I left out Lost in Translation, whose soundtrack included songs by Air, My Bloody Valentine, Death in Vegas and a very young Phoenix. Great flick.
Column 261: Waiting Through the Credits
Some (indie) soundtracks are stinkers.
With the Oscars this Sunday night, I thought I’d write a column about indie music in movies. The problem: Most movies that use indie music aren’t very good. In fact, they usually suck.
I go to a lot of movies, at least one or two a week. And I go to theaters, I don’t just “Netflix it,” like everyone else does these days. But sometimes I have no choice. As research for this article, I Netflixed (500) Days of Summer because a friend of mine said it had a great soundtrack filled with lots of indie songs. And she was right, it did. Great tunes by Regina Spektor, Feist, Doves, Black Lips, The Smiths, even Hall and Oates. But the movie again proved my theory — it wasn’t very good.
Part of the reason it sucked (for me, anyway) had to do with lead actress Zooey Deschanel, who I despise since she began whoring for Cotton, the Fabric of Our Lives, and after she appeared on Top Chef as a crazy I-can’t-eat-anything gluten-intolerant, Dinner-at-Moosewood-thumping vegan, further emphasizing my theory that movie stars shouldn’t appear on reality TV or game shows unless it’s Matchgame ’79. After watching the film, I got the feeling Deschanel’s bitch character probably wasn’t too far from her real-life persona. But I’m probably wrong, I’ll never know. The movie will forever dash any goodwill she earned from Elf.
It should be a red flag whenever a movie uses indie songs. It’s as if the producers are making a desperate stab at attracting a “younger demographic” or is reaching for much-needed “indie cred” — something that cannot exist in Hollywood films, even those from so-called “independent studios.” Real indie productions can’t afford the publishing rights to good indie songs.
Zach Braff’s Garden State for example, has a good soundtrack (The Shins, Iron and Wine, Nick Drake), but it’s a horrible film. Juno, with a soundtrack that features Kimya Dawson/Moldy Peaches, Sonic Youth, Belle & Sebastian, is pretty bad (though I’m the only one in America who thought so).
From this year, there was Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a movie I could never bring myself to see or even Netflix after watching its embarrassing trailer featuring lovable nerd Michael Cera (of Superbad fame). The movie has songs by Vampire Weekend, Army Navy, We Are Scientists and creepy Devendra Banhart. Still, it wasn’t enough to get me to see it.
From ’09, Sam Mendes film Away We Go with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph used a handful of pretty songs by Alexi Murdoch along with tracks by The Stranglers and Velvet Underground. It was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Also from last year, the insipid Adventureland (with tracks by Husker Du and Replacements), and the cloying, disappointing Where the Wild Things Are, which featured Karen O and her Yeah Yeah Yeah band mates.
Then there was Fantastic Mr. Fox, with songs by Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker as well as some well-chosen tunes by Burl Ives and The Rolling Stones woven into a score by Alexandre Desplat. What director Wes Anderson does with the fantastic Fantastic Mr. Fox is what he does with all his films — he makes the songs an integral part of the film. The Royal Tenenbaums, one of my all-time favorites, has a soundtrack that perfectly complements its content, with songs by Elliott Smith and a lot of very un-indie bands like Nico, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Rolling Stones and The Ramones. From Rushmore to The Darjeeling Limited to the reinvention of Bowie in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson remembers old songs that we’ve forgotten and reminds us how good they are.
In fact, masters like Scorsese, Lynch and Tarantino forego modern indie music for classics that emphasize the film’s period and mood. For better or worse, Paul Thomas Anderson used a handful of Supertramp songs for the soundtrack to 1999 epic heartbreaker Magnolia while reintroducing Aimee Mann, someone I had forgotten about since her ‘Til Tuesday years. She is now one of my favorite singer/songwriters, though I don’t know if she’ll ever match the work heard in that movie, which was hands-down one of the best uses of soundtrack material since Harold and Maude.
Any list like this also has to include Cameron Crowe, whose use of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything is iconic, along with his grunge-infused sound track to 1992’s Singles. All of which was dashed by Almost Famous, a movie I loathe thanks to the painfully embarrassing use of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Thank you, Goldie Hawn’s daughter, for ruining that song for all eternity.
Perhaps my favorite soundtrack-loving director is Jonathan Demme. His soundtracks to both Something Wild (New Order, Steve Jones, Sonny Okosun) and Married to the Mob (Q. Lazzarus, The Feelies, Brian Eno) are as cool — or cooler — than the films themselves. And since were going back to the ’80s, I’ve got to mention Valley Girl, the 1983 Nicolas Cage vehicle that introduced an unsuspecting world to The Plimsouls, The Payolas, Sparks, The Psychedelic Furs and Modern English.
Which brings us back to the Oscars. In the end, the best soundtracks are in films where the music not only is part of the story line, it is the story line. Examples include 2006’s Once, and from this past year, Crazy Heart, a soundtrack with songs by T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham and the late Stephen Bruton whose performance will win Jeff Bridges his first Oscar.
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Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s Laura Veirs with Seattle band Cataldo and Portland’s The Old Believers. Veirs, who used to be on Nonesuch, released her last album, July Flame, on her own Raven Marching Band Records. Her music will appeal to fans of Suzanne Vega, Azure Ray, St. Vincent and Neko Case, among others. Very pretty stuff and well worth the $10 cover. Show starts at 9.
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