Soundtracks are dangerous territory. You don’t usually see a lot of them in any music geek’s iTunes, but that’s usually because the music geek has identified the artist and gone out and bought the artist’s album, thereby not having to admit that they heard it in a movie first. Soundtracks in general have a sort of tawdry air about them — collections of music intended to support a completely different piece of art. But despite their second-fiddle origin stories, soundtracks can be great works in and of themselves — not just supporting the movie, but bringing their own flavor into the mix. These are three that you really shouldn’t have missed the first time around:
This is not one of my favorite movies. Lovely at moments, but overall kinda rough. And way too big for its britches. Other than David Bowie’s turn as Warhol, which is kind of mind-bogglingly awesome, it was, for me, a “do I have to?” kind of movie. But the music!
Maybe I’m just easy, but this soundtrack — including Grandmaster Flash, Tom Waits, David Bowie and The Pogues — is a completely arresting piece of work. While some soundtracks define a film’s mood, this is one for which the film defined the arc of the soundtrack. It completely embodies early-80s arthouse-cocaine chic (not to be confused with early-80s disco-cocaine chic or any other alternate form of cocaine chic.) Standouts include good ol’ Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines” and Tom Waits’ “Tom Traubert’s Blues.”
Unfortunately, the disc released as the official soundtrack doesn’t include all of the songs used in the film, including The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” This seems like a bizarre choice, given that the movie is itself a fairytale of sorts. (Biopics are never to be treated as anything other than fantasy. Take that as you will.) Despite these omissions, it remains an all-time favorite.
Grandmaster Flash - “White Lines”
2) Y Tu Mamá También
Oh my gosh, you guys, remember this movie? Two teenage boys bid their girlfriends bon voyage and then head off on their own sexually charged journey with an older woman. (It caused me more than a moment’s pause writing that phrase, realizing that I’m now older than that older woman. Dang.) Whether or not people found it hot, I don’t know anyone who saw it and wasn’t titillated or tantalized in some way by the raciness of the hormone-charged teens’ adventure. I remember reading more than one article drawing connections to Henry Miller’s work, which isn’t actually all that far fetched. Bold, brash, wild, sexy, in-your-face, a little out of control - in many ways, this movie’s lyricism demanded that a fantastic soundtrack be brought into play.
And it was.
One of my absolute favorite DJs, KCRW’s Liza Richardson, was recruited to select the music. Music is so often and so powerfully engaged with sexuality (well, duh) that it would have been easy to match the heated film with, you know, a bunch of darkly charged throbbing beats. But instead, it’s a flirtatiously sexy, bright, fun collection of music that captures the worldliness of the film without the danger. I just love Senor Coconut’s take on “Showroom Dummies” and Café Tacuba makes a great showing with “Insomnio.” La Revolucion de Emiliano Zapato’s “Nasty Sex” is a revelation of early-70s deliciousness. This is a rare gem of a soundtrack that absolutely hangs together even outside of the context of the movie.
La Revolucion de Emiliano Zapato - “Nasty Sex”
3) Six String Samurai
Imagine, if you will, that Russia launched nuclear (not nuc-u-lar — and don’t you dare pronounce it that way if you ever intend to hold an executive office) warheads at the good ol’ U.S. of A. back in 1957, obliterating our society as it was and reducing most of our country to arid desert. Government (as well as culture) decimated, we were left with… The King. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (You know who I mean, friend.) The Kingdom of Elvis, in this version of history, extends from Lost Vegas (yes, Lost Vegas) to the California coast.
Then the King dies, and in a world of deserts, the Red army and rock ‘n’ roll, it’s time to crown a new King. A contest is announced, and the race to Lost Vegas is on.
Six String Samurai, released in 1998, is a seriously low-budget dystopian fantasy, a martial arts movie, a fairly high-level cultural critique and a vivid and haunting bit of self-aware silliness that gets you wondering if Slash could be the Grim Reaper in our universe as well as this alternate one.
The soundtrack to Six String Samurai, composed by Brian Tyler and heavily featuring the Red Elvises, is one of those that absolutely defines the film it tracks. Of course, any soundtrack worth its salt is a part of what defines a film- but SSS, for all its strengths, would be a completely different movie without the uber-genius Commie surf guitar licks of the Red Elvises. On their website, they cite musical influences which “include Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla, Chuck Berry, Spice Girls and speeches by Comrade Fidel Castro.” Rawr.
Songs like “Boogie on the Beach” and “Jerry’s Got the Squeeze Box” are stand-alone awesome, and that Oleg Bernov? Is there anything dreamier than a Siberian ex-pat who can rock a bass balalaika?
Ahem. Yes. Well.
The Red Elvises - “Boogie on the Beach”
Kelsi lives in New York and spends most of her time making fun of people who probably don’t deserve it. You can find her calling the kettle black over at this could take a while.
Three Soundtracks You Should Probably Drop Everything For and Go Buy / Kelsi
Music | November 20, 2008 | Comments ()