Yesterday, we began the journey through guest contributor Josh Katz’s life via original motion picture soundtracks. Today, we finish our journey with part two:
Part II. High School and Beyond
Reality Bites (1994)
In hindsight, everything about this movie and soundtrack was a hasty attempt to cash in on the latest pop culture trend, “Grunge!” Oh, the flannel, the ennui, the underemployment, the Jeanine Garofalo AIDS scare. Even the cliches had cliches. On the other hand, Ethan Hawke singing the “why can’t I get just one fuck” line from that Violent Femmes song to Winona Ryder was nice.
Lowlights: Why wasn’t the real version of that song on the soundtrack, instead of Ethan Hawke’s “cover” of it? And oh sweet vengeful lord, you’re telling me Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” is here, as well as a REMIX version? As a tangent, I am not at all pleased by the resurgent hipster trend of cute girls in ironically ugly glasses. What’s truly bizarre about this soundtrack is that, despite being about the grunge/Gen X world, there are no grunge or Gen X rock bands on the record. I mean, you had room for “Baby I Love Your Way” by Big Mountain, but not a single song by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, the Replacements, etc?
Highlights: Well, “Confusion” by New Order doesn’t fit in at all, but it’s a good song. Oh, I liked that Juliana Hatfield song about playing spin the bottle, because I hoped that some day I’d be at a party and girls would hear it and want to play spin the bottle with me. This never happened.
Verdict: Why didn’t I buy the soundtrack to “Singles” instead? This soundtrack is full of inconsequential light rock, and the movie prominently featured Ben Stiller in a non-comedic role, but somebody has to win, so let’s just say the movie endures better than the soundtrack.
The Crow (1994)
This album was destined to become a goth kid favorite even before the film’s star, Brandon Lee, tragically died in an accident on set while filming it. But lord knows, that didn’t hurt. To my knowledge, this was one of the first big soundtracks, after grunge broke to focus solely on the darker 80s alternative and new wave bands that were rediscovered during the ensuing rise of alternative music. Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Rollins Band, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Stone Temple Pilots were all fairly unknown to anyone but college radio DJs at that point but would soon become big.
Highlights: Lots of ’em. The Violent Femmes’ “Color Me Once” is more moody blues than the Moody Blues. “Big Empty” by Stone Temple Pilots became a huge hit and showed that they could do more than just sound like Soundgarden. The Nine Inch Nails cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” didn’t lose the haunted sound of the original, but made it more razor-edged. And hey…the Cure!
Lowlights: No, Pantera didn’t really fit. And I have no idea who Jane Siberry or Medicine are, but they are allowed to close out a fine album.
Verdict: No offense to the film, but it’s kinda forgettable. The soundtrack, however, gave us all a reason to wear black and smoke clove cigarettes in the Starbucks parking lot of our boring suburb. Music for the win.
Pulp Fiction (1995)
AKA, “The First R-Rated Movie I Snuck Into.” This movie prompted all kinds of questions in my young mind, such as “What is a gimp?” and “What exactly are Zed and the gimp doing to Marcellus Wallace?” The movie was brimming with a witty combination of extreme violence and clever dialogue. The soundtrack matched this tone, with a pastiche of clips from the best scenes of the movie mixed with largely forgotten nuggets of soul and campy 70s rock. Tarantino’s future films and soundtracks would basically become Pulp Fiction the Blaxploitation movie, Pulp Fiction the Kung Fu movie, Pulp Fiction the Grindcore movie, etc, but at the time it was like nothing else.
Highlights: You can’t hear “Son of a Preacher Man” or “Miserlou” without thinking of this movie. “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Gang is funk brilliance. Urge Overkill’s cover of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” just makes me love Neil Diamond, aka The Jewish Elvis, even more.
Lowlights: You can only listen to the “Bring Out the Gimp” theme song so many times without losing your will to live.
Verdict: The fact that half the soundtrack is clips of dialogue from the movie makes it harder to really enjoy upon relistening. But the movie, on the other hand…any time you get to rewatch the Samuel Jackson “May I have a drink of your tasty beverage” scene, or the diner danceoff, or see Marvin get shot in the face again, or hear The Wolf warn us to not go sucking eachother’s popsicles just yet (as the edited for TV version puts it), it is magical. The movie wins.
The movie that combined wacky Scottish misadventures involving virtually every conceivable bodily excretion with a scared straight program on the joys of heroin. Like Pulp Fiction, I learned a lot from this movie, such as that heroin can be shoved up your butt in suppository form, and that everyone dies alone, strung out, and desperate. And the soundtrack is a who’s-who of electronic and alternative music that was perhaps as big as the movie.
Highlights: Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” was an underappreciated gem before it became as recognizable a theme song for this movie as “Miserlou” did for Pulp Fiction. Hilariously, it has also been used in numerous happy feel-good TV commercials, despite being about heroin and featuring the lyric “of course I’ve had it in the ear before.” “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed may be the most sardonic, breathtakingly depressing song ever recorded, and was used to great effect in the coffin scene. New Order’s “Temptation” is pure triumphant dance-pop. Really nice original tracks by Pulp, Blur, and Elastica. Underworld’s “Born Slippy” is a headbanger.
Lowlights: Sometimes, after rocking out to some high octane electronica and Iggy Pop, the last thing you want to hear next is the song from the scene where the dead baby crawling on the ceiling’s head revolves around backwards. Kinda harshes the buzz.
Verdict: Easily one of my favorite soundtracks in terms of listenability as well as matching the mood and themes of the movie. You can’t separate one from the other. But there can only be one winner, and it will be the soundtrack, because I never really want to see the dead baby scene again. Or the swimming in the toilet scene. Or probably a half dozen others.
Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Really I could have picked any of the Wes Anderson film soundtracks, all of which intersperse Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo’s instrumental film scores with Anderson’s hand picked favorite songs by the Kinks and others. Wes Anderson soundtracks are so twee, they come wrapped in their own hand-knit cardigan.
Highlights: “Judy Is A Punk” by the Ramones is a classic. So’s “Police and Thieves” by the Clash. Hey, those are kinda aggressive punk songs there, Wes! The copious Nico and Velvet Underground songs bring the mood back down to a good maudlin aesthetic. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith…what can I say. Smith was a storyteller like few others, and several movies have made use of his music to good effect (See: Good Will Hunting, Up In The Air).
Lowlights: But did they really have to put the Elliott Smith song in the suicide scene? A little on the nose, don’t ya think? Also, I admit that i regularly skip the Mothersbaugh interstitials. They’re just kinda inconsequential.
Verdict: Sadly, this is the last Wes Anderson movie I felt really drawn to, like it was the last story that was truly personal to him rather than a familiar story with an experiment in where it’s set. Tenenbaums underwater! Tennenbaums…in India? But it really was a wonderful movie, full of imaginative detail and poignant moments. The soundtrack, however, is not as good as the 5 mp3s from it that I regularly listen to. The movie is the winner.
After thinking about it for a few minutes, I can’t come up with any soundtracks after about 2001 that I bought, or thought about buying. I mean, Donnie Darko had many great songs on it. So I downloaded those songs. Someone gave me a copy of Garden State, which was supposed to be a big indie rock revelation, but mostly was just sap. It doesn’t feel like many other studios have even tried to make a big soundtrack lately, most likely for the same reasons that most record companies now headquarter out of an unairconditioned storage unit off a freeway in L.A. We make our own soundtracks out of the mp3s in our various devices, picking and choosing the tracks we want whenever we hear them. My life, in fact, would have an awesome original motion picture soundtrack comprised of the 9,873 songs in my Ipod. You’ll really be impressed with my taste. And then you can go and download the one or two songs you actually like.