When writing this I wanted to not only look at why the soundtrack mattered to us as the viewer but why the Directors/Producers/Actors whatever wanted the music they included. To see whether or not it was just a merchandising thing or if they were as attached to the music as we where become so here is Soundtracks We Love: Movies, Music and Merchandising
1. High Fidelity
When approaching the book John Cusack was “frothing at the mouth” to get into the music aspect of the film. High Fidelity shows how a soundtrack can be used to fuel a scene or moment in the film and how we as an audience or individual person experience music autobiographically.
“I think the autobiographical nature of music is something that the book really captured and that we tried to capture and that’s what I love. I’ve had these great songs that meant something at 16 or 17 and then they lost their power when I was 25, but when I was 28 the meaning of the song changed as I had changed.”
The film has music through and through it, there isn’t one scene where music isn’t involved or playing foreground or background or someone making a top 5 of list. The director Stephen Frears on the other hand was the exact opposite of Cusack and the writers when it came to the soundtrack.
“They would quarrel about it endlessly, everyone in the world is an expert on music…the music was mainly chosen by the boys who wrote the script and John, young people.”
When looking at the track list and the range of artists and musicians that appear on the album from the well known to not so well known you can tell that there was a wide spectrum of input from other people. Musicians such as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, The Kinks and The Velvet Underground to more contemporary artists of the time like The Beta Band and Stereolab show the diversity and scope of the music used here. Not to mention the performances by some of the cast members as well, Lisa Bonet’s soulful rendition of “Baby I Love Your Way” and Jack Black’s “Let’s Get It On” are brilliant although only the latter made the album as “Barry Jive and The Uptown Five” unfortunately.
Proof in the pudding that this soundtrack was fuel for scenes, rather than just a really cool mix tape for merchandising, is the scene where John Cusack’s Rob Gordon having his epiphany in the rain about where he’s been going wrong in his life while Bob Dylan’s 80’s classic “Most of the Time” plays in the background of the scene. The movie is full of brilliant scenes like this major, or minor parts sometimes to music that doesn’t appear here. When Dick meets Anna in the store and share moment discussing Greenday influences while listening to “Inflammable Material” by Stiff Little Fingers. The soundtrack is a great introduction to music that maybe people haven’t given a chance or never heard before.
2. I’m Not There
This movie had the awesome task of trying to figure how to tell the story of a certain period in Bob Dylan’s life and what music from Dylan’s immense back catalogue would tell it and do it justice. Instead of just dumping songs that everyone knows in the scenes as a sort of best of if you will the music here dictated the story. Joe Henry producer for the film stated that,
“Music is usually the last thing considered in a movie, and in this instance we where recording music before we even shot any film. I think Todd (Haynes) was very deliberate with that and was counting on the music dictating the tonality of the film.”
Todd Haynes the Director for I’m Not There tells here how he designed the script around how the soundtrack,
“Music, the choice of songs was something that mostly was there in the beginning and the script and many scenes where built around those songs. Some of them maybe weren’t the best Dylan songs but, some of them where the songs that I felt the narrative required.”
The film itself is about Bob Dylan and uses 6 different actors to portray his 6 different personas ranging from the folk singer to his electric period and his born again preacher phase. The soundtrack covers all of these brilliantly by using the unique idea of using fresh new interpretations of these songs using a variety of musicians most of who where Dylan enthusiasts themselves. The range of artists is immense and the album is full of gems that people maybe didn’t gravitate to in the beginning but due to the movie and the context they were used in are discovering new songs that they may have overlooked. Songs like “Pressing On” for example from Dylan’s “saved period are used in the movie to show a turning point, they song itself isn’t a big Dylan number but the cover by John Doe is so fresh and new. The album is as much about renewing peoples interest in Dylan’s back catalogue of that period as well as dictating the direction the movie will ultimately take. Lee Ronaldo of Sonic Youth claims that one of the best things about the project was finding new Dylan songs to listen to,
“That’s one of the cool things about the film project and the soundtrack project, I found songs, and I’m a super Dylan freak, and I still found songs I hadn’t latched onto like Pressing On”
One of the great examples of a song being used to hit punctuate a moment in the movie was Jim James and Calexico’s cover of “Going to Acapulco” where the Billy the Kid part of Dylan’s persona (played here by Richard Gere) is experiencing loss and taking stock of his life while the town he has made his home and has found refuge is slowly disappearing around him. The song itself from Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes” along with the title track is made fresh and anew here. The whole albums idea was to take every song that you thought you knew and make it sound as if new and old fans were hearing it for the first time. Artists on this album to name a few are; Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, Calexico, Cat Powers, Jack Johnson, Mark Lanegan and Marcus Carl Franklin who is the only actor whose performance is real and not lip synced.
3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was produced by T. Bone Burnett who the Coen Brothers had worked with before on “The Big Lebowski” and features music from the 1920′ and 30’s such as Delta Blues, Country, Mountain music, and Chain Gang music to name a few. The Coens wanted to make sure that the music was a big part of the story as Joel Coen the Co Director of the film along with brother Ethan mentions when asked about the making of the movie,
“The music is a huge part of the movie, almost to the extent of, well you wouldn’t call it a musical, but it almost moves like a musical as there is so much music incorporated into the scenes.”
T. Bone Burnett who has worked on other hit films such as “Walk the Line” says of how he got involved with the project,
“The Coens said they were working on a new movie that not only ended up being a depression era film, but “The Odyssey” set in Mississippi. I think the genesis of it was their love of the music.”
The Coen Brothers complete with T. Bone went to Nashville and rounded up everyone they could imagine to play on this record ranging from old artists to new. Most of the album which features the talents of Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Dan Tyminksi, Harry McClintock, The Fairfield Four and Chris Thomas King to name a some was recorded before the filming had even been started and the actors who had singing parts lip synced with only a few of the performances being captured live while filming. Chris Thomas King and The Fairfield Four being some of them and Tim Blake Nelson being the only actor to have his voice appear on the record.
The music is very much a part of the film in that it features almost in every scene. Early in the film the three main characters (Everett Ulysses McGill, Delmar and Pete) have to record a song to make some money while they are on the run. They record it and forget about it, but as they go on there “Odyssey” the song picks up momentum and the whole country is looking for them to sign them up for a music deal. Another scene which involves music heavily is the scene where Everett, Delmar and Pete come across 3 women washing their clothes in the lake and become hypnotised by their singing. This scene obviously representing the Sirens of the Odyssey calling Everett and his friends so they can claim the reward relies heavily on the song. Ralph Stanley’s rendition of “O Death” helps set the tone where Chris Thomas King’s character Tommy Johnson is caught by the KKK and being lynched. They worked so hard on the soundtrack that they ended up releasing a concert film featuring all the music from the motion picture called “Down From The Mountain.” The album went onto great success at the Grammys where it won “Best Album of the Year” along with other wins in other categories and in 2011 was re-released as a double album to include other performances that didn’t make the initial cut.