Monday, June 30, 2014

"Bobby, you would be unbelievable if you would read more": Excerpts from the five best recent articles involving film and TV score music

The 2009 film Fish Tank is essentially Andrea Arnold's love letter to Bobby Womack's rendition of 'California Dreamin'.'
The following recent articles related to film and TV music are must-reads.

"Bobby Womack is a thread that runs through soul music" by Travis Atria (first published in 2011; reposted on June 27, 2014 due to Womack's death)

Wax Poetics has posted from its print edition (in what I assume is its first appearance online) a lengthy 2011 Q&A with the late R&B legend, who sang, in my opinion, both the best version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" ever and the best version of "California Dreamin'" ever. A protégé of Sam Cooke, Womack made an artistic comeback in 2012 with what ended up being his final album, the Damon Albarn-produced Bravest Man in the Universe. One of Womack's signature tunes was his theme from 1972's Across 110th Street. Quentin Tarantino made the single version of "Across 110th Street" (which sounds significantly different from the version that's featured in the 1972 film) popular again in 1998 when he opened and closed his 1997 Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown with the single version of Womack's theme tune.

"So when I wrote, 'I was the third brother of five, doin' what I had to do to survive,' that was true. 'Across 110th Street'—I had been there. I said, 'Even small cities got a ghetto. That's where the Black people live.' That song came out like that, so easy. I never really thought about if it was going to be a hit. I learned from that—again, you can't never underestimate the audience. Sam used to always tell me that. He would tell me, 'Bobby, you would be unbelievable if you would read more.' My feeling was, 'Ain't nobody going to ask me who invented the cotton gin. Them people don't want to hear that shit. They want to hear what's happening right today.' He said, 'Yeah, but Bobby, the only way you come up with the standards is to read.' Always, as soon as he'd get into town, he'd send his brother to the library and get him all these books. I would say, 'How you gon' read all them books that quick?' We'd be going to the next gig, but he'd still have the books with him."

Coming soon: Star Trek Ice Capades, with Commander Riker executing triple Axels
"Why movie scores sound better live" by Ivan Radford (June 27, 2014)

Den of Geek examines the growing popularity of live orchestral performances of score music at film screenings, from Mica Levi's live performance of her Under the Skin score at a London concert hall screening of the Scarlett Johansson sci-fier a few weeks ago to Michael Giacchino's Star Trek: Live in Concert tour. I hope the Den of Geek writers are pronouncing Giacchino's last name as "juh-kee-no" in conversation, and not as the erroneous and eye-rollingly incorrect "gee-uh-chee-no," which makes him sound like a new flavor at Starbucks.

"Star Trek sent chills through the Royal Albert Hall audience when Giacchino's French Horn melody took flight, but the live orchestra revealed Giacchino's striking knack for instrumentation. Ever wondered what the hell an Erhu, used on Spock's theme, is? There was the answer, along with how to play it. Tried to pin down why Michael's rendition of Alexander Courage's classic theme sounded so faithful to the original? It partly stems from the bongos, which reprised their offbeat role over the end credits - a touch easily noticed on stage that could easily get lost in a cinema's speakers. (After that and Mission Impossible's In Russia, Phone Dials You, Giacchino is officially King of the Bongo.)"

Louis C.K.'s SweetPosse
"Capturing the Essence of Louie--and New York--in Music" by Aaron Frank (June 13, 2014)

In my post about Louie's original score music (which Louie music coordinator Matt Kilmer and his collective SweetPro gladly linked to on Facebook and retweeted; thanks, SweetPro!), I said "SweetPro layers over many of its Louie score cues some sort of audio filter"--without knowing exactly how SweetPro does it. After four seasons of Louie fans like myself wondering (and not really being told) how the score cues are made to sound like archival recordings unearthed from a Library of Congress vault, a Co.Create profile of Kilmer finally uncovers the mystery of how Kilmer and SweetPro get their cues to sound as old as... [insert any one of Jillian Bell's gazillion 22 Jump Street one-liners about Jonah Hill looking too old to be in college here].

"At C.K.'s request, a large portion of the music on Louie is muffled and distorted to sound like an old mono recording. Kilmer's engineer Adam Tilzer uses a Neve mixing console, but the audio goes straight to ProTools, and several filters are applied to rinse the recording of any modern digital quality... 'We put it through a SansAmp, which is basically a distortion pedal. Then we put it through an EQ and make it mono.'"

Vicki Vale never appeared on Batman: The Animated Series because her ear-piercing screaming would have been too loud for Fox viewers to be subjected to on Saturday mornings.
(Photo source: DVD Beaver)
"25 Years Ago: Batman Saves Prince's Career" by Matthew Wilkening (June 20, 2014)

A gazillion articles about the 25th anniversary of the release of Tim Burton's Batman littered the Internet last week. The Boombox's Matthew Wilkening chose to focus on Prince's much-maligned tie-in album, a so-so but still-intriguing part of his musicography. Prince submitted 11 original songs to Burton. Only three of them were prominently featured in the film: "Partyman," "Trust" and "Scandalous," a slow jam that composer Danny Elfman dug so much that he incorporated it into his Batman score. Wilkening's favorite Batman song album tracks are "The Future" and "Vicki Waiting," while my favorite has to be the blistering "Electric Chair," which can be heard briefly during the film's Wayne Manor charity gala sequence. That track is filthy, which is why it's in rotation on AFOS, during "AFOS Prime," "Beat Box" and "Hall H."

"A fan of the Caped Crusader since his childhood — legend has it the original 'Batman Theme' is the first song he learned to play — Prince got deep into the comic book's psychology for the lyrics of his album, casting various songs from the point of view of Batman, his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, the Joker and the disputed object of their mutual affections, Vicki Vale. Although creative, this move automatically dated the album, as did the various dialogue samples scattered throughout its songs. Basically, it's very hard to listen to this record today and not hear it as the companion piece to a movie that itself has been rendered quaint and out of fashion by the more recent, grittier Dark Knight trilogy that began with 2005's Batman Begins."

Purple Rain spawned a lot of merch in 1984, which is why it's bizarre that nobody ever thought to mass-produce that awesome electric guitar that ejaculates water.
"Purple Rain still reigns at 30" by Odie Henderson (June 19, 2014)

Prince's 1984 hit film Purple Rain is a work that both stands the test of time (the music, the steez of it all...) and doesn't (the misogyny, the screenplay...), according to's Odie Henderson in a humorous and well-written piece where he revisits the 1985 Oscar winner for Best Original Song Score (a song score that can be heard during "AFOS Prime").

"The pieces don't fit, but Prince attempts to sell each and every one of them. His intentions are noble, to the point where one must give him an A for effort. He may not actually be able to kick Linc from The Mod Squad's ass, but damn if he doesn't step (and spin) into the room as if he could. Even the Razzie Awards left Prince's acting alone, opting instead to attack a wonderfully trashy yet dreadful song he wrote called 'Sex Shooter.' (Methinks the Academy left that song off the Oscar.)"

Apollonia, in front of not-Lake Minnetonka.

BONUS TRACK: "Chilling in Fargo" excerpt by Kristen Romanelli (June 17, 2014)

I don't binge-watch TV shows. I marathon them. Like I've said before, I prefer to say "marathoning." It sounds more proactive. "Binge-watching" makes watching TV sound like an eating disorder. Sony Classical recently sent radio station managers like myself the FX Fargo score album to listen to and consider for airplay, so the album got me to finally sit down and watch all of the recently concluded first season of Fargo, which I bing... marathoned all last week and enjoyed. (FX hasn't renewed Fargo yet, but after all the accolades and press the first season has received, they'd be crazy not to.)

The show's score music was composed by Jeff Russo, who, before he started scoring TV projects, was part of the alt-rock band Tonic, whose biggest radio hit was 1997's "If You Could Only See." Russo has channeled the spirit of Carter Burwell's atmospheric score music from the original 1996 Fargo without being overly derivative.

I currently don't subscribe to Film Score Monthly Online, so I'm unable to see FSM managing editor Kristen Romanelli's full, subscribers-only version of her Q&A with Russo, but the substantial excerpt of the Q&A that she posted on her Tumblr gives a good picture of what it was like for Russo to work on this Coen Brothers-approved spinoff of their beloved 1996 movie. The 2014 Fargo was a show I initially had misgivings about (when I first heard it wouldn't involve the Marge Gunderson character, I joked, "So why is it still called Fargo? Just call it Marvel's Agents of F.A.R.G.O."). But then when I learned it would be an anthology show along the lines of Ed Brubaker's terrific Criminal comics--as in self-contained, season-long storylines about crooks and lowlifes that take place in the same universe as the first story and have all the cast members replaced with new ones at the start of each season--I changed my tune and became much more interested in what showrunner Noah Hawley planned to do with the material.

And the anthology format has worked out beautifully for Fargo--the first (and hopefully not the only) season was so surprisingly good that by the end of it, I felt like "Marge who?"--although if the show is renewed, the format will also cost us the ability to see more of Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson (notice how her last name contains "Solver;" if this were CSI, she'd beat out Captain Brass for the prize of "Character with the Cheesiest On-the-Nose Name"). The previously unknown Tolman is so remarkable and commanding in what has become a breakout role for her that part of me wishes Hawley would break his rule of high character turnover--"It would feel false to me if it was the continuing adventures of Molly and Gus," said Hawley to The Hollywood Reporter--and make Molly, who, fortunately, isn't merely a rehash of Marge, the central figure of Fargo for another season (the third one, perhaps?).

The Emmys have been dead to me for a long time. If neither Fargo star Allison Tolman nor Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany receive some sort of Emmy recognition for their excellent acting on their respective shows, the Emmys will be even deader to me then.
Plus Molly's scenes with her diner owner dad Lou (Keith Carradine) have presented the most intriguing on-screen relationship between a detective and her dad since Kristen Bell's Veronica Mars and Enrico Colantoni's Keith Mars. Lou is a compelling portrait of an ex-cop who's glad to be rid of a job that left him badly injured and constantly subjected him to the worst of what humanity has to offer but whose instincts as a detective and observer of unusual human behavior--traits Molly inherited from her dad--never left him. Those instincts of Lou's are on display in the most nerve-wracking scene in the entire series and perhaps Russo's greatest moment as a TV composer and creator of on-screen suspense: Lou's encounter with psychopathic Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

Each main character, including Malvo and Molly, has his or her own instrumental theme on Fargo, as do Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers, the assassin duo played by, respectively, deaf actor Russell Harvard and Adam Goldberg, who, like Russo, worked on Hawley's previous crime show The Unusuals. My favorite character theme during the season is the theme Russo came up with for Wrench and his translator, and it's one of several Fargo score cues I've added to rotation for "AFOS Prime." The Wrench and Numbers theme consists only of percussion--which is a clever way to represent both Wrench's inability to hear and speak aloud and Numbers' anti-social, single-minded nature--and Russo discusses the creation of that primal-sounding drum beat motif in the FSM Q&A.

"When you're in a new series, a lot of times, what they want is to introduce everybody in the first episode. But for us, we waited until episode two to introduce two very important characters to the show. Noah was listening to some music and he was like, 'You know, what if we just did, like, percussion at the beginning.' And I said, 'Okay, let's try it. Let's do that.' And we listened to some different music. He gets his inspiration from I don't know where—it just comes. He listens to music, he watches movies and he has these really great ideas. I was like, 'You know what? What if we do drum kit. Just a rock drum kit but with a swagger.' And that's what I came up with."

Bebop and Rocksteady prepare to go after Lester Nygaard.

No comments:

Post a Comment