Music-Driven Films Give off Good Vibes

By Chagollan, Steve | Variety, November 3, 2015 | Go to article overview

Music-Driven Films Give off Good Vibes


Chagollan, Steve, Variety


As fer as awards consideration goes, the class of 2015 is notable for a healthy crop of music-driven movies, whether it's documentaries like "Amy," which chronicles the rise and tragic fall of chanteuse Amy Winehouse; or Universal's duo of box office hits: "Straight Outta Compton," a tribute to gangsta rappers N.WjV, and "Pitch Perfect 2," about competing a cappella groups.

But some films use music to drive the narrative in unusual, often intricate ways. In "The Martian," '70s disco helps Matt Damon's stranded astronaut avoid utter despair, even if it's not his ultimate playlist.

In Charlie Kaufman's upcoming stop-motion "Anomalisa," a dispirited protagonist suffering from an existential crisis takes solace in listening to the "Flower Duet" aria from the opera "Lakme," on his headphones, and is comforted by the voice of a young woman he encounters who sings Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" in both English and Italian. (Though Kaufman's original choice was "My Heart Will Go On").

In "Youth," opening Dec. 4, Michael Caine plays a retired classical composer-conductor named Fred Ballinger, who's best known for his "Simple Songs" cycle. A movement from that cycle is alluded to throughout the film. When we finally do hear "Simple Song No. 3," which was composed for the movie by David Lang and sung by opera/pop diva Sumi Jo, it acts as an emotional release not only for the film's blocked maestro, but for the audience as well.

"One of the beautiful things about the film is that everything leads up to this incredible moment when you see that song (performed)," Lang tells Variety. "It has to (convey) this huge distance between where he was as a young man in love to where he is now as an old man in love. …

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