Friday, February 10, 2012

Air grafted a nifty new score onto the silent classic A Trip to the Moon, or as it's known to your brain-damaged little brother who gets all his historical facts from Wikipedia, that movie that ripped off the "Tonight Tonight" video

In this deleted scene from the shitty 1981 docudrama 'This Is Elvis,' one of Elvis' bullets accidentally pierces a member of Elvis' entourage in the eye while The Big E fires his gun at the TV.
When a rare hand-colored print of Georges Méliès' Jules Verne-inspired 1902 silent film A Trip to the Moon was meticulously restored and shown for the first time at Cannes in 2011, the cleaned-up imagery wasn't the only upgrade A Trip to the Moon received. The restored print also contained a new original score provided by the French electronica duo Air of "Surfing on a Rocket" and Virgin Suicides score fame.

The French duo Air is made up of Maurice Chevalier and Pierre Sausenlefroofroo. Sorry, I don't know their names all that well.
Air members Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel have said that they found the restored Trip to the Moon to be a more liberating film project than The Virgin Suicides. "I don’t think we like doing soundtracks... We are not film composers. It’s a really intense job," said Godin to IFC. "You can’t go on tour, you are at the service of someone, and you are not the boss. You have no freedom. But on this project we were completely free. Basically we were writing the music the day before Cannes, so no one could say a word about it. It was a blank screen. We could do whatever we wanted."

The Trip to the Moon score sounds as futuristic and whimsical as past Air tracks like "Kelly Watch the Stars," "Sexy Boy," "Mer Du Japon" and the Alessandro Alessandroni whistle-inspired "Alpha Beta Gaga." But there's a timelessness to this Trip to the Moon score that makes it a great fit with Méliès' surreal lo-fi visuals, which are an integral part of Martin Scorsese's Méliès tribute Hugo(*) and were famously referenced 15 years before by the husband-and-wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris in the steampunky video they directed for The Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight."

Earlier this week, Godin and Dunckel released their Trip to the Moon themes on the Le Voyage Dans La Lune album from Astralwerks. Because the Méliès film is only 14 minutes long, the release expands upon Air's score material and adds guest vocals by the Brooklyn trio Au Revoir Simone and Victoria Legrand from the Baltimore duo Beach House (the album is twice the length of the restored film, which Astralwerks has also included in its entirety in mp4 form on the release).

The album's Legrand-sung highlight, "Seven Stars," isn't part of the restored film. But like much of the rest of the album, "Seven Stars" is a nice and richly crafted companion piece to the most famous "astronauts fly to moon and commit genocide by poking most of moon's native population with their umbrellas" story ever told.

This graphic is from CBS Sunday Morning, which is like 60 Minutes, but with 70 percent less Morley Safer-style liver spots.
CBS Sunday Morning's Trip to the Moon-style sun logo for a recent segment about Hugo (Photo source: The Faces of Sunday Morning)
(*) Several years ago, I wrote down an idea for a fantasy movie script that would have presented an alternate history in which there was a top-secret trip to the moon at the turn of the century, and one of the astronauts was Méliès, who, to me, is a fascinating figure and a silent-era genius, even though his films contain yellowface and unseemly French lady armpit hair. This script would have shown how his lunar experiences ended up being the actual inspiration for A Trip to the Moon, even though Méliès would embellish (or simplify) elements of his lunar experiences because real life is far less fanciful (or cost-effective) than the universe Méliès created in his films. I wanted the moon to have facial features like it did in Méliès' film, but this planetoid-sized creature was going to be depicted through modern effects technology and appear as large and craggy as the actual moon. This script idea never went past being an idea on a napkin, or as some people like to call it, a Word document. But Brian Selznick's 2007 graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Scorsese's Oscar-nominated adaptation of the Selznick book have told a better story about Méliès than whatever I envisioned in my head.

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