Music in film is so many things at once.
Music becomes the filler when words seem limited. It carries the unspoken, the atmosphere, the essence of a scene. It becomes emblematic, that piece of the film that you can keep with you to preserve that feeling you had when you experienced the movie for the first time. It’s that little vehicle that shapes meaning, that twists and shocks à la ‘why am I vibing to Huey Lewis and the News when a person is being hit with a hammer in American Psycho..?’ There is a certain genius in being able to have rock’n’roll accompany the bloodiest of torture scenes. And sound makes or breaks a film in so many instances.
2017 has been an interesting year for cinema so far, with major progress all-around (yes, I’m thinking about Moonlight) and it’s even delivered some moments for the ages on the music front. As proof, here are some moments that will come to define 2017’s sonic landscape down the line.
Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age film disguised as a body horror deals with all the growing pains that teenage girls experience: the rite of passage of self-discovery and sexual desire being delivered through the filter of cannibalism. If there’s any turning point in Justine’s spiritual journey, it has to be in the possession-like moment (evocative of Zulaswki’s Possession) when she dances while putting on lipstick and then proceeding to kiss her reflection in the mirror with a confidence she had not exhibited before. What appears to be violent female rap is the soundtrack to the scene (one that matches Ducournau’s own ‘mutant feminist’ description of the film), flipping the coin on what pretty much every other male rap song does to women.
20th Century Women
Mike Mills’ ode to his mother is very dependent on all those intimate, transformative moments, equivalent to dancing alone in your bedroom and putting life on pause. He focuses on those snippets that are the defining memory of growing up, or just growing, with someone, and he does so by attaching the soundtrack of his life to them. It’s this devotion to the personal that turns into one of the most accurate accounts of early punk on-screen, of those years when a Talking Heads fan would get you “ART FAG” graffitied on your car. The standout moment of this invocation is Annette Bening’s attempt to educate herself about this new sound.
Although Mica Levi’s haunting orchestral score was the best of recent years, going that extra mile to complete Jackie’s emotional journey, the two most striking moments were when that score was muted in favour of Richard Burton’s Camelot. The bewildering political dynasty set up by the Kennedys was built with the help of the Arthurian myth, with Jackie Kennedy planting this idea in the hearts of a grieving America in her LIFE magazine interview. From there on, Larraín’s film embraces the motif, making it follow Jackie in pivotal moments.
From the moment when she was pacing throughout the White House, trying to decide upon the grandeur of JFK’s funeral, to the final moment of the film when the soundtrack plays the reprise to Camelot as she watches her legacy taking shape in the form of mannequins that look and dress like her, Richard Burton’s voice becomes that one bittersweet element adding another layer to the grief, singing “don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief shining moment, there was a Camelot.”
Song to Song
Song to Song, in all its experiments whether formal or stylistic, is a music moment in itself. Starting with the pretence that the Texas music scene is somehow relevant to the narrative, from the title down to every other small detail this underrated gem is drenched in notable music or music-related elements including even a cameo by the mother of punk herself Patti Smith dispensing her wisdom. In an effort to narrow it down, I’ll point you Del Shannon’s Runaway and it’s perfect montage quality in the trailer as there’s nothing that reflects that dizziness of nostalgia and conflict and confusion of the film.
A Ghost Story
A quirky meditation on the ephemerality of life, our place in the world and our place in other’s world, A Ghost Story revolves around that silent yearning to reach out to someone who is not physically there. This loneliness can only be expressed in silences that at times appear louder than any soundtrack, filled with frustration and helplessness. C’s parting gift to M (though unknowingly) constitutes an eerily premonitory song that comes to bridge the gap between those saturated moments when life was still on track and the limbo that follows the abrupt loss of a lover.
“Is my lover there?
Are we breaking up?
Did she find someone else?
And leave me alone?
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