Movies have been on mind as of late, and the generally overlooked genre of soundtracks and original motion picture scores has seldom been a topic of discussion in these pages. Such a shame, really, as there are quite a few examples of quality compilations of songs featured in films. Due to dramatic effect, a benefit over and above being the perfect accompaniment to a glass of red after a hard day’s work is that they offer easy exposure to new artists as well as the work of contemporary composers you probably wouldn’t come across otherwise. Quite a number of them have actually helped shape the frontier of music to which I listen today, and I clearly link each and every one of them to the period in life marked by my viewing of the particular film. Yann Tiersen is a great example of this, after having fallen in love with Amélie, subsequently borrowing the soundtrack from a teacher of mine and then continuing on to delve deeper into Tiersen’s discography.
Realistically, it does help when a movie itself is positively memorable, as it’s often difficult to resist the urge of acquiring ‘soundtrack-as-souvenir’ after having watched a fantastic feature; or, on the other hand, spurn the entire thing after having watched a waste of £13.50 go out of pocket at the Odeon. It’s arguable that any director truly living up to the potential of their chosen art-form wouldn’t skimp out on sound-tech wizardry and riveting harmonies to propel plot or drive pathos. So it’s almost understood that a good soundtrack is a given if a movie is well-worth watching on the whole; though there are a handful of those that have far exceeded the success of the film itself. But really it’s all a matter of visual versus aural taste, whose standards of measurement may not be one and the same for everybody…
So now in my attempt to eradicate the current lack of on-site soundtrack and original score coverage, I’ll include some of the ones I’ve regularly played long after having watched the eponymous films I may or may not have enjoyed (though, most likely, it’ll be the former of the two).
1 Babel Music From And Inspired By The Motion Picture
Probably the most diverse collection of tracks to appear on this list, it’s a bit difficult to characterize the Babel soundtrack in few words. But for anyone who has seen the film, it’s easy to understand why: set in the US, Mexico, Morocco and Tokyo, the music is central to the geolocations of the characters. A broad selection ranging from Ryuichi Sakamoto, Fatboy Slim, the Nortec Collective and others, this is a favourite not least for Gustavo Santaolalla’s mesmerizing string melodies and North African percussion numbers. Perhaps the one drawback is that track order follows scene progression (multiple plotlines switching back and forth between countries, languages and sounds); but non-existent smoothness in transition is nothing you can’t tweak on a personalized playlist.
2 Pi Original Soundtrack
The soundtrack for Pi is a perfect example of just how much a powerful film can pique interest in the music featured. Directed by Darren Aronofsky (see previous post), I had already been familiar with his skill of rather intelligent music selection and penchant for working with the renowned Clint Mansell. A very dark film with equally dark music, it offers the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and Gus Gus for sampling. In fact, the album is probably perfect for recommending to anyone who wants to foray into the world of the more daring and experimental strains of electronic music. And unlike the Babel soundtrack, this is one you’ll appreciate even more having watched the movie itself first.
3 The Mothman Prophecies Original Soundtrack
I didn’t like The Mothman Prophecies much, though admittedly I don’t remember much of it. Despite that proving the point, what I do remember distinctly is its score marked by one of the best songs I’ve ever heard played in the end credits. Naturally, I set off tracking down who it was by, eventually leading to consumption of the soundtrack in its entirety. I still wonder why the movie wasn’t as good: ‘Movements 1-7’ by Tomandandy are quite beautiful, and so is the film’s promotional material and cover-art… But its downfall was in its story, and I’m glad that some of the work gone into it left a lasting impression; Tomandandy’s collaboration with Low was a fine way to go (and end), and I have since discovered Low’s Paris 99 (Anthony, are you around?) live recording as a result.
4 Donnie Darko Originl Soundtrack and Score
This is a favourite I share with my brother both in terms of movie and soundtrack, and I’m pretty sure the first time I saw Donnie Darko I was with him too. In any case, anyone who has heard Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’ may know that this is a splendid album suiting an array of tastes. A lot of instrumental with a few classics thrown into the mix, Michael Andrews’ visionary contemporary score sits well next to Duran Duran, INXS and the Joy Division. Indeed the album is very evocative of the strangeness of the film, eery at times with its hollow chorus-like harmonies and solemn piano refrain. At once beautiful and desolate, the occasional added touch of 80s new wave or classical makes for listening longevity.
5 Juno Original Soundtrack
A recent addition to the library, I’ve been meaning to get the Juno soundtrack since viewing the film’s opening credits. Every now and then, you come across one of those feel-good albums that you just can’t get enough of, though maybe not with artists you’d normally listen to elsewhere. It’s precisely because of this soundtrack that I’m writing this post, after having remembered how lovely soundtracks can be. The work by Antsy Pants and Kimya Dawson (‘anti-folk’) reaches the depths of that inner child I’m sure we all have buried somewhere beneath the hard-hitting rock, electro and other grown-up miscellany. If you, too, enjoyed the beginning of Juno despite how boring and drawn-out it was solely because the song was entertaining, wait no longer for more…
6 Romeo + Juliet, V.1 Original Soundtrack
This archaic relic (has it been twelve years already?) is probably the album I should’ve written about whilst taking the ‘People into Music‘ questionnaire the other day. Probably the collection of songs I have most invariably enjoyed over the past near decade-and-a-half, I commend Baz Luhrman for all that this soundtrack is and all that the Romeo + Juliet film is as a result. To start, ‘Talk Show Host’ is a great example of why Radiohead are unparalleled in their work; and the song’s riffs are easy to learn, too. Then you have the Butthole Surfers, Cardigans, Everclear, Garbage — a quintissential 90s selection of my pre-teen years, never failing to stir up nostalgia with each listen.
7 Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Soundtrack
This soundtrack is undoubtedly for anyone who has seen Koyaanisqatsi since its 1982 release, owns the soundtrack for The Hours, or more recently has attended a screening of Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. As most who are familiar with and appreciate the work of Philip Glass know, in all of the aforementioned works one encounters some of the finest musical composition seen in the latter half of the 20th Century. So powerful and unique a style Glass has introduced to contemporary music with his minimalism and inherently moving opuses, he is a great who has influenced the greats: David Bowie, Brian Eno, Aphex Twin… In similar fashion, the level of his work is well-demonstrated in his score for biopic Mishima and superbly performed by the Kronos Quartet.
8 There Will Be Blood Original Soundtrack
Another new one landing on the increasingly long list of favourite soundtracks (and films), There Will Be Blood would not be the movie it is had it not been for its score. And a very good thing at that, for usually mention of Radiohead automatically conjures up visions of Thom Yorke. But fellow band-member Jonny Greenwood composed the score for the film that saw Daniel Day-Lewis win two academy awards, thus attracting the notoriety he truly deserves. Recorded at Abbey Road, Greenwood is able to create the sinister musical backdrop through means of a rather traditional orchestral set. And though very different from the post-rock phenomenon we are used to hearing from the thirty-seven year-old guitarist, it is as impressive as it is poignant.
9 The Passion of the Christ Original Soundtrack
I first heard The Passion of the Christ soundtrack whilst having dinner at a friend’s place, not knowing it was from the movie or even having seen the movie itself. Leading to the inevitable question of what it was, I soon picked up a copy of John Debny’s score, and I take it off the shelf from time to time whenever I have trouble sleeping. It is an extremely affecting and poetic album (as you can imagine after having seen the film), rather reminiscent of the work by Zbigniew Preisner of which I am also very fond. Highly recommended, it is not at all surprising that Debney is one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood, what with a prolific seventy-six movies and three Emmys under his belt.
10 Ascenseur pour l’échafaud Soundtrack
One of the albums that really catapulted Miles Davis’ career as a jazz musician, his score for Ascenseur pour l’échafaud is a beautiful exercise in film noir. Described as being the platform from which sad-core music was launched, Davis on trumpet is probably one of the reasons that this film made stars both of director Louis Malle and actress Jeanne Moreau. Very moving and extremely smooth listening, this album is another alongside Kind of Blue that I absolutely love, with more of that mellow sound that Davis so markedly achieved in modal jazz. With the alto saxophone accompaniment of Barney Wilen, René Urtreger on tenor, Pierre Michelot on piano and Kenny Clarke on bass, it is every jazz listener’s ultimate necessity if not dream.
– Sarah Badr
© 2008. S.H.Badr, All Rights Reserved.
See also: Sounds of summer v.2