Monday, August 30, 2010

Five killer samples that most people didn't know originated from film score music

Cee-Lo opted for the Vader ensemble after the Slave Leia bikini didn't work out.
Cee-Lo recently dropped his new single "Fuck You" on the Internet, and the delightfully profane break-up anthem, which originated from a song idea that Bruno Mars and Philip Lawrence of "Nothin' on You" fame pitched to Cee-Lo, has become a viral sensation. Before "Fuck You" (which has spawned a lame radio edit called "Forget You"), the Gnarls Barkley singer and former Goodie Mob MC's most popular track was his 2006 Gnarls hit "Crazy." Even though I got sick of hearing "Crazy" all over the place back in '06, I loved how Danger Mouse, the beatmaker half of Gnarls, sampled an obscure spaghetti western score during "Crazy." Not many people knew that the catchy bass line and strings were copped from Gianfranco Reverberi's "Nel Cimitero di Tucson," a score cue from 1968's Preparati la bara!, a.k.a. Viva Django. Here are five other killer samples that many listeners--including myself in some instances--didn't know came from film score music.

These beats will make you feel brand new.
1. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" drum break, 2009 (from Isaac Hayes' "Breakthrough" from Truck Turner, 1974)
The opening drum solo in "Breakthrough" is the Betty White of drum breaks: old and ubiquitous but reliable and entertaining every time. H.O.V.A.'s biggest hit of his career is the latest of many joints to sample "Breakthrough," an instrumental you can now check out during the daily "Assorted Fistful" block on A Fistful of Soundtracks.

2. Sneaker Pimps' "6 Underground" harp melody, 1996 (from John Barry's "Golden Girl" from Goldfinger, 1964) [WhoSampled comparison page]
If you were in college in the late '90s, you probably made out to "6 Underground." Did you know you were actually making out to the music from the dead-naked-chick-covered-in-gold-paint scene from Goldfinger?

3. Cibo Matto's "Sugar Water" wordless melody, 1996 (from Ennio Morricone's "Sospesi Nel Cielo" from Malamondo, 1964) [WhoSampled comparison page]
One of my favorite videos from the '90s is the Michel Gondry-directed video for "Sugar Water" (a.k.a. the song that soundtracked Buffy's sexy dance with Xander during her "Joan Collins 'tude" phase). My recent discovery that the duo sampled Morricone's Malamondo score made me love "Sugar Water" even more.

4. Ghostface Killah's "Alex (Stolen Script)" bass line and strings, 2006 (from Henry Mancini's Thief Who Came to Dinner theme, 1973) [WhoSampled comparison page]
MF Doom's sense of humor really comes through in his choice of the theme from the Ryan O'Neal/Jacqueline Bisset caper movie The Thief Who Came to Dinner (when's Warner Archives going to release that flick?) for Ghostface's How to Make It in America-esque tale of a Hollywood thief who comes to dinner--or to be more exact, a P.F. Chang's pitch meeting with the song's title hustler, who's pitching to him the script for Jamie Foxx's Ray biopic--and proceeds to steal Alex's copy of the Ray script. As music critic Jeff Weiss once wrote about this Ghostface chune, "Aspiring MC's should study this like the Rosetta Stone."

5. Wu-Tang Clan's "Rushing Elephants" brass riffs, 2007 (from Morricone's "Marche en La" from Espion, lève-toi, 1982) [WhoSampled comparison page]
My favorite film composer and my favorite experts on martial arts cinema "unite."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's precious little logo

Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers cosplayers
(Photo source: "The 30 Best IRL Ramona Flowers")
Like the "Sundance Curse" on indie films that take the festival by storm and then tank outside Park City, there seems to be a Comic-Con curse on films that garner enormous buzz within the halls of the San Diego Convention Center and then somehow fail to interest non-geeks when they hit theaters. Unfortunately, Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the latest blockbuster to join that list of films that flopped after the SDCC hype (they've included Grindhouse and The Spirit).

It's unfortunate because Scott Pilgrim, a perfect marriage of source material and director, is in no way a two-hour piece of fecal matter like most of those other flops, due to Wright's respect for--and enhancement of--Bryan Lee O'Malley's material and inventive gags like what has to be the most amusing cover of the Universal logo music to ever open a Universal picture.

O'Malley's creation is partly influenced by 8-bit video games, so legendary Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich redid Jerry Goldsmith's Universal fanfare in 8-bit form. It accompanies an NES-style version of the Universal globe that's as charmingly pixelly as all those title screen graphics that would open NES games I used to play as a kid. The enthusiastic audience that was treated to an advance Scott Pilgrim screening at Comic-Con went so wild over this opening gag that a Wired blogger couldn't even hear the drowned-out 8-bit logo music and wondered in his post if the opening piece was the Legend of Zelda theme. The redone fanfare also opens Godrich's digital-only Scott Pilgrim score album.



Another studio logo music parody I like is the J.B.'s-style cover of the 20th Century Fox fanfare at the start of White Men Can't Jump (one of many instances where a Fox release spoofed the fanfare--another example was Alien³). Alfred Newman never sounded so funky.

The Palace: Like Stuff It, White People, Chapter 5

Previously on The Palace: Pesky Asian stuff

The Palace: Like Stuff It, White People, Chapter 5 by Jimmy J. Aquino
The Palace: Like Stuff It, White People resumes Monday, August 23 and concludes Friday, August 27 here at afistfulofsoundtracks.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Palace: Like Stuff It, White People begins August 16 and concludes August 27 at afistfulofsoundtracks.blogspot.com

A panel from The Palace: Like Stuff It, White People by Jimmy J. Aquino
I finally got the wonky Internet at my apartment fixed about a month ago. It was down for a few months not because of a cable modem that went bad like I assumed, but because of a splitter that went bad.

On second thought, maybe I shouldn't have had the Internet fixed. When I prevent myself from using the Internet for a day or two, I'm able to finish drawing much of my webcomic. When I don't prevent myself from using the Internet, I get stuck there for hours (either skimming through other people's tweets, reading A.V. Club recaps of recent shows I watched or ogling MovieHotties.com photo galleries), and then I can't get any webcomic work done.

That inability to pry myself from the Internet has happened a lot while I was trying to finish the artwork for this Palace arc, which has been difficult to draw. I started pencilling this damn arc in late June and didn't finish until last week. I'd often get frustrated because of illustrator's block, so I'd go do something else--like log on to the Web--and that's how I'd end up stuck there.

The illustrator's block would arise from having to draw characters in situations or poses I never drew before, like a four-panel sequence in which a female character beats up a guy who's spitting game at her (or "making a pass at her," for those of you who think Urban Dictionary is a book about that country singer Nicole Kidman's married to). As preparation for that sequence, I repeatedly watched clips of Sandra Oh whupping Thomas Haden Church's ass with her motorcycle helmet in Sideways and Carol Kane swinging a toaster at Bill Murray's face in Scrooged. I even studied drawings of the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl beating up adversaries. The skirmish, which takes place behind two characters who aren't paying attention to what's ensuing behind them, is a bit of a homage to those great NewsRadio slapstick sequences in which the WNYX staffers will be going about their business, unaware that in the background, Matthew is getting his genitals caught in a paper shredder or something.

A classic sequence from the 'Planbee' episode of NewsRadio
Like Stuff It, White People is also the first Palace arc in which I experimented with a process that allowed me to do much less inking. For previous Palace arcs, I would place tracing pad sheets over my pencil sketches and redraw them with a Micron pen so that I wouldn't have to do so much digital cleaning with the ink tracings after I scanned them. But I got tired of my scanner making the black Micron ink look washed out on the scans of the ink tracings--plus inking is such a time-consuming process--so I decided to photocopy the pencil sketches this time and scan those photocopies, even though digitally erasing the dirt and pencil residue from those scans does take an eternity. But I like how the copy machine makes the pencil lines look 101 Dalmatians-esque (the Dalmatians animators decided to break from Disney studio tradition by Xeroxing their pencil drawings instead of hand-inking them, which resulted in a distinctive and gritty look to the character design of Dalmatians and subsequent '60s Disney animated features that utilized Xerox).

A panel from The Palace: Like Stuff It, White People, from pencil sketch to final version
This arc has a title I don't think anybody understood when they first saw it. They must have thought, "Is this webcomic about Borat or something?," so now I'll take the time to explain the title, which is not a Borat-ism. Like Stuff It, White People is both a play on the blog name Stuff White People Like and a reference to a female Palace character's tendency to say "like" all the time. To make the meaning of the title clearer to those readers who probably still won't understand it, I had to add a line where that same female character says to a pervy classmate, "Like stuff it, okay?"

Stuff White People Like's tagline is "This blog is devoted to stuff that white people like." This webcomic is devoted to ruining stuff that white people like.

I first started writing the 10-part Like Stuff It, White People in summer 2009 because I wanted a Palace arc to address the controversy surrounding movie adaptations of cartoon or video game properties that cast white actors as heroes of color. Like Stuff It, White People has undergone countless tweaks since I donated a published early draft of its script in February to the ImaginAsian art exhibit in Lafayette, Indiana (the same exhibit that made a typo online and retyped the arc title without the comma--I don't think they were aware the title is a command, like "Sit on it, Potsie!" or "Stay out of it, Nick Lachey!"). At first, the arc lacked some punch in its resolution, so I added some business involving a female troublemaker character to provide the punch that was missing from it. The arc's fictional movie Avarice: The Best Wallwalker--The Evolution of Time went from being an Avatar: The Last Airbender analog to a mash-up of Airbender and two other similarly whitewashed attempts at starting big-screen franchises, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Dragonball: Evolution. (Why do these franchise starters often have such clunky-sounding titles?)

It might look like the ineptly handled Avarice protest in Like Stuff It, White People is a mockery of Racebending.com's boycott of the Airbender film, but it's not. I agree with that site that the whitewashing needs to stop, and Asian Pacific Americans have been underrepresented on screen for far too long (I even autographed one of the site's T-shirts). However, I don't think the Airbender franchise has been worth the protesters' time and energy because like Motel director Michael Kang once said about the Airbender TV series, "It's an ancient oriental mystical thumb prison that stinks like stinky tofu."

The protest in Like Stuff It, White People is more of a reference to an older Filipino group's somewhat embarrassing protest against Desperate Housewives at a Disney Store (WTF?) in San Francisco. Those Filipino viewers were upset over an episode of the Disney-owned show in which the ditzy Teri Hatcher character insulted Filipino medical schools. A klutzy and seemingly brain-damaged upper-middle-class white lady who once locked herself naked out of her house is suddenly supposed to show smarts about race? You're not exactly right in the head if you expect soap opera characters to function as role models for society. Soap opera characters are only useful if the kind of role model you're looking for is the one who lies, cheats, steals, kills or says racist things. The protest to defend the honor of Filipino medical institutions would have made more sense if it were a respected and famous non-Filipino doctor who uttered the insult, not a person who doesn't exist and is the resident retard on her show.

There's a moment in Like Stuff It, White People where a character says more Asian Americans should "go make their own fucking movies." Fortunately, more of them have been starting to--on the Web. The most talked-about example of this is Wong Fu Productions. For Asian American filmmakers, DIY media is the silver lining in this cloud of shit that's included having to put up with whitewashed movie versions of material that could have been used to showcase Asian American actors.

We Asian Americans are having the last laugh. Airbender opened to negative reviews, and it's unlikely this overproduced ersatz kung fu movie will make back its colossal budget. Dragonball (which, like Airbender, was directed by an Asian guy!) and Prince of Persia both tanked. No one will remember either of those wannabe blockbusters 10 years from now, while cult favorites like the first Harold & Kumar and Better Luck Tomorrow--smaller-scale films that made far greater use of Asian American actors and have nothing to do with martial arts or similar material that doesn't speak to me as an Asian American--will still be on people's minds. The latter category is what we should be fighting for and bringing to the big screen more often, not stinky tofu like A:TLA.

Anyway, I'm glad I'm finally done with this arc that's taken me a year to write and draw. It will kick off tomorrow and Friday here on this blog with a Chapter 0 and a Chapter 0.5 that will briefly introduce the characters before I post Chapter 1 on Monday.