Soundtrack > Movie

soundtracks

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was making the late night drive home from Poughkeepsie. I make this drive frequently, since that’s where I catch Metro North whenever I’m heading into the City, but it’s not a very interesting ride and I’m usually doing it after a very fun, but exhausting, day. One of the ways that I keep myself alert is to play music really loud that I can sing along with; this keeps my energy up and makes the time fly by faster. The song “Footloose” came on and as I was belting out my best Kenny Loggins impression, I thought about how much I loved this soundtrack when I was a kid. It was one of the first non-kid albums (yes – I had albums) that I owned and I liked pretty much every song on it; “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” was a personal favorite, but there were also great tunes by John Cougar Mellencamp, Quiet Riot, Bonnie Tyler and Foreigner. I used to play that record a lot, probably driving my mother crazy in the process.

The irony is I didn’t even like the movie Footloose.

While I thought Footloose (the soundtrack) was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard, even at eight years old I knew that the premise of Footloose (the movie) was rubbish. I mean, a town where dancing was banned? What was that? I just wasn’t buying what they were selling. I finally got around to seeing the movie when I was a little bit older and my early instincts were right – this was not a good movie. But thirty years later, I still enjoy all the songs from the soundtrack.

This got me thinking about other instances where I liked a movie soundtrack a lot more than the movie itself. Turns out, this happens more than I would have expected. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I hated the movie in question, but simply that I enjoyed the collection of songs featured in the movie more. Maybe it’s a sign of being a kid of the 80s and early 90s, when soundtracks were really big business, that I pay as much attention to the music in films as I do. A good soundtrack improves a movie and helps the viewer connect with it. It often also exposes you to new artists that you might not have been familiar with; I’ve discovered a lot of music that I like from the artist being featured on a soundtrack that I enjoy. When it’d done perfectly, and there is a perfect marriage between song and movie, you can’t help but think of one without thinking of the other. The two are forever interconnected.

Sometimes the quality of the move can’t seem to quite live up to the quality of the soundtrack. While I’d listen to the following soundtracks anytime, you’d be less likely to get me to watch the movie that they are supposedly supporting. In some of these cases, the music is the star and the movie is more secondary. In others, the music is the only redeeming thing about the film experience.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

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I didn’t hate this movie as much as everyone else did, but I’ll admit that it wasn’t very good either. I respect what Diablo Cody was going for with her black comedy horror script, but it just didn’t come together all that well. The cast was pretty good – it featured a pre-super fame Chris Pratt – and it tried to put a new twist on the horror genre, but it gets an A for effort and a C for execution. The soundtrack, however, was great and marked my first exposure to the band Florence + the Machine. I was immediately drawn to their song “Kiss With A Fist” as soon as I heard it; In fact, I paused the movie midway through to start exploring the soundtrack online (not a good sign for the actual movie). It was full of a ton of bands that I liked or wound up liking. The movie experience wasn’t all that great, but the musical experience was top notch.

 

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

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While I didn’t get around to watching Saturday Night Fever until pretty recently, I was under the impression that it was just a cheesy 70s disco movie. I’d see plenty of iconic clips from the movie over the years – John Travolta in his white suit on the multi-colored dance floor. So I was ill-prepared for the fact that the bulk of this movie was not about dancing. You’d think that someone would have mentioned the rapes and gang violence and suicide at some point. Those are topics that I don’t necessarily have a problem with in a movie, but they were so far afoul of what I thought I was going to see that I wasn’t a fan of the movie at all. Thank goodness for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which provided me with all the disco-goodness that I was looking for. With the Bee-Gees, you get what you expect.

 

Into the Wild (2007)

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I didn’t mind the film Into the Wild, but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I liked the book more, but that had more to do with Jon Krakauer’s writing style more than anything else. I just didn’t completely connect with Christopher McCandless’ story, probably because I am not, by any definition of the word, outdoorsy. The wilderness is pretty and all, but I’m over it pretty quickly. Taking off to be one with nature is nothing that I would ever do, let alone to do such a half-assed job of it or without telling anyone where I was going. I found much more beauty in Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack, not surprising since I’ve loved Eddie Vedder since I was 13 years old. Add some banjos into the mix and the movie didn’t stand a chance.

Top Gun (1986)

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Maybe I like Kenny Loggins more than I thought I did.

Top Gun is a fine movie; I enjoyed it a lot more when I was a kid and I might stop to watch it if it’s on cable on a Sunday afternoon. It doesn’t necessarily hold up all that well – the volleyball scene that was such a big deal when I was younger reads a little differently now that I’m an adult (and poor Goose – forced to play beach volleyball with a shirt on). But even on the strength of only one song – Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” – the soundtrack easily surpasses the movie. And seriously, who doesn’t love “Danger Zone?” Advantage soundtrack.

 

Garden State (2004)

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I have a complicated and ever evolving relationship with the movie Garden State. I didn’t really love it the first time I saw it, but the movie eventually won me over after a few viewings – until I hit a saturation point and fell out of like with the film (possibly related to falling out of like with someone who really loved the film). Now I’m mostly ambivalent about the movie. The soundtrack, on the other hand, I always liked quite a bit. There is just so much wonderful indie rock on there – Coldplay, The Shins, Colin Hay, Remy Zero. I’m 1,000 times more likely to play the Garden State soundtrack than re-watch Garden State itself.

Reality Bites (1994)

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I was too young and naïve when I saw Reality Bites for the first time. I was in high school when the movie came out and the thought that this angst was my future was not what I had planned. I didn’t get the appeal of arty and unambitious Ethan Hawke. Then I went to college and Reality Bites made a whole lot more sense. But while I didn’t love the movie as much as my peers did, I had nothing but love for all the music. Squeeze’s “Tempted” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and “My Sharona” and “Stay” are up there as well. I should probably give Reality Bites another watch to see where I stand on it now, but no matter where I am in my life I have always dug the tunes.

Your turn – what soundtracks do you like more than the movie that they were spawned from? Sound off in the comments below.

Jersey

This past weekend I was in New Jersey for the wedding of one of my sorority sisters. It was a nice time and I was glad to be part of the couple’s special day and catch up with some old friends, but it also meant that my pop culture consumption was pretty limited this weekend. However, you can find inspiration anywhere and my road trip got me thinking about the plethora of pop culture that I enjoy that have a connection to Jersey. I was surprised what a lengthy list it wound up being. Who knew that Jersey had so much to contribute to the world of entertainment? So as we await the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy, here are some of my favorite things with ties to the Garden State:

The Sopranos

Probably not the stereotype that New Jersey was hoping to get saddled with, but David Chase’s examination of “connected” men and their families – both of birth and business – really couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. Tony Soprano was a terrible man that did terrible things, but you somehow couldn’t help but root for him on some level. The audience’s acceptance of his moral ambiguity helped open the door for other great shows like Breaking Bad, so for that alone we owe Chase a great debt.  I’ll probably always remember where I was during the series finale – we first thought that the cable had gone out – and the ending will continue to be debated for years to come (my take – Tony wasn’t killed).  Re-watching the series is on my to do list; I have all the seasons on DVD, but just have to find the time. My favorite episode is an early one as it was only the fifth episode of the series. In “College,” Tony takes his daughter Meadow to look at colleges in Maine and runs into someone from his past. Not as bloody or complex as some of the later seasons, but this was the episode that had me completely committed to the show.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

I mentioned how much I enjoyed the musical Jersey Boys when I went to see it with my mom earlier this year, so it’s not a surprise that they made the list. Though I don’t do with the same frequency that I did immediately after the show, I do often play their music at work, especially if I’m having a bad day. The songs are just so catchy that you can’t help being in a better mood after you hear them. I also enjoy the puzzled looks that people have when they walk into my office and hear Frankie Valli coming through the speakers. Not what you expect someone my age to be rocking out to.

Kevin Smith

Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I really enjoy the works of director Kevin Smith. Jersey Girl was probably my least favorite, but it was a sweet movie that was primarily a causality of everyone being sick to death of “Bennifer” (it’s hard to believe that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were almost married). His movies can be crass, but they are also clever, smart and a lot of fun. Dogma has some very interesting things to say about religion and Clerks helped to inspire a whole new generation of independent filmmakers. His latest film, Red State, is a scary look into religious extremism and is one of his best movies. My favorite of the bunch has always been Mallrats, which is actually one of his least popular films. Maybe it is the presence of Shannen Doherty, maybe it is because I used to like hanging out at the mall or maybe it is the New Kids on the Block joke that the movie contains – for whatever reason, Mallrats always makes me laugh. His movies are endlessly quotable; just the other day I dropped an “I’m not even supposed to be here today” on someone, who thankfully got the reference. And even as a non-Star Wars fan, I’ve always enjoyed this scene from Clerks:

Kevin Smith the man is also pretty interesting. He can be brash and over the top, but he speaks his mind and stands behind his convictions. I’ve watched a few of his specials and they are always amusing, even if he usually only answers one question from the audience because he is so verbose.

Garden State

I will admit that I didn’t immediately take to Zach Braff’s movie Garden State. It took a second viewing for the film to really win me over. The quirkiness of the film felt a little forced the first time around – and I’m not sure that it isn’t – but once I went with it I really enjoyed it. I knew Braff from his zany antics on Scrubs, so it was interesting to see him in a smaller and somewhat quieter role as he stars as a man who must return home for the funeral of his mother. Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard co-star and Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory) even has a small part. The film also has a tremendous soundtrack and helped to introduce me to many bands that at the time I wasn’t familiar with at the time, like The Shins and Iron & Wine. The film also features one my favorite heartbreaking songs, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by the amazing Colin Hay.

Bruce Springsteen

I don’t think it is possible to think of New Jersey and to not think of The Boss. My love of Springsteen is well documented on the blog, but to not include him in this post would be heresy. He’s never shied away from referencing his home state; odes to Jersey are peppered through his entire discography. If I could figure out where to put it, I would order this map of New Jersey that is based on Springsteen lyrics.

Jon Stewart

Though he was born in NYC, Stewart grew up in New Jersey and makes frequent reference to it. I was a fan of his before he took over The Daily Show – I am one of a handful of people who actually liked Death to Smoochy – but my admiration of him only intensified afterward. Under his tenure Stewart managed to make a show on basic cable that satirizes the news into one of the most respected and honest sources of political coverage that we have today. It’s still silly and still satirical, but The Daily Show has become a way to hold politicians accountable and to point out hypocrisy. Somewhere, Craig Kilborn is kicking himself for ever leaving the show. Stewart is a smart man and while he is not covert about his political affiliation, he is an equal opportunity offender. I would always encourage my students to watch The Daily Show back in my teaching days and it is one show that I always try to watch. Stewart is the reason for that. Though they have an amazing team on the program – working for them is actually my dream job – it is Stewart’s presence that really makes the show as great as it is. He’s kind of my hero. If you missed his debate with Bill O’Reilly, it’s on Youtube:

Cheaper By the Dozen by  Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books to read was the 1948 book Cheaper By the Dozen. I’m not 100% sure how an older book found its way into my hands, but I re-read it and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes, religiously. The books are biographical and chronicle the Gilbreth family and their 12 children in Montclair, NJ. Their father was a motion study and efficiency expert who often used his brood to determine the best ways to do things. These books were partially responsible for my early desire to have a lot of children, back before I understood how much work having kids really was. Now I’d be happy with just one and even that seems daunting. The books also provide an interesting glimpse at what life was like in the early part of the twentieth century; as a girl, I remember being especially intrigued by their discussion of the Roaring 20s and flappers. Even today, I try to re-read these books once a year and I rarely re-read books so that gives some insight into how much I enjoyed them. And thankfully the book has nothing in common with the movie abomination starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, other than a name and twelve children.

Bon Jovi

I’ve been a fan of Bon Jovi for almost my entire life; I remember Slippery When Wet coming out when I was in elementary school and it was the only album that gave Madonna and Michael Jackson any competition for our attention. And even at ten years old, I knew that Jon Bon Jovi was very good looking. I’ve liked their music ever since. Their run of hits has been pretty impressive and though Jon can’t hit all the same notes anymore, they were still a lot of fun when I saw them in concert a few summers ago. Play this song on the jukebox of almost any bar and you’ll have people singing along in no time:

So hopefully I have done my extended family in Jersey proud with this post. Now it’s your turn – what is your favorite Garden State inspired pop culture?

This post seems especially poignant given the destruction that Hurricane Sandy caused to much of the East Coast. If you are looking for a way to help, please consider donating to the Red Cross at  www.redcross.org, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999.