Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sundance music

Over the past few days, I've taxed my brain cells with an onslaught of movies on TV and DVD and in theaters. I'll single out Little Miss Sunshine, Juno and Dan in Real Life not because they're my favorites but because they're thematically and aesthetically similar (even if Juno thinks of itself as a little hipper—it's not really), and because their soundtracks are pretty much interchangeable. Those scores say as much as the films themselves about a certain type of Hollywood aesthetics circa now. All three movies attempt to evoke a certain type of quirkiness (one that glorifies a palatable idea of individualism without actually offering any serious critique of the American social order), and in all three the music is a very specific type of indie rock/pop that translates that quirkiness into naiveté—a word meant as a compliment for many, but not necessarily a good thing in my mind.

This is most flagrant in Juno, which prominently features several songs by Kimya Dawson and in which a Moldy Peaches tune plays a rather big part. When you know that Jason Bateman plays an artiste manqué whose old band once opened for Melvins and who now writes music for commercials, you know you're in for indie-rock references as shortcuts for actual character development.

DeVotchKa did the music for Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life sports an extensive score plus a few songs by Sondre Lerche. In both, another type of indie sound is called up to help out potential deficiencies in screenwriting—this time, bouncy horns and jaunty melodies suggest that we are not in James Newton Howard or Hans Zimmer territory. Every time something meant to be unconventional, fanciful or touching happens, we get a bleating trumpet or a serious tuba instead of the 1,001 strings of the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra. That'll stick it to the man!

As an alternative to all these tubas, here's the nouveau-retro collaboration between Nouvelle Vague and director-screenwriter-actor Julie Delpy that plays over the end credits of Delpy's 2 Days in Paris (a movie with a successful first half about French-American cultural differences and a frustrating ending about Delpy and Adam Goldberg's couple trouble).

Nouvelle Vague featuring Julie Delpy "LaLaLa" (from 2 Days in Paris soundtrack, 2007)


Luke N Atmaguchi said...

(SPOILER ALERT, soundtrack only.) The other day I caught a double feature of “The Savages” and “Juno.” (My local multiplexes have this great offer: watch all the movies you want for the price of one.) Imagine my surprise when I heard the same Velvet Underground song in both! The ol’ literal usage, clumsier in the latter. Of course, I’ve never really recovered from when “Stars of Track and Field” was cued to an actual track meet in “Pumpkin.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

And Juno uses Belle and Sebastian too…