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THE MINUS MAN – Marco Beltrami

September 10, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

minusmanOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

In the UK, Hampton Fancher’s movie The Minus Man was bought by the satellite TV network Sky and shown as a “cable premiere”, completely bypassing cinema screens and video store shelves. As a result, I got to see this curious little thriller back in July, well before it opened in the States, and well before Marco Beltrami’s equally curious score surfaced on CD. The film stars Owen Wilson as Vann, an oddly mannered but seemingly pleasant enough chap who travels around middle-America in his battered pickup, getting menial jobs when he can, living in rented accommodation, and murdering people on the side. Fancher’s seemingly emotionless depiction of Vann makes the film just a little disconcerting – everything is told from his own cool and distorted point of view, blurring the line between what is real and what is purely imagined inside his own little mind. With support from Janeane Garofalo, Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl and singer-turned-actress Sheryl Crow as Vann’s first victim, The Minus Man is an oddball movie which will surely find a cult audience in years to come.

After receiving universal acclaim two years ago with his horror scores Scream, Scream 2 and Mimic, the brightness of Marco Beltrami’s star has faded just a touch. His efforts in scoring the flop disco movie 54, the horror thriller The Faculty and the emotional drama David & Lisa were not generally acknowledged, and neither score was released in any format. His work on The Minus Man has received an equally mixed reception but, unlike the majority of other reviewers, I actually quite like it, but more as an interesting curio than a deeply fulfilling film score experience.

As if to capture the distanced, abstracted, almost childlike nature of Vann’s persona, Beltrami makes great use what is loosely termed “glass music”, a dreamy, ethereal sound that echoes and reverberates with oddly engaging, even slightly amusing tones. Cues such as the excellent ‘Main Title’, ‘That Truck is a Horse of Death’, ‘At Home’, ‘The Funeral’ and the highly poignant ‘Hunt for Gene’ all feature Dennis James’ unique soundscape which, when mixed with a high solo voice and a quartet of piano, dobro, guitar and percussion, gives the music a small-town feel not too dissimilar to the sonic images conjured by Christopher Young’s Bright Angel, a score which The Minus Man strongly resembles.

A couple of gently amusing source music cues, ‘Ranchos Bolero’ and ‘Postal Shuffle’, lighten the mood and showcase Beltrami’s offbeat versatility, while the lively ‘The Mechanics of Vann’ and ‘On The Job’ introduce a sound which could be almost be described as “industrial country”, with forward thrusting rhythms and metal percussion. ‘Scatback’s Daydream’ even manages to work in a music box sample of the parade ground classic When The Band Goes Marching By. And then there are the songs – ‘Infinity’, ‘Soft Shoe Shuffle’ and ‘The Pouch Song’, written and performed by Bryony Atkinson and Inara George. Neither Ms. Atkinson or Ms. George can sing worth a dime, but that actually doesn’t matter in this instance, because their airy, bohemian style of music fits in perfectly with Beltrami’s score, and actually adds quite a bit to the overall listening experience – so much so that you don’t mind a bit when Bryony’s voice cracks and breaks under no pressure whatsoever. It all adds to the charm of the piece.

I find it very refreshing when young, talented composers such as Marco Beltrami are willing to experiment with film music in such a vivid and up front manner. It is also testament to the vision of Fancher and the film’s production company, Shooting Gallery, who were willing to retain Beltrami’s distinctive work at a time when scores that do no conform to genre conventions are more often than not rejected in favor of something more “mainstream”. While The Minus Man may not be to everyone’s tastes, I found it to be a challenging and interesting listening experience.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Infinity (written and performed by Bryony Atkinson and Inara George) (4:06)
  • Main Title (3:07)
  • That Truck is a Horse of Death (1:26)
  • The Mechanics of Vann (1:02)
  • At Home (1:18)
  • Rancheros Bolero (1:24)
  • Postal Shuffle (1:48)
  • Scatback’s Daydream (1:12)
  • Lab Rat (0:40)
  • The Funeral (1:20)
  • On The Job (0:24)
  • Hunt for Gene (2:16)
  • Christmas (1:18)
  • Soft Shoe Shuffle (written and performed by Bryony Atkinson and Inara George) (2:05)
  • Under The Sheets (1:18)
  • Hampton’s Devil (1:37)
  • The Pouch Song (written and performed by Bryony Atkinson and Inara George) (4:23)

Running Time: 30 minutes 54 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6043 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Marco Beltrami. Orchestrations by Bill Boston and Buck Sanders. Glass music performed by Dennis James. Featured musical soloists Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders and M.C. Gordy. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Album produced by Christopher Covert and Barry Cole.

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