Friday, September 1, 2023

Needle drops and the beauty of the truly unexpected

Nothing beats the majesty or intimacy of a full movie score, but I'm still such a fucking snob when it comes to needle drops.

The use of pop songs - in all their wonderful forms - to soundtrack a scene in a film or TV show is a lot harder than it looks. You can't just bung anything in there. You need to capture the right mood, but for God's sake, you can't be too obvious about it.

I've always judged directors by their choice of tunes, and will never really forgive anyone who can't go past a Vietnam scene without using Ride of The Valkyries or Fortunate Son. They'll usually try to write it off as homage, but it's the cheapest of imitations, that just draws unfavourable comparisons with those who get there first.

We need more film directors and music supervisors who think outside the box, and bring in tunes that haven't been used a million times before, or find a way for something instantly familiar to have new context by being used in an unexpected way. 

It's part of the reason I've never really been fully on board for Zack Snyder. He can create the most gorgeous imagery, and then dump the most obvious and easy musical cue right on top of it. You really have to put your personality out there when choosing your music, and the closest we got to that with Snyder was Hallelujah playing over a sex scene, and nobody actually wanted that.

(The only good use of  tune in a Zack Snyder project is, of course, that Smashing Pumpkin song that was used in the first trailer for Watchmen - a banger of a tune that also brought all new depth.) 

I fall to the obvious when I think about my favourite directors - Scorsese throws so much pop noise into his films that some of it is bound to be affecting to someone, I've always liked the way James Gunn uses sweet bubblegum sounds in the most unlikely of settings, and Jim Jarmusch is more responsible for my entire taste in music than almost anybody.

I say almost, because Tarantino is still my guy when it comes to the needle drop, his films all had pitch-perfect soundtracks that were far more influential than copycat. Nobody gave a shit about Dick Dale before Pulp Fiction and it's no surprise that the director constructs his own temp soundtrack from his extensive vinyl collection before even starting on the script.

So it's just so disappointing when it's all a bit bland and obvious, and I can't help but thought less of, say, Yellowjackets when it's so depressingly literal, but can still adore the way Legion would use a wildly pretentious soundtrack as a metaphor for telepathic combat. 

We can do anything with music and images, so we should probably do more than just play the same old song.

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