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Notes from the Back Row

Music matched to film

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You know in Boogie Nights , when it's the mid-80s and Dirk Diggler has pretty much hit rock bottom? And he's with his buddies over at that total coke-freak's house almost shitting himself because they intend to rob the guy of like 20 Gs even though he has a huge, armed bodyguard? And there's a little Asian kid walking around in a trance randomly lighting off firecrackers? Well, since it’s the ’80s that coke-freak has a homemade mix-tape playing named, “awesome mixtape #6” which has Sister Christian blaring, which then auto reverses into Jesse's Girl while all hell breaks loose. That, dear readers, is the most tense, charged scene of the film and likely one of the most perfect uses of music in a film, ever.

Film music deserves far more credit than it gets. Anyone who’s ever made a movie knows how crap it usually looks before you add music. There’s two ways of looking at movie music, soundtracks and scores. Soundtracks are when you put already-made songs into your movie. This is an easy way to make your flick cooler because if it’s a good song, the movie looks that much better. Quentin Tarantino is probably the current master of finding the perfect tracks for his films. Think about how he used George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag over the opening credits of Reservoir Dogs or Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang, (my baby shot me down) in Kill Bill . When it comes to finding an obscure song that emanates cool, Tartantino, and his sick record collection, is untouchable.

Think, also, of how the Trainspotting soundtrack introduced electronic music (and Iggy Pop) to a whole new audience, or the first time you heard the whole Oh Brother Where Art Thou album. These are incredible compilations.

A score is a bit different. A score is music composed for the film, created from scratch to enhance the images. There are tons of good scores out there-The Dust Brothers nailed it for Fight Club , Ennio Morricone wrote some of the most memorable music in film for the Sergio Leone duster classic The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, even Neil Young composed a kick-ass rough electric guitar score for Jarmusch’s Dead Man. The true master of film scores, however, is John Williams.

If you’re my age you’ve probably been listening to John Williams music your entire life without even knowing it — the Star Wars themes, including that bad-ass Imperial March song that plays when Vader arrives, or Indiana Jones, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Williams started his career working with Bernard Herrman (the guy responsible for those killer violins in the Psycho shower sequence) and took it from there to become the greatest film music composer of the modern era. Williams has 5 Oscars and 43 nominations (no one alive has more) plus a ridiculous 18 Grammies. He scored ET, Jurassic Park, Superman and Seven Years in Tibet just to name a few. In fact, if you’re watching a movie and actually notice how kick-ass the score is, chances are it’s a John Williams piece. He is, after all, the man responsible for the most recognizable and freakiest movie music ever, a few simple notes that still strike fear and panic into almost anyone who hears them. John Williams is the man behind the lurking terror of the Jaws theme.   ’Nuff said.

So whether it’s the perfect use of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in The Exorcist to scare the shit out of you or the Bob Dylan-composed Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid songs turning out to be the perfect summer hangover breakfast music, good soundtracks and scores will often stick with you as long, or longer, than the movies they accompany.

AT VILLAGE 8 Dec. 15-21: Eragon; Pursuit of Happiness; Charlotte’s Web; Blood Diamond; Apocalypto; The Holiday; Unaccompanied Minors; Borat; Happy Feet; Casino Royale.

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