The film’s called Towelhead (alternatively titled Nothing Is Private, according to the IMDb), and it’s a two-hour story about adults being creepy/disturbing/ molesting/ otherwise awful to a 13-year-old girl. As if that stage of life weren’t already tough… Jasira (the 13-year-old in question) is surrounded by mis-wired older people who aren’t listening to her and are paying too much attention to her body, so her growing up has special challenges and difficulties.
Not having seen it, I’ll take Mike Russell’s word that the film (which Alan Ball of American Beauty, Six Feet Under and True Blood adapted from Alicia Erian’s novel) is a skeevefest, remind myself that plenty of adults actually know how to relate to teens in a non-creepy way, and be glad I can experience Thomas Newman’s score on its own…It’s available from Lakeshore Records as an eight-track download totaling 14 minutes of music, possibly the film’s whole score: Newman can do the spare musical thing (and with that few notes, they’d better be the right notes), and it’s easier to release a quarter-hour download than a quarter-hour CD*. Plus he’s one of the best small-ensemble composers working in Hollywood today; he’s not going to overwhelm a small-scale film like this. The score is all very controlled, not meant to be flourishing; Newman keeps the music engaging without going nuts.
I wonder if the message of the opening track (“Nothing Is Private”) is “Sex and drums DON’T go together.” If so, point taken. It’s a loud and almost scary 40-second burst of percussion. “Snow Queen” (Track 2, 1:09) is gentler and moodier, and uncertain: by its end, it feels like the music for a conflicted moment.
Track 3, “Jazira [sic] Maroun (End Title)” (3:48), gives one of the more gently played percussive moments of the score, with female vocalizing (in Arabic?) woven into the cue’s first half. It somewhat neutrally conveys that Jasira’s managed to survive as a person to the story’s end, which is a victory of a kind. It’s not triumphant. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an end title at all, another sign that this won’t be a tidy all-gets-better story where each abuser has a Yellow Bastard-style comeuppance at the end.
The fourth track “Vuoso” (named after the neighboring family who’s husband, played by Aaron Eckhart, molests Jasira) and the fifth, “Rifat Maroun” (named for her father, who mistreats her in his own way), are two different flavors of disturbing. “Vuoso” (1:02) is all echoey, distant flutes over a musical imitation of the noise you hear in wide-open spaces and the subtlest hints of lightly-played percussion; “Rifat Maroun” (2:00) gets more complicated and edgier musically as it builds from a “Vuoso”-like musical bed back to the scary drums. The mood rises with the 58-second “Glamour Shots” (there’s a subplot with a photographer), with a guitar and a faster tide of notes. The quietly shimmering and almost hopeful “Rain and Good Weather” (1:32) could be an unused cue from Newman’s calling-card score for 1992’s The Player. The last track, “Towelhead” (2:50), gets away from the disturbing to reach a (once again) gentle end. The percussion isn’t scary this time.
I’m not educated about Arabic music, so I’m vague about the musical specifics of Newman’s work, but I can tell the polish of this work. Since Michael Kamen’s no longer with us, and Danny Elfman’s almost too obvious a choice, maybe I should have Thomas Newman score the film of my life. (No disturbing abuse stuff, though, thank everything.)