Monday, February 28, 2011

Women's History Month Film Screenings at WSU

March is Women's History Month and there will be several related film screenings on the Winona State campus over the next few weeks.

Jump at the Sun
Tuesday, March 1, 7 pm Somsen Auditorium
84 minutes
A biography of Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. A discussion led by Dr. Gretchen Michlitsch will follow the film.

Red Moon: Menstruation, Culture & the Politics of Gender
Thursday, March 17, 7 pm, Science Lab Auditorium (SL120)
53 minutes
Red Moon provides a take on the absurd and frequently dangerous cultural stigmas and superstitions surrounding women's menstruation. The film functions as both a myth-busting overview of the realities of menstruation, and a piercing cultural analysis of the ways in which struggles over meaning and power have played out through history on the terrain of women's bodies.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee
Monday, March 21, 7:00 pm, Somsen Auditorium
87 minutes
From Jamie Babbit, director of But I’m a Cheerleader, this feature film tells the story of a young woman who falls in with a gang of feminist troublemakers.

It Doesn’t Define Us
Tuesday, March 22, 7:00 pm, Science Lab Auditorium (SL120)
80 minutes
It Doesn't Define Us is a feature length documentary about gay rights and many of the issues the GLBT community is facing not only in the state of Minnesota but also nationwide. Filmmakers Bruce Meyers and Gordy Severson conducted over 40 interviews featuring FOX 9's Robyne Robinson, KARE-11's Jana Shortal, Minnesota State Senator Scott Dibble and well-known gay activist Mandy Carter.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Commentary on the AFI's 25 Greatest Film Scores

On Sunday, February 27th, Sounds of Cinema completed a two-part series of episodes that showcased the American Film Institute’s picks of the twenty-five greatest film scores of all time. This list was released in 2005 as a part of the institute’s "100 Years" series. Although I think the organization made mostly good choices on this compilation of film scores, I do have some criticisms of the AFI and their lists.

First is a practical criticism. The lists are never really definitive because films continue to get made and work that surpasses the motion pictures and scores on this and other AFI lists could be superseded at any time. There is also a related question of quantity. All other AFI lists included 100 choices but for some reason this list of scores was limited to twenty-five. Both concerns highlight the arbitrary nature of these lists.
Second, the AFI's list is imprecise in its criteria. The description on the AFI's page about the list indicates that these are the most memorable film scores of all time. Memorable is not necessarily synonymous with "good" and "good music" can have radically different meanings to different people at different times. The scores of John Williams tend to use a leitmotif technique, in which themes are established and manipulated to link the music closely to the action and editing of the film. Other scores, like those of Bernard Herrmann, tend to create a musical atmosphere. Neither style is necessarily better than the other, although some film and music critics may argue otherwise. But what is to be judged as art, or for that matter as a definitive example of film music, varies over time as techniques and sounds come in and out of style.

Third, this particular list of film scores is specifically directed at original compositions. It is an understandable caveat, but as a result the list ignores a broader use of music in film. The AFI’s list of great scores excludes adaptations and interpolations of classical works into a film, such as the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey which effectively uses music by Richard Strauss in one of the most memorable marriages of music and moving imagery in any film ever made. The list also excludes the use of popular music or the combination of pop music with score. This leaves out soundtracks to films like Top Gun, Do the Right Thing, and American Graffiti.
My last major criticism of these lists is that the AFI shows preferential treatment toward big budget films from Hollywood studios. Independent films are mostly absent from all AFI lists and its register of great film music is almost entirely made of large orchestral scores that conform to a classic Hollywood sound. Synthetic or electronic music is entirely absent and scores limited to piano or a small ensemble are few in number. This leaves out music from films like Shaft, Halloween, and Requiem for a Dream.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of scores that I think rival at least half of the AFI’s picks. I’ve listed them alphabetically by film title. In assembling the list, I have omitted film musicals but I have retained films that use popular or vocal music as a part of the soundtrack or include musical performances as part of the diegesis of the film.
  • 28 Days Later (2002) John Murphy, et al.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Various Artists
  • Aliens (1987) James Horner
  • Amadeus (1984) Various Artists
  • American Graffiti (1973) Various Artists
  • Apocalypse Now (1979) Carmine Coppola, et al.
  • August Rush (2007) Various Artists
  • Back to the Future (1985) Alan Silvestri, et al.
  • Batman (1989) Danny Elfman & Prince
  • Beverly Hills Cop (1984) Harold Faltermeyer, et al.
  • Black Swan (2010) Clint Mansell
  • Blade Runner (1982) Vangelis
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989) John Williams
  • Braveheart (1995) James Horner
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Henry Mancini
  • The Breakfast Club (1985) Various Artists
  • The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Franz Waxman
  • Candyman (1992) Philip Glass
  • Cape Fear (1991) Elmer Bernstein
  • Casablanca (1942) Max Steiner
  • Chariots of Fire (1981) Vangelis
  • Chocolat (2000) Rachel Portman
  • Cinema Paradisio (1988) Ennio Morricone
  • Citizen Kane (1941) Bernard Herrmann
  • Cleopatra (1963) Alex North
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971) Wendy Carlos, et al.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) John Williams
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982) Basil Poledouris
  • Crash (2005) Mark Isham
  • Dances With Wolves (1990) John Barry
  • The Dark Knight (2008) Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
  • Die Hard (1988) Michael Kamen, et al.
  • Dirty Harry (1971) Lalo Schifrin
  • Do The Right Thing (1989) Various Artists
  • Doctor Zhivago (1965) Maurice Jarre
  • Double Indemnity (1944) Miklos Rozsa
  • Dr. No (1962) Monty Norman & John Barry
  • Dracula (1992) Wojciech Kilar
  • East of Eden (1955) Leonard Rosenman
  • Easy Rider (1969) Various Artists
  • The Exorcist (1973) Steve Boeddeker, et al.
  • Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Various Artists
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1966) Bernard Herrmann
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) Various Artists
  • Fight Club (1999) The Dust Brothers
  • Finding Neverland (1994) Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
  • The Fugitive (1993) James Newton Howard
  • Forrest Gump (1994) Alan Silvestri, et al.
  • Ghostbusters (1984) Elmer Bernstein, et al.
  • Gimmie Shelter (1970) Various Artists
  • Gladiator (2000) Hans Zimmer
  • Goldfinger (1964) John Barry
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) Ennio Morricone
  • The Graduate (1968) Simon & Garfunkel
  • Halloween (1977) John Carpenter
  • A Hard Day’s Night (1964) The Beatles
  • Hustle & Flow (2005) Various Artists
  • In the Heat of the Night (1967) Quincy Jones
  • Into the Wild (2007) Eddie Vedder
  • The Jazz Singer (1937) Louis Silvers
  • The Last Picture Show (1971) Hank Williams Jr.
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Peter Gabriel
  • The Lion in Winter (1968) John Barry
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Howard Shore
  • Lucifer Rising (1980) Bobby Beausoleil
  • Manhunter (1986) Michel Rubini, et al.
  • The Matrix (1999) Don Davis, et al.
  • Naked Lunch (1991) Howard Shore
  • Natural Born Killers (1994) Various Artists
  • Navajo Joe (1966) Ennio Morricone
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) Various Artists
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Charles Bernstein
  • North By Northwest (1959) Bernard Herrmann
  • The Omen (1978) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Ennio Morricone
  • The Passion of the Christ (2004) John Debney
  • Patton (1972) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Danny Elfman
  • Platoon (1986) Georges Delerue
  • Plunkett & MacLeane (1999) Craig Armstrong
  • Poltergeist (1982) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Predator (1987) Alan Silvestri
  • Psycho II (1983) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Pulp Fiction (1994) Various Artists
  • Purple Rain (1984) Prince
  • Raging Bull (1980) Various Artists
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) John Williams
  • Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Reservoir Dogs (1992) Various Artists
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000) Clint Mansell
  • A River Runs Through It (1992) Mark Isham
  • Rocky (1976) Bill Conti
  • Rocky IV (1985) Vince DiCola, et al.
  • Romeo and Juliet (1996) Craig Armstrong, et al.
  • Rudy (1993) Jerry Goldsmith
  • The Sand Pebbles (1966) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Schindler’s List (1993) John Williams
  • Scorpio Rising (1964) Various Artists
  • Shaft (1971) Isaac Hayes
  • The Shining (1980) Wendy Carlos, et al.
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Howard Shore
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008) A.R. Rahman
  • Spartacus (1960) Alex North
  • St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) Various Artists
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) James Horner
  • Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) John Williams
  • Superman: The Movie (1978) John Williams
  • Suspiria (1977) Goblin
  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) Earth, Wind & Fire
  • The Thin Red Line (1998) Hans Zimmer
  • Taxi Driver (1976) Bernard Herrmann
  • The Ten Commandments (1956) Elmer Bernstein
  • The Terminator (1984) Brad Fiedel
  • There Will Be Blood (2008) Jonny Greenwood
  • This is Spinal Tap (1984) Various Artists
  • Titanic (1998) James Horner
  • Top Gun (1987) Harold Faltermeyer, et al.
  • Toy Story (1995) Randy Edelman
  • Unforgiven (1992) Lennie Niehaus and Clint Eastwood
  • Walk the Line (2005) Johnny Cash, et al.
  • Where the Wild Things Are (2009) Karen O. and the Kids
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Alex North
  • The Wind and the Lion (1975) Jerry Goldsmith
  • Woodstock (1970) Various Artists
This list is not definitive. That's not really the point. The value of the American Film Institute’s lists, as well as the many lists created by critics and fans in response, is in their ability to highlight some great and important music and force viewers to think about what it is they value in film. Lists like this are made to incite debate and thereby prompt people to think about film. In the end, the purpose of the AFI’s “100 Years” project was to deepen and broaden the public’s appreciation of film.That’s a goal I can get behind and it's why I spent two episodes of this show on it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

AFI's Greatest Scores Part 2

This Sunday, February 27th, Sounds of Cinema will continue to count down the American Film Institute's list of the twenty-five greatest film scores, covering the AFI's top ten picks. Tune in for music from The Magnificent Seven, Lawrence of Arabia, and Jaws. The show will also include a presentation of scores that could challenge many of the AFI's picks.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Culture of Borrowing

Richard Rushfield has written this article for The Daily Beast on the troubled reception of Lady Gaga's new song "Born This Way" and the accusations of plagiarism made against her. He connects this trend of sampling to the broader media culture in which we live, especially film. Rushfield notes how the style of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere was derivative of the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan shows a lot of influence from Dario Argento. But as Rushfield observes, context and perception matter. Rushfield writes:
When borrowing someone else’s work, a little humility goes a long way. Quentin Tarantino has built a career on mixing and matching sequences, songs, and costumes from early works, but so great is the reverence of the world’s leading film geek for those earlier works that no one accuses him of trying to steal their creative glory. His useage is widely accepted as genuine homage. Each generation of artists builds upon or rebels against their predecessors. The French New Wave referred to Hollywood’s Golden Age, and the Scorsese/Francis Ford Coppola generation referenced the French New Wave. But in every one of these cases, where innovations were borrowed, there was a clear master/student relationship, made abundantly clear by those on the receiving end.
What Rushfield states here is important, especially as we try to understand and evaluate all of the remakes, reboots, sequels, and spin offs coming out of Hollywood. There is a tendency to dismiss these films and sometimes that is rightfully done, especially when it is clear that a character or franchise is being resurrected merely to make a quick buck. But art is social and it always exists in a cultural and technical context. Borrowing from the past makes sense when it is used for something, even if it is as simple as re-imagining an older story or idea for a contemporary audience. But the new product, while not altogether original, must stand on its own. When we view a film that recycles characters, concepts, or stories (either a specific title or a genre formula) we are right to demand that the filmmakers present the familiar in a way that provides a new perspective. That is the main reason, if not the only reason, to create art in the first place.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two-Part Sounds of Cinema AFI Countdown

Sounds of Cinema will count down the American Film Institute's list of the twenty-five greatest film scores on a two-part episode. The first part, to air February 20th, will include the scores at positions twenty-five through eleven, featuring music from films such as How the West Was Won, Ben-Hur, The Pink Panther, King Kong, and Vertigo. The second part, to air February 27th, will count down the AFI's top ten picks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Christopher Nolan Wasn't Nominated for Best Director

Writing for The Daily Beast, Chris Lee explores why Christopher Nolan was not nominated for a Best Director Oscar for Inception, even though the film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. According to Lee, the Academy's snub may have several dimensions, including Nolan's demeanor and the commercial appeal of his films, but it may also have to do with the lack of campaigning Nolan does on his own behalf. Lee writes:
While legendarily dyspeptic directors such as David O. Russell (The Fighter), David Fincher (The Social Network) and even the notoriously aloof Coen brothers (True Grit) have taken to stumping for their films with endless interview roundelays worthy of a presidential campaign, Nolan has largely sat out the process. Save for appearing at the ceremonies for which he was already nominated, such as the Directors Guild Awards, and being named a Modern Master at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the filmmaker has skipped getting on the phone with reporters to concentrate on prepping his third Batman sequel, The Dark Knight Rises.
I've addressed my feelings about the Oscars before (see here and here) and I'll have something new and of greater length to say about the annual ceremony at a later date. But for now, Lee's article reinforces the political nature of the Academy Awards and the culture of campaigning around the ceremony undermines the integrity of the trophies as the press blitz behind the pictures surpasses the films themselves.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sounds of Cinema Valentine's Day Programming

On Sunday, February 13th, Sounds of Cinema will not air on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato. All weekend programing on the station will be preempted for the annual 50 Hours of Trivia Madness, which originates from KVSC FM in St. Cloud. You can find out more about the trivia game here.

Sounds of Cinema will be heard at its usual time at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona. This weekend's show will be the annual Anti-Valentine's Day episode, in which I will counter-program to the holiday of flowers, hearts,  and overall mushiness with musical selections from films like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Unfaithful. Grab a box of chocolates and snuggle up to the radio for some love.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

John Barry Retrospective

Last Sunday's show featured a sample of music from the career of film composer John Barry. Barry was responsible for a number of popular and award winning film scores including Cry the Beloved Country, Chaplin, Dances with Wolves, Body Heat, King Kong (1976), The Deep, Out of Africa, Mary, Queen of Scots, The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy, and twelve of the James Bond films. Over the course of his career he was recognized with five Academy Awards, two BAFTAs, and a Grammy. John Barry died on January 30, 2011.

Here are some links that may be of interest:
And here is a montage of select John Barry film scores: