March Newsletter: On Music in Film and Escapism

Photos: Classiq Journal. Image to the left:
“Between seasons”, photographic print available in the shop, as part of the Classiq Journal Editions.

 
 

I find myself paying more and more attention to music in film. Sure, I have long been aware of the importance of music in film. But now I sometimes watch how a film begins and the music starts and say out loud: “Huh, that music will ruin the film.” And it often does. Far from me the thought of being an expert on music in film, but after having watched so many movies, it would be strange not to be able to tell when the music is clearly wrong for the film.

“Music is mysterious; it doesn’t offer many answers. Film music, on the other hand, is even more mysterious at times, both because of its bond with images and because of its way of bonding with the audience.” – Ennio Morricone

Maybe it’s this last year that has kept me away from cinemas. When I am in a movie theater, I am immersed in that story unfolding on screen all eyes, ears and feeling. At home, although my husband and I take great pride in our movie shelves and religiously watch a film from beginning to end without hitting pause or getting distracted by anything, the experience doesn’t even come close. And I have realised that a good soundtrack plays an important part in that departure to the kind of experience that watching a film in a cinema allows. Music becomes that link between the real world and the story you are watching. It is not escapism, it is a greater form of beauty and depth. As Jean Cocteau said, “I am rather surprised whenever I hear people chatter on about ‘escapism’, a fashionable term which implies that the audience is trying to get out of itself, while in fact beauty in all of its forms drives us back into ourselves and obliges us to find in our own souls the deep enrichment that frivolous people are determined to seek elsewhere.”

There is a line I loved tremendously in Your Honor – since my previous newsletter, I have watched the series, which I mentioned there and which I was interested in watching just because of Bryan Cranston (judge Michael Desiato in the film), not having to or wanting to know anything else in advance. Hunter Doohan, who plays Michael’s son, Adam, says something his late mother used to tell him: “Go deep, not wide.” It’s a line that has stuck with me. And Your Honor, which follows the butterfly-effect aftermath of a hit and run in which Adam is involved, turned out to be so good on so many levels, from the story as a whole, from every single cast member, to choosing the backdrop of New Orleans for the setting, to the musical score. There is, for example, that moment when Adam starts dancing on Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. That moment alone, which had the power to detach me from absolutely every mundane thought, would have been enough to make the series worth watching. Is it a great song? Yes, it is. And it comes like a total surprise and plays out that scene so beautifully. But it stays with you because it makes you live the film, which I don’t see as detachment from reality, but as “going deep, not wide”. And isn’t it ironic how a song in a tv series (the series has an indie feeling, that’s why, I tell myself, and, yes, it reminds me of Breaking Bad) reminded me of what it is that is so special about going to the movies? It is in a cinema that you live a film. That complete abandonment and freedom you experience in the dark, in front of the big screen.

I was listening to the radio one morning in the car and a band was invited to perform. The band was Stema and they sang Săgeata. And one of the two hosts of the show remarked that the song would have made a great soundtrack for Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. And I thought that was so great, that is exactly what the power of cinema and music in film is, that music can bond audiences with cinema in a way nothing else can. How else than by singing the songs we’ve heard can we get so easily closer to the story and to the filmmaker’s vision that has captured our minds after the credits start rolling and the lights are on?

Where do music documentaries fit into all this? If it’s anything like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz about The Band (that’s a music documentary filmed with a cinematic sensibility), you simply play it loud, watch in awe how the camera glides between the performers in synch with the songs and rhythm (it’s like it shows you how to see a live concert) and live it!
 

Left: “Golden Gate Bridge Sunrise”, by Nadya Zim, part of a cinematic series of photographs in tribute to
Hitchcock’s San Francisco movies, available in the shop. Right: Photo by Classiq Journal

 
 
The Classiq Journal newsletter goes out the first Sunday of each month. It’s a culture trip.

Reading

Tippi*, by Tippi Hedren. She’s my favourite Hitchcock heroine (in The Birds) and I had to read her book, because I wanted to know her side of the story, about her two best films, The Birds and Marnie, the first two films she appeared in, without any formal training or experience whatsoever, and about Hitchcock. She comes off gracefully.

I have recently spotted George Orwell’s graphic version of The Animal Farm in one of my favourite bookshops, which has prompted me to start reading Nineteen Eighty-Four again, which has just been released in new editions both by Birlinn Polygon (on which occasion Hugh Andrew speculates on the connections between author, work and place) and William Collins. The brilliance of this writer. The book was published in 1949. And here we are today.
 
 

“To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are
different from one another and do not live alone – to a time when truth
exists and what is done cannot be undone.

From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of
Big Brother, from the age of doublethink – greetings!”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

 
 
Raymond Cauchetier’s New Wave, to celebrate the work and life of Raymond Cauchetier, the man who photographed the French New Wave, and who passed away at the age of 101 last month. One of my readers left me a message that best expressed his work: “M Cauchetier’s shots were often the first clue of the world that was on its way. I saw photos from Breathless years before there was a chance to see the film itself – by upping anticipation, his photos helped the movies enormously.”

Huh: A cafe with a view of the waterfall, a new Craig Mod newsletter. It’s a photo a week accompanied by a sentence. It’s about looking closely at the world, and taking a moment to do so, outside of Instagram. Craig Mod also hopes to inspire other photographers to create a home for their photos outside of Instagram. I believe it’s an inspiration for all of us to be more present. “An antipode to a good chunk of social media in general, but Instagram in particular, another way to share images, on a reduced scale.”

Harvester of Cinema: Viktor Schlöndorff pays homage to Jean-Claude Carrière. “Nobody but him could or would have dared to combine extremely conventional plotlines with such wild surrealist ideas.”
 
Viewing

The Last Waltz (1978), directed by Martin Scorsese. Play this movie loud! “The greatest concert movie of all time”, The Rolling Stone magazine named it.

Jacques Deray was a gifted and passionate filmmaker, and he knew how to stage a spectacle and create a certain universe in his films. He did all that in Borsalino, but Un papillon sur l’épaule (A Butterfly on His Shoulder), 1978, is anything but. Minimalist and frantic, with a Lino Ventura perfectly cast and Barcelona as a character in itself.

L’aile ou la cuisse (The Wing or the Thigh?), 1976, featuring Louis de Fùnes. For the laughs, for Louis de Fùnes’ innate and inimitable comedic talent, and for the humorously dark and accurate prevision on the future of food. It’s also about taste and the pleasure of eating and why tradition is more important than innovation.

Nous finirons ensemble (2019), directed by Guillaume Canet, has us follow up on the story of the characters in Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies). If’s about friends and friendship. It’s so incredibly relatable, sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating. Canet will release his latest film, Lui, this autumn. A psychological thriller, in his own words, featuring Mathieu Kassovitz among others.

Lifeboat (1944), because it’s good Hitchcock and for the way the characterisation of Tallulah Bankhead dominates the entire film.
 
Listening

Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama have a podcast together: Renegades: Born in the USA. Need I say more? I didn’t think so.

The playlist. It complements the newsletter: soundtrack songs from the movies mentioned here and tunes I’ve been listening to.
 
 

 
 
Exploring

The Art of Travel, with Sophy Roberts. It’s about travel that has nothing to do with this age of distraction, it’s about truly seeing, it’s about life experiences, it’s about the sharper eye that comes with walking, it’s about a deeper connection with our world, it’s about storytelling. So many great stories.
 
On an end note

A true story someone shared with me the other day. Years ago, an elementary school teacher was confronted with a problem during his class. One of the pupils reported his watch had been stolen. After the teacher asked for the guilty party to come forward and that didn’t happen, he told all the pupil ps to stand up and close their eyes. He searched everyone and found the watch. He put it on his desk, asked the children to open their eyes and told the boy whose watch had been stolen to get his watch. Years after this incident, the teacher was stopped in the street by a young man, who greeted him and asked him if he recalled what happened with the missing watch that one time long ago. “Yes, I do”, he said, “but why do you ask?” The young man replied: “Don’t you remember? I was the one who stole the watch.” To which the teacher said: “I didn’t know who had stolen the watch. I had my eyes closed, too.” Be kind.
 
The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good.

Craig Mod’s newsletters, Roden & Ridgeline & Huh (yes, all three of them).
Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews.
Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman.
Here’s the Thing, with Alec Baldwin.
Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter.
Monocle magazine, in print.
 
 

 
*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the books recommended here, I have linked to the respective publishing house or author. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.

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