Is it too soon to start talking about Thanksgiving while being respectful to the memory of Halloween? Oh well. I’m a slave to the holidays and can’t be expected to mourn for too long. Mourning is so, well, static. I’d like to cut to the fluidity of thanks. Specifically, to the various moments of sound I’m grateful for. These moments are by no means the best uses of sound (or in some cases it may be) nor are they necessarily my favorite. It’s just a list of instances that make me really happy and what’s more in the spirit of Thanksgiving, than an impulsive list of things that makes life worth living.
–Empire Records (1995):
*Plot: Several teenage record store employees come together to help save their place of work from becoming just another chain.
*Highlights: “Free” by The Martinis, “’Til I Hear it From You” by Gin Blossoms
*Significant duds also, such is the 90s.
*Sonic Value: Seriously if you’ve ever wanted to (or just find yourself) feel like Angela Chase from My So Called Life, and cry into your pillow for forever, this is the soundtrack to do it to.
–The Harder They Come (1972):
*Plot: Ivan (played by real life reggae icon Jimmy Cliff), a man in Kingston, Jamaica is determined to be a reggae star. He becomes a quick one-hit wonder before fading into obscurity. Ivan ends up killing several police officers, thereby skyrocketing him into the fame he so desired but not in the way he thought.
*Highlights: “You Can Get it if You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff, “Johnny Too Bad” by The Slickers
*Sonic Value: At some point in my life I probably was someone who was all, “reggae sucks.” I think that’s just because so many white people who love reggae (or at the very least harsh derivatives of reggae) are really terrible. This is a truly incredible soundtrack and a really good introduction to the genre, especially if you’re one of those fools who thinks they’re above it all. It’s so heartfelt and beautiful and also great for just hanging out.
–Me Without You (2001):
*Plot: Like a better, grown up Thirteen, Me Without You focuses on two best friends as they go from the ‘70s to the present, maintaining an often toxic friendship.
*Highlights: “Another Girl Another Planet” by The Only Ones, “The Cutter,” by Echo and the Bunnymen
Sonic Value: As the film heavily explores the 1970s and 1980s, the soundtrack serves as a great sampler of punk and new-wave. Equally important, as it’s a film about growing up, there’s nothing wrong with listening to these songs as you jump on your bed, smoke cigarettes with your feet, and wear punk-as-fuck trashbag dresses to try to meet The Clash. Or at least that’s what they do in the movie.
*Feelings About: Mostly pretty bad. Yeah, I’m into Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore when they came out but at this point I’m really tired of his whole aesthetic/contentless execution. But in the vein of aesthetics, Anderson’s soundtracks and scores are extremely on point. For a while there, they were basically the only reason I saw his movies.
*Highlights: The guy has made a lot of movies so this is tough but some standouts are: Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo has done some of Anderson’s scores and they’re incredible, Nico – “These Days” in The Royal Tenenbaums, Iggy Pop – “Search and Destroy” inThe Life Aquatic, The Kinks – “Strangers” in The Darjeeling Limited
*Sonic Value: Anderson really triumphs in his ability to bring to light old or rare music and recontextualize it. It makes for a lot of unlikely pairings like Maurice Ravel’s “String Quartet in F Major” following Nico’s “These Days” on The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack. Plus, we all know that Anderson is obsessed with cool-looking people walking in slo-mo, and what else makes you more aware of what’s playing in the background?
A Hard Day’s Night (1964):
*Plot: Richard Lester’s film about The Beatles in the style of Britain’s “Angry Young Man” genre.
*Highlights: When The Beatles break into a field and are a bunch of goofballs while “Can’t Buy Me Love” plays and when they play cards while performing “I Should’ve Known Better.”
*Sonic Value: I’m not sure if this band film with album tie-in is the first of its kind but it’s pretty genius. A Hard Day’s Night is in in my top five favorite pop albums of all time, so to hear it alongside of this beautiful film, while you get to know the band, is invaluable.
The Brothers Bloom (2008):
*Plot: Two con-artist brothers team up for their final mark.
*Highlights: Rian Johnson, of Brick fame, always employs his brother Nathan to do his music, and this is one of my favorites scores I’ve heard in the last few years. Interspersed with Johnson’s original work are several individual tracks like Cat Stevens’ incredible “Miles from Nowhere.”
*Sonic Value: This score is simultaneously really whimsical and also sort of heartwrenching. I think Nathan Johnson is one of the best young film composers out there and always compliments the thoughtfulness and bravery most associated with his brother’s work.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974):
*Plot: Someone is murdered aboard an Istanbul train stuck in a snowstorm and an investigator must identify the killer before the train is able to continue.
*Sonic Value: It may seem old-fashioned to some but the idea of making the theme to a murder mystery be a waltz, is, to me, totally inspired. Not all think so though, as my father likes to talk about Bernard Hermann’s (who composed the Psycho score) fury at this decision. “But it was a train of death!” he apparently said, appalled.
Twin Peaks (1990):
*Plot: The high-school golden girl of Twin Peaks is found murdered, casting a suspicious light over the whole sleepy town.
*Sonic Value: Angelo Badalamenti’s score is a masterful mix of: 1) warm, soothing, humming tones, 2) airy, melodramatic, guitar strums, 3) deep, droney sonic perforations, 4) jazzy, piano and horn slinks, among others. It’s dang near perfect.
*Special Shout Out: To Cooper’s dream sequence where the man from another place speaks backwards; this is a real sonic achievement in terms of understanding the disconcerting uncanniness of a voice that says words backwards and is reversed to sound, correct, but off.
*Plot: Several children are murdered, causing Berlin to erupt into a manhunt to find the killer.
*Sonic Value: Probably the best use of sound in a film, M, is one of the first German films out of the silent era. And its greatness is arguably in its lack of sound, as the sound itself is used incredibly sparingly, considerately, and to great effect, causing you to reevaluate what you even know about sound. The killer is ultimately identified by his tendency to whistle Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King.”
*Plot: An aging gangster teams up with a crew for one last heist.
*Sonic Value: Probably my favorite movie, the heist sequence in Rififi lasts for approximately a half hour and is totally silent. It’s something so tactful, and so unnoticeable, that it takes one of the thieves slightly bumping into a piano and a key ringing, for you to notice it’s happening. It makes all other heist films look crass and indelicate.