The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Maybe it’s the time of year—autumn always turns me nostalgic, I suppose—or maybe it’s something else, but I’m listening to more music these days. My playlist is filling up, and not only with new songs, but with a few oldies as well.

I’ve always been a huge fan of movie soundtracks. Some of my first albums were Disney soundtracks from Mary Poppins and the Jungle Book. I listened to John William’s scores from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark until the vinyl was worn through. As a teen in the ‘80’s, every movie had a defining soundtrack. Songs from Valley Girl, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off take me back to very specific moments in my life as effectively as if I had a time machine at my disposal. (Thank goodness I don’t.)

I recently advised my son on a web-design class project entitled “Back to the ‘80’s”. I suggested he research album covers and movie/ TV art from the decade. Just seeing the covers for ASIA, Duran Duran, and Cyndi Lauper gave me a smile. His project is going to be totally rad!

Last night I downloaded a Led Zeppelin song that I completely forgot about until this week. And this morning my sons and I discussed the iconic (and oft-mocked) title song from the movie Born Free. My family has a huge collection of albums that we actually do play on our turntable. It includes everything from Eubie Blake to Gene Autry to Bay City Rollers to Styx and more. My husband has already set aside several LPs for our Christmas gatherings.

The reality is that music affects our moods, triggers memories and emotions, and encourages our imagination. In film, it is often the muscle that holds the skeleton of the plot together. It’s the part that begs the audience to dance with the characters. It’s the tone that entices you to fall in love, pushes you through the action, and stokes the fire of your anger.

The connection it makes with our emotions is deeper than the story on the screen. It lasts for days, years, even decades later. A good soundtrack is essential to any good movie. In my opinion, it can turn a good movie into a great film.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Where Credit is Due

Do you watch movie credits? Do you watch through the main cast? The key grip,  gaffer,  and best boy? The soundtrack credits? Are you one who hops from your seat as soon as the credits begin?

As a kid, I was completely confused as to why my dad always insisted that we watch all of the credits.  It’s over, Dad. Let’s go.

He used to tell us that he had to stay to see who the key grip was. I had no idea what a key grip did. I thought maybe he was the guy who carried all the keys to all of the important doors on the movie set. You know, the man who locks everything up at the end of the day. Not quite. For the real answers, visit www.wisegeek.com.

What I discovered, much later, was that the reason we stayed through the credits was so that the theatre parking lot could clear out, and Dad didn’t have to wait in a long line just to get home.

As I learned more about movie makers and all of the jobs that go into a film, I became more interested in the credits. I love to see the names of the Foley artists that make all the fun sounds I hear throughout the picture. My boys have taught me tons about animation and computer generated images and editing. I marvel at the lists of names of the people involved in that art form. I enjoy seeing the lists of production babies—the babes born to crewmembers during the making of a film. I also love looking at the locations where the film was shot. I’m a big travel fan, and the world is full of beautiful places.

These lists represent real people working very long, hard hours to make a dream become a reality. They are the people who will never have their faces on a big screen. (They might not even want to be seen on film.) These lists, especially the babies, represent countless hours, weeks, months and even years that people dedicate to a single project. It amazes me.

If a movie really touches me, I like to make note of the soundtrack music. Finding the soundtrack helps me to revisit the moving moments of a beautiful movie.

For a little while, there was a trend with movies to add a little bonus segment after the credits. It was just a few seconds—a minute or two, maybe—of a character doing something or saying something surprising or funny. Maybe it pointed to a sequel.  In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick reappears in his bathrobe to shoo the audience away. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack, the undead monkey, returns to swipe a piece of cursed gold.

I surmised that this little extension of story was an attempt to keep audiences in their seats until all of the credits could be seen. The downside to this was that movie-goers could visit a few websites to find out whether they should stay or go. Another problem with which I had first-hand experience, is that if too many people leave the auditorium, the theatre projectionist would stop the picture as soon as the credits end, preempting the bonus material. Boo. I suppose that’s why the trend has faded.

Whether you watch the credits through to the end or beat the crowds to the lobby, take a moment to consider and appreciate the hundreds of people who poured a piece of themselves into the film to give you a few hours away from reality.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Can We Be Silly for Just a Moment?

This morning I’m having a difficult time being serious. Last night our family watched Ladyhawke from 1985, starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. Now when this film came out, nobody considered it a comedy—at all. It’s a tragic love story, a fable perhaps, about a couple cursed by an evil bishop. It’s set in medieval France, and features sweeping vistas and castles and monasteries in ruins.

Why did I giggle nearly all the way through the movie?

I watched it with my husband (we were married the same year this film was released), my two sons, and my older son’s fiancé. The “kids” had never seen the movie, but they love Broderick from Ferris Bueller and Pfeiffer from Stardust.

Sam (son #1) says something like this: “This is one of those eighties movies that’s set in the dark ages but the music is still done with electric guitars.” Sean (son #2) leaned against my shoulder and he and I whispered silly comments throughout the show. He’s seventeen years old, and I really love that he still leans on my shoulder.

We appreciated that though the names were very French—Etienne, Isabeau, and Phillipe—the accents were all over the place. The boys especially liked that in the end credits, under “Titles and Visual Effects,” there was only a list of three people. Though IMDb.com credits a total of twenty-two people in that category, it’s still certainly a far cry from the hundreds of technicians listed in today’s movies. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that this is a film in which two of the main characters transform from humans to animals multiple times in the story.

This movie isn’t silly. We made it silly, with our “enlightened sophistication” and goofy mood, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. The point is that sometimes, despite the way things actually are, we need silliness. It’s good for us. Laughter is healthy exercise. Smiling keeps us young.

My family has a nice collection of silly movies and TV series. We enjoy the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, and especially the Bing, Bob and Dorothy ensembles. These are the masters of the classic madcap comedies. The one-liners and physicality of their shtick keep us giggling.

The same goes for Monty Python productions. They introduced the “Ministry of Silly Walks.” They understand and embrace the ridiculous. In the same way, Mel Brooks has assembled casts of comic geniuses for films like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Producers, and Spaceballs. Every one of these movies showcases the recommended daily allowance of stupid.

Larry Blamire’s casts of characters pay homage to the best of the B Movies, and provide us with memorable lines that embroider even the most serious situations with smiles. “Ranger Brad, I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in anything.”

Saturday Night Live (SNL), SCTV (Second City), MADtv, and In Living Color have also graduated celebrated idiots like Steve Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Gene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Jim Carey, Michael McDonald, the Wayans and many others.

This morning I asked Sean about his favorite silly movies, and I must say that my husband and I have raised our boys well. His favorites—in his own words—are “all of the Larry Blamire movies, The Three Amigos, and Princess Bride.” Good boy.

Comedy helps us deal with situations. It diffuses tension. It provides common ground with others. Highbrow comedy tests us, dark comedy reveals us, but slapstick comedy just allows us to be, and to enjoy it. Hooray for hilarity!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

The Really Short Films

There is a cinematic art form that, though it usually goes unnoticed or avoided, permeates and drives our culture. The commercial. Formerly relegated to TV, the thirty to ninety-second spots now appear everywhere. Advertisers integrate them into our movie theatre experience, our daily PC routine, and even our smart phone applications.

Commercials are big business because they generate big business.

Generally speaking, the job of commercials is to convince the audience that they NEED whatever product is promoted by the sponsor. In today’s economy, however, that is a tough sell. People have cut back to make ends meet. Families have reevaluated exactly what their needs are. Let’s face it. Money is tight.

A detached voice from your screen telling you that you need something is no longer enough. What do they know? They don’t know me. They don’t care about me.

The commercials that will be the most successful today will be the ones showing that they do know you and care about you. But how will they forge that kind of bond?

This week is, literally, the Super Bowl for commercials. This is make-it-or-break-it for TV ads. That’s why companies shell out major clams for the coveted sponsorship slots.

Beer ads always do well. Beer is cheap and, for some, is a basic necessity of life. This year there is a Chevy ad that plays into the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse fear that had me giggling. The E*TRADE baby commercials are always a favorite. They tap into, not only our collective adoration for babies talking with adult voices, but also our instinct to protect what’s important to us.

In the last couple of years, Volkswagen has hit upon an effective means of connecting with the audience. Call it The Force, if you will. The company has reflected our love for Star Wars in a realistic, “that’s our family” sort of way. Very cute.

My favorite commercial of Super Bowl XLVI is called “Matthew’s Day Off.” It is an ad for the Honda CRV that ties directly to my heart. Matthew Broderick echoes his iconic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off role and takes a sick-day from his career to play. All the best aspects of the 1986 classic return, including a parade, a museum trip, and an “almost-busted” moment. I laugh out loud every time I see the ninety-second spot.

You want to see these hilarious short films? Go to www.superbowlcommercials2012.net for a preview of what to look for during the big game.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

 

Are You In?

One of my favorite films of all time is the 1940 classic, His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s a lightning-fast-paced movie about love and journalists, and what they’ll do for a scoop.

Two quotes that always catch my attention as I watch the movie, both by Grant, have me laughing out loud, though usually I’m the only one in stitches. Grant plays Walter Burns, whose ex-wife Hildy Johnson, is about to leave his paper to marry Bruce Baldwin. Of Baldwin, Walter says, “He looks like that fellow in the movies—Ralph Bellamy.” What’s funny about that? Well, Bruce Baldwin is played by actor Ralph Bellamy.

In another scene, when told that his newspaper career was through, Walter comes back with, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach, just a week before he cut his throat.” All Cary Grant devotees know that his real name was Alexander “Archie” Leach.

TV has been known for its “inside jokes” as well.

On an episode of NCIS, Kate Todd asks Gibbs what Ducky looked like as a younger man. Gibbs answers, straight-faced, “Illya Kuryakin,” in a nod to actor David McCallum’s character in the 1964 series, Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The NBC series Chuck is known for its guest star turns. A couple of seasons ago Brandon Routh joined the cast as Daniel Shaw. Though Shaw appeared every bit as wholesome and perfect as Captain Awesome, Chuck assured his team that Shaw wasn’t some sort of “Superman.” Brandon Routh had indeed played the Man of Steel in the 2006 feature, Superman Returns.

Why do movies and television shows throw us these silly lines that only make sense to those “in the know”?

I believe it serves two purposes. First, all the people who do “get it” instantly become part of the story and action. After all, inside jokes are for people on the inside. It’s a way for the directors, actors and producers to tell the audience, “You’re part of the family. We know you.”

Second, it works like bait. The filmmakers know there are plenty of viewers watching that will catch the joke, and they will most certainly tell their friends. They in turn, will seek out the work or actor in the reference, thus generating more revenue for Hollywood.

Everybody wants to be “in.”

Sometimes the filmmakers are more subtle about their references. Last week my husband and I went to see Brett Ratner’s new film, Tower Heist, starring Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick. This film also stars Steve McQueen’s 1963 250 GT Lusso Ferrari, dressed in a lustrous red coat of paint instead of the true chestnut brown. Broderick and the car share a suspenseful scene that tickled at my brain.

I recalled a film from 25 years earlier in which Broderick spends some quality time with a 1961 250 GT California Spyder Ferrari, also bathed in red. The movie was John Hughes’ 1986 classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I laughed constantly through Tower Heist—everybody in the theatre did. I also felt a connection between this new movie and a favorite from my past. I felt included. I felt “in.”

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!