By CORY SKLAR
It's Oscar season again, which means close to nothing to music nerds. Most of the time, of course, the Oscars bring very little to the table in terms of great music. Sure, they have their Best Original Song and Best Score categories. And sure, sometimes Three 6 Mafia, Trent Reznor, or Bret from Flight of the Conchords will get honored, but usually the nominations are reserved for legendary bores like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Bonnie Raitt, or Sir Elton. We already can't wait to change the channel during the Les Mis performance or take multiple shots while playing some drinking game involving Adele's James Bond song. Amazingly, though, this year's music-Oscars situation isn't all bad. Here are 10 songs from Academy Award-nominated movies that don't suck.
Shirley Clarke was a trailblazing, staunchly independent filmmaker who fused documentary methods and subject matter with fictional storytelling techniques. Her films often dealt with urban living, jazz music, and American artists. Her 1963 feature, Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Milestone Films is in the process of restoring a number of Clarke's most influential and under-seen films, bringing them to home video for the first time. And her final film, Ornette: Made in America, is even getting some theatrical screenings, including in S.F. this week. This unique portrait of one of the 20th century's key jazz composers displays Clarke's fusion of documentary and narrative techniques to create a seamless, vivid portrait of a man whose influence not only in jazz but throughout a number of musical genres is still a creative force today.
We absolutely thrive on live music, but the snarky bartenders, fickle sound systems, and the general social hustle of attending local concerts can be draining. Occasionally we need a weekend of solitude and darkness, but don't want to forego assimilating new music and information about it. Luckily, this weekend a special film series has been curated at the Roxie Theater that simultaneously sates our need for music and isolation. The program, entitled "This Must Be the Place: Post-Punk Tribes 1978-1982," is being shown over three evenings this weekend, July 27-29. Each night features an array of obscure and unreleased documentaries, live footage, and low-budget films exploring regional punk scenes internationally. Every night of the series is enticing, but we're understandably biased towards Saturday, when the selections revolve around San Francisco's eclectic early punk and post-punk scenes. Here's a rundown on what to expect on all three nights:
The first night of "This Must be the Place" features films focused on the divergent paths of punk in late-70's Europe. Quickly after the initial punk explosion, European groups splintered into a variety of subgenres. By the time the Sex Pistols disbanded, distinct styles of punk and what is now referred to as "post-punk" sprung up amongst art students, degenerates, and opportunistic professional musicians alike. Friday's first showing is La Brute Et Moi, a film shot in France in 1979. The plot is underdeveloped at best, but performances from Edith Nylon, The Dogs, The Party, Ici Paris, and Anoushka's leading role encapsulate French New Wave proclivities at their finest. Following that is Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed, a documentary focused on English Oi! and 2nd wave ska bands like Cockney Rejects, Sham 69, and The Selecter. A secret film will be shown following these two that the Roxie's website insists we have never seen. Judging by the obscurity of the announced films, we believe it.
Like proper mourners of LCD Soundsystem, we went and checked out the new documentary on the band's final show at Madison Square Garden, Shut Up and Play the Hits, at its single-night-only showing yesterday. In lieu of a full review -- we have one that includes an interview with James Murphy over here -- we'd like to offer five quick reactions to the film. What did you think of it? Tell us in the comments.
1. The sound sucked.
Count us as surprised that the audio quality of the live footage was awful -- but, judging from the comments below, it seems to have just been a problem with S.F.'s Landmark Embarcadero theater. During the opening depiction of "Dance Yrself Clean," the bass was overloaded to the point of distortion, sounding like the audio was coming from microphones on the cameras instead of through the soundboard (as any pro audio feed of a live concert would be done). The problem persisted through all the footage of the MSG show -- poor mixing, distorted frequencies, etc.
For a film that James Murphy executive produced (and mixed), you'd think they could have made the audio at least as good as what was streamed online.
So of course you didn't get to go see LCD Soundsystem's final three-hour kiss-off at Madison Square Garden last April, aka the most important music event of your stupid, short lifetime.
Okay, maybe it wasn't that important. But if you were a fan, missing out on LCD's farewell probably felt a little like missing the big family reunion just before your favorite uncle divorced your aunt and moved to a nudist colony in Costa Rica. There's no real consolation in these matters, but luckily, someone made a film about the end of the band to show you all the great things you missed. Shut Up and Play the Hits is a documentary/concert film following the final night of LCD Soundsystem, featuring narration by Chuck Klosterman and cinematography by Spike Jonze. (The film is also distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories, the film company headed by late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch). And it's screening in theaters around the country -- including four right here in the Bay Area -- for one night only later this summer.
Oh, Wes Anderson, you beautiful, whimsical, detail-oriented genius, you. Today, Anderson's latest movie, Moonrise Kingdom, sees release nationwide -- so naturally we're already anticipating the gems he'll have pulled together for the soundtrack. Wes Anderson movies of course always, always, always have wondrous soundtracks. The songs make the scenes better, and the scenes make the songs better. Therefore, we'd like to take a moment to appreciate the greatest uses of songs in Wes Anderson's finest movies so far. Given the wealth of material available, these were not easy choices.
The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away" in Rushmore, 1998
When Max Fischer and his friend Herman Blume both fall in love with the same woman in Rushmore, they go to war with each other, each doing something more vindictive than the other, until Max gets arrested for sabotaging the brakes on Herman's car. The montage of all this crazy one-upmanship is soundtracked by The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away", the "You are forgiven" refrain ringing out ironically over all the bitterness. (Also, we like the fact that the song opens with the words "Her man" -- a subtle but clever nod to Bill Murray's character.)
A couple of weeks ago, you may recall we did a list of the Top Ten Music Biopics. The biopic debate raged again today, however, after we saw images of Andre 3000 dressed up as Jimi Hendrix, in the midst of making a movie. We're pretty sure Andre is going to do wonders in the role, but that doesn't mean the music biopic is always a good idea. Here, then, are the 10 worst music biopics we know of.
10. The Runaways
Okay, look. We enjoyed this movie. We did. And Kristen Stewart was so jaw-droppingly incredible as Joan Jett, we almost forgave her for the Twilight franchise (we said "almost"). The problem here is that we rushed to the movies to see this, expecting all of the band members to be documented, only to find this was a film about Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, and nobody else. Lita Ford barely gets a name check, and Sandy West is mostly invisible. And that just makes us mad. We found out later that there were legal issues involved, but it still feels like half a movie to us.