Monday, May 19, 2014

"I'm making a motion picture, not a jukebox": Excerpts from the five best recent articles involving film music

Reese Witherspoon's face after seeing the opening weekend grosses for This Means War
The following recent articles related to film music are must-reads.

"Pick Flick: An Oral History of Election, 15 Years Later" by Matthew Jacobs (May 7, 2014)

"[Alexander] Payne and [writing partner Jim] Taylor manage to fully develop their characters without sacrificing the cynicism and venom of their satire," I wrote back when Payne's 1999 cult classic Election was first released (Wayback Machine, I'm not going to like it, but take my ass back to an age of ugly HTML design!). Payne recalls battling with MTV Films to keep some of Rolfe Kent's original score from being ousted from Election, as part of a fascinating HuffPo oral history about the making of the Matthew Broderick/Reese Witherspoon political satire, still one of my favorite movies from the legendary movie year of 1999.

"I wanted some degree of Morricone in that score, and indeed we used some actual Morricone. Tracy's mental scream is stolen from a spaghetti Western. Even Quentin Tarantino told me later, 'Oh, I always wanted to use actual spaghetti-Western music.' You hear stolen spaghetti-Western music earlier than you do in any Tarantino film. I got there first. But it was a bit of a difficult situation with the record company that gave us a bunch of the rock songs that are in the film. Between MTV and the record label, they wanted a lot more. I remember the fight I had to go through to have the opening credits have score, not a rock song. It was de rigueur for movies to have some kind of rock song in the opening credits and end credits. I had to tell them I'm making a motion picture, not a jukebox."


It's basically the Species movies, but artsier and with lots of ugly-looking dongs!
"How indie musicians are reinventing film music" by David Ehrlich (May 12, 2014)

Over at The Dissolve, David Ehrlich deftly examines the growing wave of indie musicians bringing their talents to film scoring, and how it's resulted in either remarkable, experimental-sounding work (Daniel Hart's Ain't Them Bodies Saints score and Mica Levi's truly alien-sounding Under the Skin score) or unhappy work experiences like the Oblivion score, a collabo between Tron: Uprising composer Joseph Trapanese and a reportedly dissatisfied Anthony Gonzalez of M83. But I don't think the Oblivion score sounds as terrible as Ehrlich makes it out to be. Selections from the Oblivion score can be heard on "AFOS Prime" and "Hall H" on AFOS.

"Movies are challenging musicians to rethink how they write their music, and musicians are challenging movies to rethink how they use it. Now that projectors in most theaters hum with a quiet digital buzz rather than the stampeding clatter of celluloid, it sounds as if scores have finally begun to embrace a new purpose."


"Richard Ayoade's The Double, Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Movie Music That Cranks Up the Crazy" by Matt Patches (May 2, 2014)

Another smartly written piece of film writing praises recent cutting-edge score music, but this time, the article emanates from an unlikely source: the sexy sex advice site Matt Patches explains at length why composer Andrew Hewitt's score for The Double, actor Richard Ayoade's latest directorial effort, excels at taking risks musically. Then Patches briefly points out why a similarly risky approach that Hans Zimmer and "the Magnificent Six" (a collective that included Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr) brought to the Amazing Spider-Man 2 score doesn't succeed as effectively as Hewitt's effort does.

The risky element of the ASM2 score I'm referring to isn't the Kendrick Lamar guest verse at the start of "It's On Again," the sequel's Zimmer/Pharrell/Alicia Keys end title theme, a Kendrick guest feature I like, of course, because I'm a Kendrick fan. I'm referring to the love-it-or-hate-it, kind of dumb-sounding Electro chanting ("He lied to me/He shot at me"). But Patches gives the Magnificent Six some credit for trying something different.

"Zimmer's attempts to enliven the background with vocalization ultimately fails. Movies need more of failures like that. Spastic horror movies with hyper-editing and lighting of every color prove audiences can stomach directors maximizing each element of filmmaking. So why not music? The 21st century deserves cinematic tunes worth obsessing over (and if they're turned into disco tracks, so be it)."


"10 Things I Learned: Thief" by Curtis Tsui (January 14, 2014)

Ever wondered why at the end of Michael Mann's Thief, one-man killing machine James Caan mows down a bunch of mobsters to the tune of a ripoff of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb"? Mann wanted to use "Comfortably Numb" but was unable to clear it, so he asked composer Craig Safan, who later became best known for writing the Last Starfighter score and all the incidental music on Cheers, to write and record a "Comfortably Numb" soundalike (it's called "Confrontation" on Tangerine Dream's Thief soundtrack album). The shootout music tidbit is one of 10 pieces of trivia about the making of the classic 1981 crime flick that Criterion Collection disc producer Curtis Tsui posted in a slideshow article to promote Criterion's recent Blu-ray release of Thief.

I hate slideshow articles, but I dig Thief so much that the slideshow format didn't bother me this time.

"As iconic as Tangerine Dream's electronic score has become, Mann himself still sometimes wonders whether it was the right choice for the film. He appreciates the abstraction of the music from a formal perspective, but his more intuitive inclination was toward the blues."


"John Powell on Five of His Notable Scores" by Steve Chagollan / "Billion Dollar Composer: John Powell Ranges from Action to Animation" by Jon Burlingame / "John Powell Plans Sabbatical from Movie Music" by Burlingame (April 23, 2014)

John Powell, who wrote perhaps his best score for How to Train Your Dragon (which can be heard on AFOS) and recently returned to DreamWorks Animation's popular franchise to score the upcoming How to Train Your Dragon 2, was the recent subject of a huge Variety profile. He recalled to the magazine why the score to John Woo's still-entertaining Face/Off, his first major credit, was both a good experience for him as a then-newcomer to Hollywood and one of his five favorite film music projects.

"The premiere was at the Mann Chinese; Hans (Zimmer) got me a limo. There was a big crowd, and as I got out of the limo, there was this sigh of disappointment when they realized that it wasn't John Travolta. I recommend this to all Hollywood composers. Within a small group of people, we may be well known, but it's not why people go to the movies."

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