Sunday, July 7, 2013

Music in the Movies, AS

After electronic synthesizers, 
everything changed in the movies

I Agree with Eric…Shaft is the Best!
     A few years ago, the Oscars honored some previous music winners and, at one point, Isaac Hayes was playing the theme from Shaft in the middle of a dry ice effect that practically swallowed him whole.  However, Shaft’s theme is probably the
gold standard for individual songs in a movie.  In some recent years, especially when Randy Newman drearily, blearily mutters one of his many sound-a-like songs, I just wish they’d give Isaac Hayes another Oscar for Shaft.  The movie is an ethnically mixed update of a Warner Brothers ‘40s film noir that replays the plot of a private eye with police connections looking for a missing person, but the lurid color palette and tough violence reflect the early ‘70s.  It’s that opening song, though, that raises it to the level of a near classic.

     Part of the reason that theme punches up the movie is because of synthesizers.  The drive is electronic and it’s relentless, unlike the symphony orchestras that primarily provided the scores of so many movies during the classic studio period.  A movie that was already charged was
Mike Oldfield
The Exorcist, but the brightness of  Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” has a rhythm and drive that belie the horror.  Take out Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow and does it work?  Is there any scene funnier in a supposedly profound ‘70s movie than Linda Blair barfing up her pea soup?  Playing it backwards, which we did on video for a birthday party decades ago, is even funnier.  It’s a trashfest that some viewers consider profound religious drama.

     The fully synthesized Giorgio Moroder score for Midnight Express put that movie over the top.  That, along with the cinematography and acting put it up for Best Film.  Otherwise, it’s a bogeyman movie with the little American lamb being horse whipped and worse by the Other – in this case, Turkish prison guards, Turkish justice, and Turkey in general.  It’s a compendium of S & M set-ups like no other acclaimed commercial movie.  Brad Davis became a star because of this and TV’s A Rumor of War, but unfortunately it was short-lived.

     Tootsie is one of the best American comedies of the sound era – almost undone during a key romantic montage by the sappy “It Might Be You” by Dave Grusin and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.  It’s stale and almost kills the rhythmic snap, but luckily the farce has been wound so tight plot-wise that the final third races along. The main theme realizes the New York rat race and the fun of a life in the theatre. 

The Cast of Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot – the other great American sound comedy uses a brassy jazz based score and never lets up from it.  It also never becomes sentimental and though Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange’s characters want to exchange clothes at the end of Tootsie, Jack Lemmon’s character may never get out of drag physically or emotionally in Hot.  

     The Year of Living Dangerously has tremendous initial excitement because of its score.  The politics are murky – do Indonesians even know what happened in the coup of 1965?  Sukarno and Suharto are even difficult to keep straight.  Take out the music and we’re left with a second rate exotic romance.  Sigourney Weaver’s accent is erratic and she spends half the movie bending down not to seem taller than Mel Gibson.  He’s raw, intriguing, and thrilling.  Linda Hunt
Linda Hunt and Mel Gibson
is the reason, however, to see this movie again.  It’s one of the great performances of that era.  Grave, trusting, intelligent, compassionate, she becomes a shaman simultaneously of both and without gender.

     By the mid-1980s, the movie musical score was being overtaken by the current pop hits compendium such as in Top Gun.  The commercial synergy of two media was more important than whether there was any integrity to the music and its relationship to the movie in which it resides.

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