Fried Green Tomatoes is one of those flashback films where an old dear relates tales of her youth, in this case of two ladies running a café and the issues raised living in 1920's Alabama; trying to get along with the black population and the two ladies in question being more than just friends. Framing it all is Thomas Newman's delightful score, which was released sometime after the original song album and is now somewhat difficult to come by, but worth the effort. Ghost Train and Main Title introduce three of the score's key ingredients. The first is a brief clarinet tune, ostensibly the main theme, but as noted elsewhere, Thomas Newman rarely deals in 'main themes' in the traditional sense. The second is Marion Williams' humming, gospel style vocals, which are immediately evocative of the south. The final element is the more sprightly Main Title, which introduces a curiously blustery horn fanfare over the piano and percussion background. A little unorthodox (but then this is a Thomas Newman score), but extremely effective.
Thomas Newman is a composer whose scores can rarely be compared to the work of others, but in this instance, there is a definite hint of Hans Zimmer's charming score to Driving Miss Daisy (also about racial prejudice in the deep south and also starring Jessica Tandy), most notably in the piano riffs for the Main Title, the two Night Baseball segments and the latter stages of The Bee Chamber. Zimmer and Newman also both feature a gentle clarinet solo for the main theme, but Newman's is a real one and a lot more gentle in approach. Given the very similar subject matter and location, it's not a great surprise there's some crossover, most likely due to temp tracking. The similarities are more glancing than glaring and only make up a fairly small proportion of the overall music. Although replete with jauntier passages, many of the cues are more considered, with Newman employing a warmer than usual string sound and a typically subtle approach to the drama. The occasional addition of Williams' vocals is a good dramatic move, as well as one that suggests the location - unlike, for example, Elfman's recent score to Hulk where the vocals do neither of these things.
I have often complained that the non score cues on his albums conflict with Newman's carefully crafted atmosphere, but in this case the two songs and single, brief piano tune fit in rather better. Unfortunately, when performing on her own, Williams adopts the approach of improvising a whole sub melody around each note, so each syllable is treated to half a dozen notes close to the actual one required. It might be stylistically appropriate for spirituals of this type, but I find it very unappealing and couldn't help but be reminded of a spoof of this type of singing that appeared in The Simpsons where the national anthem took ages to perform as the singer warbled endlessly around each note. However, her vocals within the score itself are wonderful and overall Newman's score is a delight. Despite it's brevity and scarcity, well worth picking up. Soulful.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad