The idea of this post came to me as I was driving home one day and the new Jimmy Cliff single, “One More,” played over the radio. The single, life Cliff himself, is amazing, and listening to it made me think about the soundtrack to The Harder They Come (1972), easily my favorite film soundtrack of all time. So I decided to create a list of five films/individuals that in their own separate ways represent a different kind of cinematic and musical favorite. Other than each item having something to do with music, there is not much logic to the list; however, I have always considered music and sound important in the production and consumption of cinema, so this was a fun list for me to create.
Favorite film soundtrack: The Harder They Come from the film The Harder They Come
To be perfectly honest, I have never seen the film, but I have listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times. In fact, most of you probably have too. The soundtrack’s singles by Cliff (who was also the film’s star) and Toots and the Maytals have been played in coffee shops and on cruise lines for years. So rather than providing my readers with a song from the soundtrack, I decided to insert Cliff’s new single into this post.
I put the word “musician” in quotes because, by most accounts, Sid Vicious was a musician in the broadest possible sense. By all accounts Mr. Vicious did indeed hold a musical instrument in his hands, and he quite possibly manipulated it to create certain sounds. Whether or not those sounds constituted music is up for debate. However, this film’s quality is inversely proportionate to Vicious’s musical ability. Cox does a wonderful job of showcasing the glamorous and (more often than not) not so glamorous sides of the punk rock scenes in London and New York in late 1970s and early 1980s. Gary Oldman‘s portrayal of the iconic if untalented bassist marked his first real breakout performance. It is rather odd that an actor who truly came into being by portraying Sid Vicious is now mostly recognized as Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises.
Favorite film score composer: Ennio Morricone
Morricone has not yet won an Oscar. I write “not yet” because even at age 84 he still composes a few scores per year. What Morricone lacks in Academy Award hardware he makes up for in recognition. His scores to a multitude of Italian Westerns, most notably those for Sergio Leone, have rattled around pop culture for years. Quentin Tarantino frequently recycles Morricone scores for his films. The Morricone sound of the Italian Western is as important to the genre as the style and violence that became genre’s trademarks. While I cannot claim to have listened to all 512 titles for which Morricone has composed a score, I have taken in a few; my favorite is Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970).
Favorite concert film: Storefront Hitchcock (1998) – Directed by Jonathan Demme
Demme’s film of a Robyn Hitchcock performance has one small oddity: it is filmed with Hitchcock standing in front of a storefront window (hence the title) with his back to that window. The audience and film viewers have the bizarre pleasure of watching Hitchcock perform while New York City goes about its business behind him. Robyn Hitchcock is one of my favorite personalities of all time. Hearing him talk is superseded only by listening to him perform.
Favorite use of diagetic music: Rachel Getting Married (2008) – Directed by Jonathan Demme
While Rachel Getting Married possesses many wonderful attributes, Anne Hathaway‘s and Debra Winger‘s performances foremost among them, its use of music is most odd and wonderful. Songs continually play in the background, but they are entirely diagetic. Demme conceived of a narrative device, a group of musicians practicing for and playing at a wedding, that allowed him to diagetically give his film a score and a soundtrack. At times, this narrative device becomes part of the narrative. Hathaway’s Kym admonishes the musicians so that she can discuss matters with her sister in quiet. The use of diagetic music and Kym’s insistence that it stop is a wonderful moment in which we can recognize the conventions of film as film rather than a reproduction of life.
Robyn Hitchcock also makes an appearance as one of the wedding’s musicians. Like me, Demme must be a big fan.