Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Facing The Music: A Film Score Geek Session

Soundtrack: 1) The physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound. 2) Recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, television program or video game. 3) A commercially released album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show. -- from Wikipedia (paraphrased)

Yes, as a great fan of all-things-cinema, my admiration also crosses into my personal appreciation of music. Way back when I was about seven years old or so, I stumbled across one of those classic "12 albums, cassettes or 8-track tapes for a penny" ads Columbia Records & Tapes Club ran in TV Guide every week and my young eyes trained on the two most important words a kid growing up in the late 70's ever came across: STAR WARS.

Not that I knew anything about music when I was seven... but as far as I was concerned, I knew the hell out of everything about Star Wars. I also didn't understand the concept of joining a music club through the mail, but from what I'd gathered... for a penny I would own Star Wars... somehow. And that was all that mattered. I sent in the order form and six-to-eight weeks later my pile of tapes arrived and I popped the one I'd wanted most into my trusty Panasonic one-speakered, mono recorder and got my first taste of John Williams' greatness...

"What is this, old-people music?" I remember thinking. :)

And of course, years later, this "old-people music" makes up about 80% of my listening. John Williams (still a hero of mine), Elmer Bernstein, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, and later the synth stylings of Harold Faltermeyer, Jan Hammer and Hans Zimmer... Over time I grew to appreciate more and more, becoming quite the aficionado of the contemporary motion picture score. And of course, soundtracks and scores are the rhythms that the characters of a movie live and breathe to...

But what about people? If people had soundtracks, what might they sound like? Often, you're walking down the street, maybe a song will float into your head and you'll bounce to the beat. You're the only one that can hear it. But it's there, and you're loving it. If you were a character in a movie, what would that track be? A soul classic? A bit of bebop? A country twang? Or a fully orchestrated symphony? Most soundtrack fans have pieces they feel they identify with personally. Maybe the character the music underscores resonates with you. Maybe they remind you... of you. Whatever the reason, it's possible that some film scores or songs stick to you more than others. Maybe you consider them your soundtracks, too. I realized I have a few...

"The Man In Me"
Bob Dylan
from The Big Lebowski

Lebowski came along for me at just the right time. In my old uptight world of office politics and career non-advancement, this classic track ushered in the epic story of an unemployed bowling leaguer who knew how to relax. The film taught me to just relax; to be the Dude and abide... and this song sets the stage for peaceful easy vibes, every time.

"Main Title" and "Sneakers Theme"
James Horner with Branford Marsalis
from Sneakers

Maybe it's the mix of Horner's chorus/piano combo and Marsalis' jazzy solos. Maybe it's because I first saw this very-influential-to-me film having just arrived at KSC for film school -- the movie's concept of a group of surveillance experts working together always reminded me of my friends and I shooting each other's projects. The lightness and playfulness of these two tracks always enlighten the mood... and they go well with a cool fall day (college season) or snowy winter's night (holidays). Very impressionable, I seem to be.

"A Different Drum"
Peter Gabriel
from The Last Temptation of Christ

"Opening Titles"
Jeffrey Taylor & Ned Rifle (Hal Hartley)
from Amateur

"An Ending (Ascent)"
Brian Eno
from For All Mankind

There's a soulfulness and spirit to these songs that I always respond to. "Drum" is rather like arriving somewhere new and a feeling great promise, like crossing a bridge into New York City and feeling the first wave of anticipation. "Ending" and the track from Amateur, conversely, feel like the end of a long, perfect day, with the sun setting ahead of you, heading home to relax, smiling and falling asleep while someone else is doing the driving... or maybe the musical representation of a soul at complete happiness or peace. Sometimes, you just need to hear something like that.

"End Theme"
Eric Clapton
from Homeboy

This country-blues influenced track has a quiet, dependable beat coupled with the greatness of EC's guitar work. Coming from a little-known Mickey Rourke film about a small time boxer in a corrupt sports organization, it's one of those songs that resonates homespun decency and quiet dignity. (Also along these lines, but more orchestral: Randy Newman's The Natural and John Barry's Dances With Wolves.)

"Main Title/Love Theme"
Jerry Goldsmith
from Chinatown

"Blade Runner Blues"
from Blade Runner

Sometimes you need a little of the old slow-and-low. Some warm trumpet over a sad bit of strings for after a hard day at work or a lonely night where you feel isolated in your environs. Or a synthesized clarinet and organ combo sounding off into the night sky. Both tracks are perfect for a hot summer night walking or biking through town, or a rainy night in the big city. Perfect for when you could really use a soothing caress or a whipsered word of kindness, but there's nobody there to deliver them... (Also, but occasionally more up-tempo, Goldsmith's music for The Detective and Dave Grusin's score tracks from The Fabulous Baker Boys.)

"Prelude and Main Title March"
John Williams
from Superman

This one's easy. It's all about hope and desire. The soft beginning of the track, all flutes and strings, recall a youth spent on the farm (Smallville, perhaps) and looking out at the stars dreaming of something more... and then the tuba and cellos come in... and you're there, growing up... evolving, making your way out on your own... and then the trumpets blare, the violins sound, and you're where you want to be and who you want to be... And your future is assured... and you, like Kal-El himself, feel like you can do anything. Pure empowerment, personified.

There are just a few personal examples. How about you? What's on your soundtrack?

Watchmen: The Director's Cut ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ***
Public Enemies ***
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra **

DVD/Home Video
Annie Hall (1977) ****
The Double Life of Veronique: Criterion Collection (1991) ****
Chungking Express: Criterion Collection (1994) ****
For All Mankind: Criterion Collection (1989) ****
In the Realm of the Senses: Criterion Collection (1976) ***1/2
Man Stroke Woman: Season Two (BBC-TV) ***1/2
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) ***1/2
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (1991) ***
White Dog: Criterion Collection (1982) ***
The Shinjuku Incident (Hong Kong) ***
Hyperdrive: Season Two (BBC-TV) ***
Lynch (one): (Documentary, 2007) ***
The Hit: Criterion Collection (1984) ***
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) ***
Roving Mars (IMAX, 2006) ***
Mighty Aphrodite (1985) ***
Family Business (1989) ***
Radio Days (1987) ***
Celebrity (1988) ***
Everyone Says I Love You **1/2
Small Time Crooks (2000) **1/2
Shadows and Fog (1991) **1/2
Hollywood Ending (2002) **1/2
Anything Else (2003) **
Predator 2 (1990) **
Push (2009) *

Tommy Wiseau's The Room ***

Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) ****
Makoto Ozone: Wizard of Ozone (2000) ***


millionsuns said...

Good call on the Sneakers themes - good stuff. Not sure how you feel about Danny Elfman, but his music for Midnight Run was totally against his M.O. (lots of slide guitar) and yet remains my favorite.

The use of Pete Seeger's "Goofing Off Suite" in Raising Arizona is very cool.

Also, Tangerine Dream and their score for Risky Business. have Season 2 of Man Stroke Woman??

--mcc said...

And great call on MIDNIGHT RUN!
That was my personal soundtrack for years, back in the day!

And yes, I doooooo have S2, MSW as well as S2 of HYPERDRIVE, thanks to Mr. Mark...

Care to see?