Friday, July 12, 2013

Incongruous Soundtrack

            Music plays a huge part it what we perceive on screen in movies and television.  Shows have blamed various drops in quality on the loss of good music direction/production ("Star Trek: The Next Generation" is the example I can think of, dropping a talented musical presence just as the rest of the show was shifting into gear).  This is a tool I think can be used in other ways though.

            Prevalent in theaters there are a lot of remakes and adaptations of older movies and books, but these productions lack an identity of their own because they are just doing what was done before with slightly better special effects or lighting budgets.  I actually think that one of the stronger ways a movie can distinguish itself is through a drastic change in the anticipated musical choices to accompany the scenes.  The best example currently would probably be "The Great Gatsby" released last month.

            I do not care for the book of this story, I find it to be well written, but the subject matter and the characters are just so spit inducing bad that I can't muscle through it.  This movie has those same issues, but it does something to distract you: music.  By putting in a soundtrack that is not just another 1920's production the film wakes the audience up and invites comparison to other things.  Rap music in the modern day based upon singing about drug dealing and casual misogyny evolving into an industry that sings about being rich and how awesome it is.  This is juxtaposed against a world of rich, misogynistic assholes who are miserable, and one of them got his money from alcohol distribution during prohibition.

"How about we don't make just another forgettable remake?" -Luhrmann
            All of that aside it gives you something else.  "The Great Gatsby" has a look, a feel, expectations, and a lot of previous iterations that were the book.  The Robert Redford film from ages back is a bland and joyless movie with no sting or identity beyond being an adaptation of the novel... basically beat for beat.  But the modern Baz Luhrmann directed version has an authorial stamp that distinguishes it in the minds of people.

            Luhrmann's "Gatsby" will be remembered for sucking, but so will its unique presentation.  This style was applied to the director's other period pieces, "Romeo + Juliet" which took the dialogue of the original play and set it into the modern world, and "Moulin Rouge" which took a period setting but with modern music adapted into it, taking typical troupes and a lot of music people knew but presenting them differently enough to grant the work a memorable (albeit kind of shit) collective whole.

            If I could make another example, "A Knight's Tale" directed by Brian Helgeland takes a story from "Canterbury Tales" and adds a rock soundtrack... to great effect.  It shows how sport was a popular thing and instantly draws your mind to the music the stadium plays during lulls in a game to keep the crowd up and interested.  It is granting you a perspective and identifiable mentality to the audiences in the movie.  It is drawing you into a film that is at its core very cliché.

Though I imagine the reasons people saw this movie might vary.
            This sort of thing is sorely missed in a lot of movies that really needed it.  "Troy" was a god awful film starring a huge cast, tons of costuming, huge numbers of extras, and fight scenes that were really cool.  The dialogue and music did nothing.

Though I imagine that the reasons people saw this movie might vary.
            "Troy" did try to change its source material up, changing a story involving very active gods and magic and making it very terrestrial, but did nothing to fix the real problems of Homer's "Iliad" (the story this all turns on).  The real problem is that the work was translated very literally by people who have no ear for normal people.  The movie has speech that is stilted to the point of being unbearable; terribly clunky and formal.  People in ancient Greece did not talk in formal English, soldiers in that time spoke the equivalent of soldiers today, like regular people in a stressful situation far from home.  People going to a theater want to watch a movie that sounds legitimate, not like it is out of time.  One might say that the movie, "The Immortals" (while visually and story wise being balls to the wall insane) is vastly easier to watch and be taken in by because the characters sound like people.

Though I imagine that the reasons people saw this movie might vary.
            Imagine a movie in which you saw warfare in the Classical Age via dialogue and music that elicited the feel of a war movie set in World War II or Vietnam?  Playing "The Ride of the Valkyries", "The End" by the Doors, or "Ohio" by Neil Young.  The juxtaposition of music between modern war and classic war might make the audience think about how the people at war in "Troy" were just like those kids who went to war in our own time, and that the greed of kings like Agamemnon is a thing that is as old as history and is STILL AROUND.  Then you could loosen up the words to have them flow naturally instead of like they are being written by a Professor of Classical Literature who is masturbating to the thought of Homer blindly reciting this all to a group of Greek Aristocrats.

            For other examples of music working with genre to make something unique isn't hard, and I think it is going to be done more and more as directors and producers have to try to express their own creative interests in a movie world that will only let them do so via adaptation.  "Firefly" was a science fiction show with western music and themes, "Cowboy Bebop" was jazz science fiction, and "Samurai Champloo" was Samurai hip hop, all of these were original properties with a blending of music and themes, while "Scott Pilgrim Versus the World" was indie rock Superhero, an adapted work which took a lot of the source material and (I think) elevated it with music you can actually hear (I have no idea how some authors have the audacity to produce comic books about music the reader cannot hear).

(This is the gayest blog post I have ever done...)

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