Archive for November, 2009

Memo to Wes Anderson: Please drop the classic pop record shtick

Saturday, November 28th, 2009


To: Wes Anderson
From: BYM
Re: Pointless classic pop records in your movies

After watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m requesting that you please drop the classic pop record shtick you’ve used for every single one of your movies for the following reasons:

1) The records mostly don’t work. All those records you shoved into Rushmore, and even The Royal Tenenbaums way back when were fun in a head scratching sort of way, but having just seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m getting the distinct impression that you’re now subscribing to the Quentin Tarantino soundtrack school of tossing in your favorite records willy nilly just to be cool. That’s how it’s starting to look, at least.

2) More often than not, the records hurt the movie. “Heroes and Villains,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Old Man River,” and, especially, “Let Her Dance,” add absolutely nothing to the singular visual experience you’ve offered viewers with The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In fact, they most certainly jerk viewers out of the wonderland you’ve worked so hard to coax them into by introducing clashing contexts (ha - a little Royal Tenenbaums word joke). Please take this criticism seriously, because it’s not the first time your soundtrack hobbyhorsing has hurt one of your films. Your preoccupation with David Bowie acted as a major distraction to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and nearly sunk it, and your insistence on spotlighting Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” in The Darjeeling Limited added more than a few unnecessary pounds of dead weight to an already sluggish situation.

3) More often than not, the movie hurts the records. I’m of the opinion that the visual images movie makers ask viewers to associate with certain songs is no trifling matter, and a song’s appearance in a movie can do irreparable damage to a song. I understand the argument that pop songs are essentially commercial entities that are, in a way, consigned to an existence of eternal molestation merely for being what they are. But damage is still damage.

Illustration A: Sarstedt’s song, a UK no. 1 hit in its day, has already been around the block a few trillion times. But the distinct image that unfortunate viewers of Darjeeling are now forced to associate with it - Jason Schwartzman moping around with his iPod and a bored, anorexic Natalie Portman - has undoubtedly murdered a certain element of that song’s je ne sais quoi.

Illustration B: When the Bobby Fuller Four’s transcendent “Let Her Dance” crashes in for the closing credits of Mr. Fox, viewers are asked to associate one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records ever recorded with animals dancing in a supermarket. That song’s so glorious that it can handle it, but it doesn’t change the silly visual image you’ve surgically attached to the song in so many viewers’ minds. I felt my heart literally sink when I heard this play, realizing that a song that made me lose my breath the first time I experienced it was now going to be forever associated by my own kids as an incidental soundtrack item in an animal movie. The song hurt the scene and the scene hurt the song.

4) Movie directors have a unique opportunity to introduce new music to audiences. This is a biggie, Wes, and it’s one thing about your latest movie that makes me think you have it in you to change your ways. The very best musical moment in this film was the song you had the animated Jarvis Cocker do. That was so magical that I wondered through the entire film why you didn’t just get Cocker to do the entire soundtrack. It meshed with the rest of the film in a way that none of those records did.

This is my basic counter argument for all the boobs who say “the music biz survives on movie and commercial tie-ins nowadays and you might as well get over it and enjoy your very favorite song hawking Super Sugar Pops”: Movie directors, advertisers, and TV people would be doing the music biz a lot more good if they commissioned more original music. It would also make them look less lazy, like the shlubs who devised those CSI intros featuring The Who as opposed to commissioning inventive, original theme music. (Obvious metaphor image).

I might have exulted in your latest movie, Wes, if you hadn’t have taken the lazy way out in the soundtrack department, and I don’t consider myself so unique that I’m the only one who feels this way. (Spike Jonze, to his credit, commissioned original music for his Where the Wild Things Are; to his discredit, the soundtrack and movie both turned out utterly cheerless.)

Thanks for reading, Wes. I may never forgive you for the Bobby Fuller Four flap, but here’s to future days.


posted by Kim Simpson

Movies By Memory, Pt. 5: Party Mix

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

cowsillsThe thing is, people, I’m going through a big ol’ relapse of Cowsills mania. So as I restrain myself from dropping big bills on old Tiger Beat mags, you’re stuck with more entries from my “movies by memory” guide, a work in progress.

How to play “Movies By Memory”: Take the 3 or 4 things you remember about any given movie (no Google allowed) and incorporate these into a one-sentence plot summary.

Virgin Suicides, The (2003): Todd Rundgren stars as a boy who wears a wig to seduce three schoolgirls with tragic results.

Paper Moon (1974): Young Tatum O’Neal teaches her father, a hot dog vendor, valuable life lessons using stories from the Bible.

Wide Sargasso Sea (1993): Richard Gere stars as Heathcliff, a lusty islander whose life is altered when he inherits an estate in Pemberley.

Trading Places (1983): Jamie Lee Curtis and her attorney, Eddie Murphy, bring outsider transvestite Dan Ackroyd back into normal society.

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931): Two aboriginal surfers travel the Australian coast looking for perfect waves and topless sunbathers.

Spies Like Us (1985): Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy, reviving their roles in “Ghostbusters,” investigate Paul McCartney’s mistaken identity.

Reversal of Fortune (1990): Woody Allen, a lawyer, gets ten misfit law students to help him annul Kirk Douglas’s marriage to Glen Close.

Peter’s Friends (1992): Sparks fly when five British thespians reunite to work on a stage production based on the music of Tears For Fears.

Advocate, The (1994): John Travolta stars as a hooded gigolo among the castles of medieval France.

Nobody’s Fool (1994): Paul Newman teaches Al Franken how to keep his two boys from fighting.

My Architect: A Son’s Journey (2003): A boy roller skates to Creedence Clearwater Revival in buildings designed by his absent-minded father.

Jazz Singer, The (1980): Neil Diamond teaches Barbra Streisand how to sing Al Jolson songs in Yiddish.

54 (1998): An elderly woman disco dances to death in the arms of an impressionable young boy.

posted by Kim Simpson

Movies by memory in one sentence, pt. 4

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009


How to play “Movies By Memory”: Take the 3 or 4 things you remember about any given movie (no Google allowed) and incorporate these into a one-sentence plot summary.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948): A cackling man’s stomach growls loudly as he hunts for frozen strawberries in the desert.

Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A (1945): A gifted arborist abandons his dreams while his daughter plays the prima donna.

Triplets of Belleville, The (2003): Two cartoon witches from France cure a deformed cyclist using dried frogs and silly music.

Tron (1982): John Travolta stars as a rebel dancer in a futuristic world populated by robot cyclists.

True Romance (1993): A Mexican boy’s search for Elvis escalates into a pillow fight with members of the Hollywood movie industry mafia.

Truly Madly Deeply (1991): A man’s obsession with Werner Herzog films prompts his weeping wife to develop enough courage to kick him out.

Truman Show, The (1998): Donny Most gets Jim Carrey drunk and forces him to appear in a soap opera and dance with him to T. Rex.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988): Singer Joe Jackson directed this story of a man who invented the automobile and wrote “Eye of the Tiger.”

Tunes of Glory (1960): David Niven kidnaps a Scottish rugby team, but an army of bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace” saves the day.

Twelve Angry Men (1957): Dick York plays an African American who’s been accused of teaching evolution and pestering the village recluse.

posted by Kim Simpson

Movies by memory in one sentence, pt. 3

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009


How to play “Movies By Memory”: Take the 3 or 4 things you remember about any given movie (no Google allowed) and incorporate these into a one-sentence plot summary.

From the P section:

Pi (1998): Ron Palillo is a mathematician who tries to escape a locked room through the power of numbers, but ends up resorting to violence.

Piano, The (1993): A man who paints his face to attract women meets a traveling pianist who chops off her fingers to attract men.

Piano Teacher, The (2001): A woman who vomits on children punishes herself by scooting about on her knees and hiding under her bed.

Picnic (1955): A teenager with no sense of rhythm prevents shirtless drifter John Wayne from loitering around dressing rooms.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): A gang of girls dressed as Christmas angels break out of a correctional facility and baffle authorities.

Pillow Book, The (1996): A Japanese calligrapher writes ancient curse words all over Ewan McGregor while he sleeps.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): Winona Ryder talks Johnny Depp out of marrying her father’s skeleton.

Place in the Sun, A (1951): Spencer Tracy takes his daughter’s fiancee out for a reckless rowboat ride.

Play Misty for Me (1971): Disk jockey Clint Eastwood enrages a local female listener for playing jazz all night and Roberta Flack all day.

Pleasantville (1998): After dreaming he’s Jerry Mathers with long hair and glasses, a young boy wakes up hungry for Doritos and pancakes.

posted by Kim Simpson

Movies by memory in one sentence: Star Trek Edition

Monday, November 16th, 2009


How to play “Movies By Memory”: Take the 3 or 4 things you remember about any given movie (no Google allowed) and incorporate these into a one-sentence plot summary.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): An Enterprise crew member abandons ship and hijacks a dangerous alien’s baldness machine.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): The Enterprise’s desperate battle with squealing ear caterpillars spells doom for Mr. Spock.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984): Kirk’s son and Spock’s daughter find the elderly Spock wandering aimlessly on a garden planet.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): The Enterprise kills whales until Spock determines they are merely a coalition of frightened mothers.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Kirk, Spock and McCoy bicker so much on a desert adventure that a superior power intervenes.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): Kirk is trapped by yetis who accuse him of stealing David Bowie’s wife.

posted by Kim Simpson

Movies by memory in one sentence

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

popcorn3I keep a list of all the movies I’ve seen and I realize that one of the main reasons I do this may be to translate such a blatantly recreational activity into something literally constructive. But when I look at my list I’m always surprised over how many movies I’ve seen but don’t remember anything about save for a few stray words, songs, and images.

I occasionally undertake this little exercise that excavates whatever I can remember about a movie in one sentence. Below is a sampling from the W section. Note: Movies I really like (Wattstax), movies I especially dislike (Garden State), and movies I’ve seen more than once (Waiting for Guffman) don’t seem to work well for this exercise.

Waking Life (2001): A young man wakes up in a cartoon nightmare world in which all the habitants worship the sounds of their own voices.

Waking Ned Devine (1998): An old pig farmer cycles nude to the sound of bagpipes, all for a “chicken supper.”

Walkabout (1973): Rod Stewart narrates this story of a broken, nudist desert family in the heart of Australia.

Wanderers, The (1979): A little girl breaks greasers’ fingers at a bowling alley, then runs off with Bob Dylan.

Warriors, The (1979): Street gangs with baseball bats do choreographed battle to the music of Joe Walsh and the catcalls of Sean Penn.

Watcher in the Woods (1980): German Shepherds and talking mirrors spread nasty rumors about Hayley Mills in the middle of a forest.

Watership Down (1978): Several hundred cartoon rabbits find ways to tell each other apart against the ethereal backdrop of Art Garfunkel.

Way We Were, The (1973): A woman’s efforts to sing ballads in the voice of Bugs Bunny can’t keep the man she loves from leaving.

Weird Science (1985): Two high school boys use electricity, beakers, and underpants to disrupt an Oingo Boingo concert.

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996): After getting kicked out of her brother’s organ/sax combo, a homely young girl forms a city choir.

What Lies Beneath (2000): Harrison Ford’s laptop flashes gibberish messages, prompting Michelle Pfeiffer to dump both of them into a lake.

posted by Kim Simpson

Iron Butterfly channeling Hawaii Five-O or vice versa

Sunday, November 8th, 2009



It’s fun listening to Iron Butterfly because they temper all their heavy handedness with sprightly organ pop. Just listen to side one of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and see what I mean. Even more appealing to me is how they occasionally evoke - whether unwittingly or not - certain soundtrack elements of Hawaii Five-O. One of my favorite musical bits Morton Stevens did for the show is a bit of furrowed-brow exotica I think of as the “busybody theme” - it plays either while Danno, Chin and the rest, all dressed in suits, go marching around the entire island, knocking on doors, peeking down manholes, burrowing through gardens, and sticking their arms in fishbowls, all under the orders of McGarrett. It also plays while bad guys are shown making nefarious preparations - licking stamps and sticking them on piles of boxes full of counterfeit money, putting all 450 pieces of a sharpshooter together, etc. The “busybody theme” makes this all quite tolerable. So here it is, along with two Iron Butterfly classics that have Five-O written all over ‘em.

(For the record, the first season debuted in ‘68 while these two IB songs came out in ‘69. Also for the record, Mike Quigley’s longstanding collection of episode “anal-yses” at the Hawaii Five-O Home Page has to be one of the seven wonders of the virtual world.)

Update: After touching base with Mr. Mike at H50HQ, I realize now that I’d mistaken the music I first posted - which debuted in the sixth season “Hookman” episode - with a very similar sounding “busybody” predecessor heard all throughout the previous seasons. I’ve now posted that earlier theme at the top with the “Hookman” version below it.

Morton Stevens - Hawaii Five-O “Busybody Theme”

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Morton Stevens - Hawaii Five-O “Hookman Busybody Theme”

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Iron Butterfly - “Her Favorite Style”

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Iron Butterfly - “I Can’t Help But Deceive You, Girl”

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posted by Kim Simpson