Monday, April 20, 2015
When enjoyable scores are attached to terrible movies, or why I feel kind of awful about adding Wild Wild West score music to "AFOS Incognito" rotation
I don't care for Madonna and her cultural-appropriating ass, but I've always liked the music of William Orbit. The Drake-scaring pop star's hit single from the summer of 1999, "Beautiful Stranger," a '60s-pop-flavored tune she recorded for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, is my favorite pop song Orbit has produced because it's Orbit at his most playful-sounding, from the Ron Burgundy flute funk to the harpsichord riffs (the harpsichord is also integral to why my favorite Michael Jackson tune is "I Wanna Be Where You Are"). "Beautiful Stranger" is featured in The Spy Who Shagged Me for like only 30 seconds, during a non-comedic scene where the titular '60s spy mourns the loss of his mojo. Because of "Beautiful Stranger," I would have been interested in what Madonna and Orbit would have recorded together for Guy Ritchie's upcoming remake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., had Ritchie and Madonna never split.
"Beautiful Stranger" is pitch-perfect for the breezy, psychedelic, Laugh-In-esque and Derek Flint-inspired Austin Powers franchise, whereas Madonna's other original spy movie theme, the Mirwais-produced electroclash tune "Die Another Day," doesn't quite work for 007 (it would have worked for some other spy franchise: maybe Totally Spies?). The Die Another Day theme makes you wonder if Madonna or Mirwais ever even watched an actual 007 movie beforehand, even though she claimed that the Die Another Day screenplay influenced the lyrics she wrote (the orchestral string riffs during "Die Another Day" came not from Die Another Day score composer David Arnold but from Madonna's "Don't Tell Me" collaborator, the late New Jack City score composer Michel Colombier, and I would have enjoyed Colombier's string riffs a little more if they had at least some ounce of thematic connection to anything Arnold wrote for his score).
I fell in love with "Beautiful Stranger" again a few weeks ago while overhearing it being played on some store PA during a round of book-shopping or grocery-shopping (I can't remember which kind of shopping it was). So that's why I'm adding "Beautiful Stranger" to the playlist for the espionage genre music block "AFOS Incognito," where it can be enjoyed without having to be subjected to any visuals directed by Brett Ratner, Mondays through Thursdays at midnight Pacific on AFOS.
There's one other piece of music from a 1999 spy comedy that I'm adding to "AFOS Incognito," and this spy comedy isn't exactly as beloved as The Spy Who Shagged Me was back in 1999. It's from the second and final film in Warner Bros.' late '90s mission to ruin your favorite TV shows, Wild Wild West, the Will Smith/Kevin Kline blockbuster loosely based on the '60s spy show/proto-steampunk western of nearly the same name (the show was called The Wild Wild West, while the movie omitted "The" from the title).
Fortunately, the selected piece of music isn't the ubiquitous-on-the-1999-airwaves Will Smith/Dru Hill theme tune that was never worthy of sampling Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." It's the other memorable piece of music from Wild Wild West: the rousing main title theme by a legendary composer who wrote a million rousing themes for westerns, the late Magnificent Seven score composer Elmer Bernstein. That Bernstein main title theme is the only thing I like about Wild Wild West. IMDb is wrong: it's not "a generic piece of music." It's classic Bernstein western music, faithful in spirit to Richard Markowitz's equally rousing '60s Wild Wild West theme tune, which either the filmmakers couldn't get the full rights to or were too dunderheaded to use more often in the film because of their hubris and contempt for the source material (although I wouldn't consider The Wild Wild West a perfect show: it suffers from that old '60s and '70s spy show staple of stupidly putting white actors in yellowface or brownface). The theme is too good for such a hackily written steaming pile and such a chemistry-deficient buddy action flick.
Speaking of chemistry, this might have improved the movie: instead of casting Kline, whom Smith had no chemistry with, as Artemus Gordon, Alfonso Ribeiro, whom Smith had a shitload of chemistry with from 1990 to 1996, should have been cast as Artemus. And instead of the movie's lame depiction of Artemus as this never-convincing master of disguise Kline looked as embarrassed to be portraying as Kline's washed-up Soapdish actor character looked when he had to play Willy Loman in front of confused and senile dinner theater customers, I would have written Ribeiro's short and black Artemus as an excellent master of disguise who--because both the Wild Wild West TV show and movie never gave a shit about being authentic to the period--came up with the most effective and ludicrous-for-any-period prosthetic makeup technology for altering his looks, as well as his height, race or gender. Plus it would have been amusing to have a black guy walk around with the name Artemus.
Anyway, like Stevie Wonder, I wish that theme (BLAM!) was (BLAM!) written for a different score. There lies my problem with adding to AFOS rotation enjoyable score cues from movies that are so terrible. It's so difficult to erase those movies' wretchedness from your mind when you hear these score cues that are the only redeeming elements of those movies. So to enjoy the Bernstein score cue a little more, you just have to pretend it's not from Wild Wild West.
Man, why do post-Blazing Saddles, pre-Django Unchained westerns with black heroes have such a lousy track record? Why do sci-fi westerns that are neither the '60s Wild Wild West nor the cult favorite Brisco County Jr. have such a lousy track record? Smith and his Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld clearly wanted to turn Wild Wild West into a Blazing Saddles for the '90s and with splashier action sequences, except Blazing Saddles knew how to be funny.
Blazing Saddles also didn't need a $170 million budget to land its jokes. The Nostalgia Chick pointed out that Shane Black, the writer and director of one of my favorite movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang--a buddy comedy that, like Blazing Saddles, was able to dazzle despite a limited budget--was attached to an earlier attempt to make a Wild Wild West movie. It's one of the most interesting parts of the Nostalgia Chick's 17-minute discussion of the many things that went wrong with Sonnenfeld's Razzie sensation, including Smith rejecting the role of Neo in The Matrix and choosing to play such an unlikable and overly cocky spy.
See? This is why Ribeiro would have been a great big-screen partner for Smith: unlike Kline's snooty and stiff Artemus, the equally snooty but more underdog-ish Ribeiro--due to his chemistry with Smith--would have been able to make Smith's overly cocky Agent West more likable and relatable when they interacted with each other. It would have been like how halfway through its run, the small-town lawyer sitcom Ed gave Michael Ian Black's annoying and overly cocky Phil Stubbs character a new bowling alley boss he grew to despise, in the form of the more level-headed Eli Goggins, played by the always charismatic Daryl "Chill" Mitchell. As both Phil's foil and a character who, unlike Tom Cavanagh's rather timid Ed, had the guts to challenge Phil and bring him back down to Earth whenever Phil's antics grated on everyone's nerves, including the viewer's, Eli made Phil the myopic and self-absorbed schemer a much less annoying and one-note character for the rest of the show's run.
I also wish I were in the universe where Will and Carlton reunited on the big screen as West and Artemus. Yeah, maybe it would have been too much of a rehash of the Will/Carlton dynamic from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for some moviegoers, but Ribeiro would have given Smith something more interesting to play against than whatever hacky shit Kline was doing. However, a completely different universe where Black's Wild Wild West got made instead is an even more enticing alternate universe. Now that is a version of Wild Wild West that would be worthy of Bernstein's main title theme. How many screenwriters did Wild Wild West have? Black's screenwriting work all by himself is frequently superior to the combined results of the 20,000 screenwriters who tried to polish the turd called Wild Wild West.
Many things doomed The Fresh Prince of Hot-Air, from its constant reshoots to skinny-pantsed '60s Wild Wild West star Robert Conrad's dissatisfaction with the script when Sonnenfeld offered him a cameo and he refused. The original Jim West bad-mouthing a reboot of his show and not giving it his blessing is like if the original Spock, when he was alive, tweeted, "I hope this new Star Trek crashes and burns," or if Michael Keaton stepped out and said, "My son showed me that new Batman trailer. Why is Ben Affleck being such a saggy diaper that leaks?" That doesn't bode well for your reboot. But when your film's key art is basically inverted key art from the 1993 megaflop Super Mario Bros., your film's really doomed.
When the only person who benefited from some part of the film is producer Jon Peters--that giant mechanical spider the extremely weird Peters kept threatening to squeeze into aborted movie versions of '90s Superman comic book storylines and Sandman finally made it into one of his productions--that's how terrible the film is. You know Patton Oswalt's six-minute distillation of the wretchedness and bloatedness of Wild Wild West (while he was being interviewed by the comedy news site/stand-up comedy record label A Special Thing)? It's six times more entertaining than Wild Wild West itself.