Thumbs up for recent movie soundtracks
November 3, 2005
While the slate of recent films has been less than thrilling – that may change in the next few weeks – there have at least been some interesting things happening in movie soundtracks and film-related CDs.”Elizabethtown: Music From the Motion Picture”produced by Cameron Crowe (RCA)A few months ago, Tom Cruise sent me a T-shirt promoting the latest movie, “Elizabethtown,” from his production company. Grateful and proud, I wore the shirt – until the virtually unanimously bad reviews rained down on the film. I stashed the shirt at the bottom of the closet, lest anyone think I was weighing in favorably on the merits of “Elizabethtown” (which I have chosen not to see).
Well, now I can pull the shirt back on, and claim that what I’m promoting is the soundtrack, not the movie. It’s not exactly essential listening, but it is a cut above the usual soundtrack, with worthy, previously unreleased songs by Tom Petty (“Square One”) and Lindsey Buckingham (“Shut Us Down”), and a new tune by My Morning Jacket (“Where to Begin”), whose Kentucky home resonates with the movie’s location. Crowe even takes a step toward redemption by co-composing “Same In Any Language,” performed here by the new folk-rock group I Nine.Tim DeLaughter and the Polyphonic Spree, “Thumbsucker, Original Score”produced by the Speekers (Hollywood)Now here’s the complete package. Mike Mills’ recent “Thumbsucker” is a smart coming-of-age film about a high-schooler whose troubles – with girls, parents, his future, himself – are represented by his thumb-sucking habit.Not only is the music good, but as in too few films, it is calibrated to telling the story, rather than to sell CDs. The Polyphonic Spree, as is its custom, produces a sound that suggests the battle between adolescence and maturity. The choirlike group sings in high-pitched, whimsical tones, reminiscent of the best high school glee club ever, and conveying a sense of innocence. On the other hand, there is something melancholy and near sophistication in their songs. Filling in the gaps are songs by Elliott Smith, whose sad death at a young age echoes the themes of youthful struggle. The score stands so-so on its own, but see “Thumbsucker” and you witness a rare blend of story and sound.
Dave Douglas, “Keystone”produced by Douglas and David Torn(Greenleaf)Jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas has spent some time studying early silent-film history, and the attraction is easy to see. As Douglas says in the liner notes to “Keystone,” his new score for old silent films by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, “the technology was exciting and new. It must have been a thrill to come to work each day and dream up new scenarios and new ways of capturing them.”Douglas has lived that ethos in his music career; each project seems to spring from a wholly different line of thinking. On “Keystone,” which includes a DVD of Arbuckle’s 1916 film “Fatty & Mabel Adrift,” Douglas’ more modern side comes out; his band includes a Wurlitzer piano, turntablist DJ Olive and a multitude of effects. It is a good match for Arbuckle’s wild, physical comedy, and the music stands fine on its own. Douglas’ liner notes also mentions that the actor’s 1921 celebrity trial, for relations with a young girl, ended not only in acquittal, but an apology from the jury.
Garage a Trios, “Outre Mer”produced by Garage a Trois and Mike Napolitano(Telarc)Another cutting-edge instrumental act puts its stamp in film here. Garage a Trois – an already existing quartet comprising guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Stanton Moore, percussionist Mike Dillon and saxophonist Skerik – was approached to create the score for the French film “Outre Mer,” a drama about personal isolation. The film is unreleased at the moment, wrapped in legal red tape. But based on the music alone, one has to be enticed by the vision of filmmaker Klaus Tontine. Garage a Trois takes a relatively restrained approach here, so the soundtrack works well to suggest cinematic possibilities. Compared to Garage a Trois’ masterful previous album, “Emphasizer,” “Outre Mer” is a bit contained for a pure listening experience. But I’m willing to bet that moviegoers who eventually see “Outre Mer” will come away with a distinct memory of this music.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org