Friday, 13 March 2009


~ Steve Buscemi, 2000, USA

"Rapture" ~ Antony

So you’re just settling into this prison drama with some top notch acting, and a terrible backdrop of decay, barely suppressed violence and rape, when suddenly there’s Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, crooning in his otherworldy quaver to a bunch of hardened convicts. Tony Trejo’s reaction is priceless. It’s a wonderful, almost surreal lull in an otherwise realist and straightforward character drama. Later, another band does a straightforward rock number, but it isn’t the same at all. One can only wonder what Anthony did to end up in that hellhole.


~ Gus Van Sant, 2007, USA

"I Can Help" ~ Billy Swan
In "Elephant", Gus Van Sant has his teens walk the corridors of school to a underlying, unsettling, slightly industrial ambient bed of noise: the sound of impending nightmares. Here in "Paranoid Park", the tone of the film is dreamy and flowing so that when our troubled skater protagonist is called to the office and he steps out from class to walk the halls in slow motion, that he is accompanied by such a compressed gorgeous organ sound, such a fresh, bright blast of pop such as "I Can Help" is almost like painting the whole somnambulist world yellow and shaking a bottle of lemonade over it. The different tempos between the youth walking (artificially slowed) and the music provide a frission that is hard to put the finger on, but it feels inspired and almost novel as a choice, even if the song title is more a less-than-subtle metaphor for adults trying to reach alienated teenagers.


~ David Lynch, 1986 & 2001, USA & France/USA

"In Dreams" & "Crying" ~ Roy Orbison

Firstly, I have traced my very first favourite song to be Orbison’s "In Dreams". At junior school age, I inherited my mother’s music collection, and I have always, always loved this song. It still floors me with its longing, it’s rising melodrama and Orbison’s peerless vocal delivery slowly rising out of the untypical arrangement. No chorus here. "It’s too bad it always seems it only happens in my dreams", he sings with a resigned sobriety that roots this operatic sorrow firmly down to earth. In David Lynch’s "Blue Velvet", Dean Stockwell gives a gloriously mannered karaoke performance of Orbison’s timeless classic. Creepy and funny and delicious all at the same time.

Lynch uses another Orbison classic to send "Mulholland Drive" into otherworldly bliss. This time, Rebekah Del Rio steps onto a stage, unaccompanied, to sing "Crying". In Spanish. With a showstopping voice and a little reverb, this acapella version brings time to a standstill and acts like a black hole for all the sadness in the world.


WEST BEIRUT / West Beyrouth (À l'abri les enfants)

~ Ziad Doueiri, France/Norway/lebanon/Belgiun

"Rock Your Baby" ~ George MacCrae

The use of "Rock Me Baby" comes so without warning that it is a total tonal shock halfway into "West Beirut". In this war-torn setting, one of our young rascalish protagonists puts needle to vinyl and out comes this blast of Western disco joy. To these characters, it’s a foreign promise of another world and the promise of good times, a mid-tempo shake-and-boogie of adolescent desire, dance and easy-going fun. It feels out-of-place contextually, so alive and free and totally jubilant. Both sweet and defiant. But rather then taking the neon-drenched night by storm, the guys pop out to the market in the afternoon. Nevertheless, this musical interlude ends with Tarek going to bed smiling at the day, and the song has been the soundtrack of his casual happiness and hope. It was a good day.


~ PT Anderson, 1999, USA

"Wise Up" ~ Aimee Mann

I love "Magonolia": it has one of my favourite opening sequences; lots of clever camerawork (he is good at long, mobile takes) and I dug it as overstuffed drama with some nice acting. It’s okay to like Tom Cruise in this one, honest, because he is good. And then… and then the whole thing to stops to become a Aimie Mann music video for "Wise Up" (as featured in "Jerry Maguire"??). One character sings. So does another. They all sing, telling themselves to wise up. A corpse sings. What the hell? And as if someone has turned over from American Masterpiece channel to MTV, the artifice is made clear, suspension of belief and engagement are batted out the window. A bold move? An incalculable error? I am sure PT Anderson thinks it is the emotional crux of the film, but it’s an aesthetic faux pas that shines the drama into light of self-regarding angst affectation. No… I can’t go with it. I just wait until the film starts properly again. Thankfully, it is almost redeemed by the outrageousness of the frogs.



~ Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza, Spain, 2007

"Vudú (Extended Version)" ~ Vudu

The sound of the horror film is, apparently, rock music. If you are Oriental horror, it is often slightly creepy pop, but mostly it’s rock. Frequently metal of the old or new school kind. And more often than not, it is not of the atmospheric kind. In those crap teen horrors, you expect it. The use of rock seems to say "HELL YEH!! FUCKIN’ SCARY! FUCKIN’ GORY!! LET’S KICK IT!" A kind of crude egging on from your peers.

That ".Rec" ends with the most inappropriate rock song is nearly an act of total sabotage. It's "Vudú (Extended Version)" by Vudu. Carefully and consummately, the film has cultivated a spiralling into the claustrophobia of horror. It starts with freely walking in airy hallways and ends with scrambling through the dark in corners with no way out… rarely has the finale of a film been so nerve-wracking. It doesn’t have many options available and it doesn’t manage the bluff and odd emotional pay-off of "The Descent", but it ends in real horror. And then the rock song comes and all the atmosphere, mood and horror is dumped as if they really didn’t care after all. A stunning final misstep for an otherwise excellent little horror.




~ Jacques Demy, 1961, France
… there are no actual musical dance numbers, but the lightness of touch, and all those sailors, p-leeeessee…



~ Stanley Kubrick, 1968, UK/USA

The Universe is classical.



~ Robin Hardy, 1973, UK

The sound of horror is folk music. Who knew?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No star wars cantina band? Pah!