More Than Meets The Mogwai

Friday, March 30, 2007

William Friedkin's Forays into Music Video Territory

Everybody knows it’s common in today’s Hollywood for music video directors to get their shot helming big-budget features, but I’ve always been much more fascinated going back to see what an already established feature film director does with this short film form during its initial ascendancy in the 1980s.

Usually, if the director is already somewhat well known, their choice of artists is limited to friends (Scorsese and Robbie Robertson’s “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” [1988]), the music they like (Brian De Palma and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” [1986], which in itself could be considered a compacted version of his proposed project FIRE, tentatively to have starred John Travolta as a Jim Morrison-esque rock singer), or music from a soundtrack from one of their own films (this category is almost always less interesting conceptually, relying on clips from the film interspersed with brief footage of the band; the first youtube clip I have on hand is a good example of this).

I’ve also noticed that the directors who you’d think would work efficiently under the commonly used, fast edit aesthetic that's so prominent and prevalent in the form usually cool it with their videos (the aforementioned De Palma, or Jonathan Demme’s clip for New Order’s “The Perfect Kiss”, capturing the band in the studio almost in a detached, yet somehow still palpably enthusiastic, manner).

Which brings me to the following two directed by William Friedkin (according to imdb, he also did one for Barbara Streisand’s “Somewhere”, but that’s not turning up on youtube), as they don't fall into this category of staid compositions, but speak to different levels of his own involvement and interest.

However ridiculous the actual music is, not to mention the oft-used 80s concept of purporting to be from a scoring session -- never mind that the song would actually have to exist first in order to necessitate the need for a video in the first place! -- Wang Chung’s “To Live and Die in L.A.”, from Friedkin’s film of the same name, is notable for Friedkin’s own cameo appearance near the finale in the studio booth (reminding me of the stories of his supposed exhilarated behavior -- pumping his fists, jumping up and down -- during The Germs' studio sessions for CRUISING, albeit this time with much more laid back music). But all in all, the creativity shown is limited.

Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” is another beast altogether with considerable much more input. The concept of a woman (Branigan) becoming entranced by a cloaked figure wearing a white mask during her slumber seems to foreshadow portions of Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT, particularly the usage of the smoothed-over porcelain mask and the moment where she turns the man over for the reveal. There also seems to be the influence of Greek tragedy, ballet, and even opera (causing one to recall that Friedkin revealed in a recent “Cinemascope” interview that he’s been directing a lot of it in Italy).

According to wikipedia:

"In 1984 MTV initially refused to air the music video for Branigan's "Self Control", which was directed by William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, and was one of the first music videos to have been directed by a major motion picture's director. After the record label provided an edited version, the network added this revised video to its rotation."

Again, the music isn’t my cup of tea, but in the interest of being a completist (supplementing my very own Friedkin retrospective here at home), I thought I’d share:

Wang Chung - "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985, William Friedkin):

Laura Branigan - "Self Control" (1984, William Friedkin):

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Filmmakers and Film Composers #1

I’ve been collecting soundtrack LPs for some time now, but after reorganizing recently, a pattern began to emerge on the backsides of the record jackets: that of the past practice of directors contributing liner notes to their film's soundtracks.

Discovering this odd bit of ephemera gave me the idea that shining a light and reprinting these (often brief) thoughts here would offer a glimpse into the relationship between filmmaker and composer, in addition to hopefully providing a context as to why a certain score or composer may have been chosen for the film in question.

With this in mind, I’d like to add that this will be the first in a series with the intention of eventually expanding and adding MP3 tracks to the posts -- just as soon as I figure out how.*

So, without further adieu, here's Blake Edwards on Henry Mancini's score for the big-screen adaptation of the former's television series, "Peter Gunn".

GUNN (1967)
Music from the Film Score Composed and Conducted by Henry Mancini

“As I entered the first scoring session of our new “Gunn” film, I was delighted to see that the band contained most of the familiar faces that had done the original TV show.

Hank and I had discussed the music for the “Gunn” film thoroughly and he confessed to me that this was to be one of his most difficult assignments. The six years that had passed since the TV “Peter Gunn” went off the air had seen sweeping changes, not only in jazz, but in all phases of the pop music spectrum.

As the score unfolded, everyone on that scoring stage agreed that Hank had done what was needed – he brought “Peter Gunn” up to date without sacrificing the feel and excitement of the original.

I think you will agree.”

Blake Edwards

*If anybody’s out there that knows, feel free to comment and clue me in so I can join that exclusive club of blogs with MP3 downloads.

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