While people often hear me say that I believe music is the most important thing in the world, they probably don’t always realize that I truly believe that to be true.
Speaking in terms of something as simple as a film score or soundtrack, the music will often make the difference between awful, mediocre, and brilliant.
Take, for example, the film Juno. In theory, a film about a pregnant teenager and a man who decides he’d rather reclaim his frat boy youth and undiscovered rock star glory just as he and his wife are about to begin their family should be appalling. Instead, the use of charming and lilting songs by artists like Kimya Dawson in her solo incarnation, as well as with The Moldy Peaches and Antsy Pants, Belle & Sebastian, Buddy Holly, The Kinks, and Cat Power soften what is, at best, a very dysfunctional story. Had director Jason Reitman gone a different route with the soundtrack, it would have taken all of the charm out of the film. While Diablo Cody did write a lot of wit and warmth into the screenplay, that would have all been lost if the music hadn’t balanced it appropriately. What we, as an audience, would have gotten, would be a big screen version of Fifteen and Pregnant (which happens to be a made for television movie starring a whinier-than usual- Kirsten Dunst…if you can even imagine that).
Another thing that often happens is that the soundtrack is better than the film and enhances the story and emotions to pick up the slack for sub-par acting and an even more mediocre story. An example? The Twilight Saga, of course. Yes, many arguments can be made that the writing in Stephanie Meyer’s vampire/werewolf novels is an insult to anyone who has ever put pen to paper. Yes, countless debates can be waged over why any of the film’s directors make what are, for the most part, quite talented actors act as though they’re in B-movies from the 1970′s. What cannot be disputed is the soundtracks. Serving as a launching pad for many an indie music darling (Florence + the Machine, Band of Skulls, The Black Keys, Anya Marina, Lykke Li, to name a few) and showcasing established artists alike (Radiohead, Metric, Thom Yorke, The Killers, Cee Lo Green, Death Cab For Cutie, Iron & Wine, Muse) the placement of the music in the films often offers depth and moves the storyline in ways the characters themselves simply do not.
While most won’t like every track or every artist, there is no disputing that the placement of each song in each scene was very carefully thought out and the combination of storyline, scene, and song meshes perfectly, often doing a better job than the actors (*cough* Kristen Stewart*), director, screenwriter, and editors did.
As for a film that’s amazing which uses amazing music to make it more amazing? Rushmore, of course! Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and songs from the British Invasion? Yes, please! Not only is every character in Rushmore enchanting in the strangest ways possible, the use of music that is slightly left of center and not entirely mainstream (much like Juno) enhances it brilliantly.
While The Faces, Cat Stevens, and Chad & Jeremy add to the film’s tone in their own right, the use of less mainstream tracks by legendary artists (The Who, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon) sort of makes it feel as though you’re getting a mixtape from a friend with a great import collection.
It’s so easy to change a mood with music, in any capacity. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I wish filmmakers would take this more seriously and use it as an opportunity to really highlight more unknown music. Films are such a great way for unknown artists to get exposure while serving as a way for the public to learn about new artists, and acting as a catalyst to a given plot line. While I realize that directors are always going to concern themselves first and foremost with the film itself, it seems to me that quality music that enhanced said film would only make it more successful for everyone involved.