Ex Die in Diem



Confession time: music is not my first love in the media pantheon. that title has always, and probably will always, belong to film. Before the worry kicks in that I’m changing the focus of this blog (and that I’ll have to find a new name for it), I’d like to reassure you that music is as important to a motion picture as it is to the events of our lives. So, on to the post itself: as the cryptic title implies, this week I’m looking at the role of soundtracks in telling the story of a film.

Let’s begin with a story:

This week, I found myself idly perusing the selection at netflix, my current vice. As I flicked back and forth through films of frankly dubious quality, I found one that I had seen and enjoyed in the last couple of years, Dan in Real Life. I was compelled to seek out one particular scene from this picture, in which the protagonist, Dan, plays a song on the acoustic guitar, accompanying his brother who is trying to serenade a new girlfriend.

The song that was chosen for wooing duty was Let My Love Open the Door by Pete Townshend, and the performance of it by the actors themselves is achingly poignant. This scene more or less makes the picture: the story would work without it, but our engagement with the characters is cemented by this outpouring of emotion and vulnerability.

As a result of rewatching this scene, I realised that I hadn’t ever heard the original (to my shame), and so I sought it out on the universal jukebox that is youtube. The copy that I found to listen to had been taken from a soundtrack album, but not that of Dan in Real Life; the image accompanying the audio was the poster art for Grosse Point Blank. As a result of this unexpected soundtrack Venn Diagram discovery, I later suggested to my brother that we might watch Grosse Point Blank, and fun was had by all.

This got me thinking about the importance of music to filmmaking: Gross Point Blank is a good example of a picture that is much improved by the artfully arranged soundtrack and original score. Watching it leaves one with an urge to raid the “eighties” section of ones music library for such classics as 99 Luftballons, Take On Me and my personal favourite, Under Pressure.

Another brilliant example of a soundtrack making a movie is my undisputed favourite movie of all time, Jurassic Park. As well as boasting pride of place in my childhood memories and CGI effects that have stood the test of time remarkably well (the thing was released in 1993), Jurassic Park offers up a stirring classical soundtrack by John Williams, master of all he surveys. If you don’t agree, that’s your prerogative, but I’d ask you to watch the picture again before making judgements of my taste.

As my last gasp at convincing you of the importance of a soundtrack as opposed to just a score, I’ll make one final suggestion. Go out and buy a copy of Clerks X, the tenth anniversary special edition DVD release of Kevin Smith’s debut. As well as giving you the opportunity to watch a ceaselessly entertaining picture and enjoy a commentary track in which the director badmouths the DVD format in favour of LaserDisc, you can watch the original edit of the movie, as submitted to Sundance. This version is soundtracked using music by local artists and friends of the director, and has an instantly different feel to the Miramax soundtracked theatrical edit.

That’s enough for one post, I think. That said, I didn’t post last week, so maybe you should keep reading…

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