this musical road and, bearing in mind that this is coming from one with limited experience and knowledge of the style, it seems as though he’s made a great job of it.

The constant “wacka-wacka” of the electric guitars, the punch of the percussion and the incessant vibe of the synths permeate almost every cue but, to be honest, the continual adherence to this single style makes it quite difficult to pick out one track from another. Instead of themes and motifs, individual instrumental solos and varying tempos are the score’s defining elements – the blaring trumpets of ‘The First Shot’ and ‘Café Set-Up’, the Hammond organs of ‘A Short Ride’, the sleazy saxophones of ‘Auditioning The Butts’, the nervous pizzicato bass and ticking snares of ‘Dave Makes A Call’ and ‘Clothing Store’, and the upbeat, exciting ‘The Observatory’ standing out the most.

The only fully orchestral cue on the album is the last one, ‘Finale/Fed Ex Delivers’,  in which Newman indulges in some massively overblown but gorgeously triumphant scoring to capture the moment of Bowfinger’s “arrival” in the motion picture industry. Horn fanfares and soaring strings conspire in a cue which bears some superficial similarities to Alan Silvestri’s music for Forrest Gump but which, when compared to the down and dirty jazz which preceded it, blasts through the speakers like a breath of fresh air. Filling out Varese’s CD are six songs from the likes of James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Perry Como, all of which are enjoyable enough in themselves.

Bowfinger is certainly not your usual film score, and fans of Newman’s pure orchestral works might not embrace this one with equally open arms. However, what Bowfinger does do very effectively is highlight Newman’s versatility in writing music which evokes a completely different mood and sound than we are used to hearing from him. Similarly, while some may cry foul at there only being 18 and a half minutes of score on the CD, I personally feel that this is more than enough in this instance. For a start, I doubt whether there is very much more music in the film, and listening 30+ minutes of continuous funk would probably get rather boring after a while anyway.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • There Is Always One More Time (written by Kenneth W. Hirsch and Doc Pomus, performed by Johnny Adams) (3:40)
  • You’re A Wonderful One (written by Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Edward Holland Jr., performed by Marvin Gaye) (2:44)
  • And I Love You So (written by Don McClean, written by Perry Como) (3:16)
  • Mambo U.K. (written by Jesús Alemañy, performed by ¡Cubanismo!) (5:36)
  • Super Bad Super Slick (written and performed by James Brown) (4:27)
  • Secret Agent Man (written by Steve Barri and P.S. Sloan, performed by Johnny Rivers) (3:05)
  • Betty Chases Kit/The First Shot/A Short Ride/Dave Makes a Call/Dave Returns Camera (4:18)
  • Café Set-Up/Shooting the Café/Stealing Renfro’s Car/Auditioning the Butts (3:42)
  • Chubby Rain (1:03)
  • Clothing Store/Daisy Rescues Kit (2:00)
  • The Observatory (4:22)
  • Finale/Fed Ex Delivers (2:50)

Running Time: 41 minutes 28 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6040 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by David Newman. Orchestrations by David Newman and Alexander Janko. Featured musical soloists Steve Schaeffer, Lenny Castro, Mike Lang, Jim Cox, Dean Parks, George Doering, Neil Stubenhaus, Dan Higgins and Gary Grant. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by J.J. George. Mastered by Erick Labson. Album produced by Robert Townson.

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