Saturday, August 23, 2008

What Ever Happened to Best Original Song?

I noticed something this week while watching Breakfast at Tiffany's (no Truman Capote).* The film is considered a classic, but the song "Moon River" by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini remains the least dated, most enjoyable, and most lasting part of it. The opening credits note the song, its melody appears in various forms four times during the course of the movie, and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song. So Breakfast at Tiffany's gets to put "Academy Award Winner!" on its DVD box forever, despite the fact that the award had almost nothing to do with the production of the picture.

OMG, Audrey Hepburn was so okay-looking. Just a tip: whoever women think is the most beautiful woman in the world never is. That could probably be its own post.

This trend, the exalted "song by" credit, continued well into the '90s, past the "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins credit well into Free Willy's "Childhood" by Michael Jackson or Up Close and Personal's "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion (a song that became way more famous than its filmic inspiration). I mean, shout out to "Gangsta's Paradise."

For a long time, the title song was not only used in the movie, it was also in the opening credits and on the poster. For the directors, a centerpiece song was an easy way to tie sequences together with a cohesive mood. ("Aww, he's walking in the rain while that song's playing again.") For the studios, it was a way to market the movie across different platforms and demographics. For music stars, it was a way to stay in the public consciousness during gaps in albums. These days, the only time filmmakers seem to care about music tie-ins is when the film in question is actually a musical. And the Oscar nominations back that up.

stirring (adj.)

So with musicians claiming that it's so hard out there for them, what with dwindling album sales and the price of gas making it harder to tour, why aren't they jumping at the chance to write songs for movies, which are doing better business than ever? The only relevant example I can think of in recent years is Eminem's "Lose Yourself," which was only one of the biggest songs of the decade, so why would that be helpful evidence, right?*

Perhaps the overhead of hiring a top name to do a movie theme isn't worth it anymore. In the mid-nineties I bought countless soundtracks for one hit song and a bunch of incidental thump-thump-looking-for-the-killers Jerry Goldsmith shit. Obviously, with iTunes, no one would do that anymore, and you wouldn't recoup the cost of putting together a physical soundtrack. But why not put out the single on iTunes, so that whenever someone plays the song they get a big picture of your movie poster as the album art? And you could even package it with trailers and clips from the movie.

Basically, I just want more moments like this. At three and a half minutes in, they're starting to have way too much fun with one another. Was everything in the early nineties so guilelessly homosexual?

What would happen if someone were to do that? Not with a musical, but just your garden variety studio movie. Perhaps the best measuring stick we have for that is the wonders wrought from the association of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes"with Pineapple Express. It isn't a perfect example because the song doesn't play an important role in the film itself, but it has been used in all of the promotional material from the beginning. For a second, pretend that you don't read this blog, which told you how awesome M.I.A.'s Kala was way before it even came out. You're the average person whose radar does not include impish Sri Lankan genre-hoppers. You hear this catchy, effervescent song prominently featured in the trailer to Pineapple Express, and you're interested enough to download it. Listening to it over and over reminds you of its great use in that commercial for that movie, and one hand feeds the other. "Paper Planes" is a cool song, and it gives Pineapple Express some of that cachet. At the same time, the broad appeal of Pineapple Express does a lot of favors for the song: despite being out for a year, "Paper Planes" is the number four track on all of iTunes right now, and it's been in the top five for a month. And the movie's performing well too. This stuff works.

Music may have changed since the big "Song by" credit has faded--and rappers becoming actors and sticking half-hearted dreck onto soundtracks because they have to hasn't helped--but are you telling me there aren't enough opportunistic musicians out there to make this work? Ne-Yo pretty much exists to score a Gabrielle Union interior monologue. And as much as it would pain me for the first words of a film to be spoken by DJ Khaled, something tells me he wouldn't say no either. Am I missing something, or is this really win-win?

*- By the way, I don't think any other film has been so dependent on how hot you think the lead actress is. If you think Audrey Hepburn was the most beautiful and elegant woman ever [TM], then you don't mind eccentricities like hiding her phone in a suitcase and breaking into a dude's apartment while he's sleeping. If you think she's okay-looking, like me, then you can't understand why everyone in the film is falling all over such a flighty, illogical whore.

*- 8 Mile does not hold up by the way. It's one of the more thoroughly mediocre movies I've seen from beginning to end--not bad, just mediocre in every way. Eminem was wildly praised, and even buzzed about for an Oscar nomination, for basically not being as bad as he had the right to be. Curtis Hanson was a studio hack before L.A. Confidential, and he has been ever since. He got lucky one time, but we keep giving him chances.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Kala is fucking awesome

pineapple express, on the other hand, was not