Background Music

In a post on PressPlay, Jed Mayer writes about the relationship of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to the shopping malls and public spaces of his youth:

“Dawn of the Dead is less a horror film to me than it is a distorted snapshot of my youth, one into which I still sometimes escape.”

He also touches on the power of background music–in films and real life:

“The film’s soundtrack consists largely of commercial background music of the period, what came to be called “library music”—LPs that could serve as a ready source of musical interludes to be played in the background…. An unofficial soundtrack release collects many of these from Romero’s film, and for anyone who grew up in the 70s, listening to it is the aural equivalent of watching a super-8 movie of an average, anonymous day out of the past.”

I wonder what it says about people like me–born in the ’80s and ’90s–who seek out the background music of a past we’ve never directly experienced. I used to think that I just wanted to relive the film in my head or perhaps live in the world of the film. I wonder now whether I wanted to live in the world the film was filmed in.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from Dawn of the Dead, Herbert Chappell’s “The Gonk.” It received heavy rotation in my college years.


So Many Solarises

There’s a nice comparison of Solaris (Lem, 1970), Solaris (Tarkovsky, 1972), and Solaris (Soderbergh, 2002) over at The Verge:

When the Russian film master Andrei Tarkovsky adapted Solaris, he jettisoned almost all of Lem’s philosophizing. (Like Stanley Kubrick, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey he considered cold and sterile, Tarkovsky took a cavalier attitude toward rendering the work of others.) In some ways, his film is richer for it: where Lem executed a thought experiment about alien contact, Tarkovsky moves the focus away from the ocean planet and onto the people overcome in its wake. Most of the characters remain sketchy in Lem’s depiction, but Tarkovsky gives them personalities and human histories.


Tarkovsky felt like he failed with Solaris because it retained an SF flavor (which he did succeed in stripping from Stalker), but I’m glad that he wasn’t able to rid it of its genre trappings. As it is, Tarkovsky’s Solaris is SF as it should be, concerned with ideas and fleshed-out characters.

Soundtrack to ‘The Visitor’

For what will probably be a limited amount of time, Alamo Drafthouse has a 3-track sampler of music from Franco Micalizzi’s soundtrack to The Visitor. 

1. Stridulum Theme – Contains elements of an epic 1970s cop drama score: rambunctious horns, seagull-like flute-work, and emphatic strings–along with some warpy, synthy business.

2. Sadness Theme – This theme is sad, yes, but also very soothing in a funky, easy-listening, way. I especially love the ooooh, ooooh, ooooh vocals. (I think I may have problems.) I’m trying to think of what part of a film this belongs in…the credits, most likely–you know, after the protagonist discovers he can never go back, that the woman he loves was the killer all along, that he was adopted by space aliens and will never, ever fit in.

3. Hospital Sequence – Uh-oh! What’s that? An insistent beat upon a high-hat, an ominous kettledrum around the corner, ratcheting strings, shrieking horns. A Slinky-laser? Something is going down!

If you’re writing a thriller for National Novel Writing Month, these songs will get you in the mood. If you like the music of Ennio Morricone, Fabio Frizzi, or Riz Ortolani, you’ll want these songs.

Get the sampler while you still can: The Visitor 3-Track Sampler

Also, check out that cast: Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Houston, Sam Peckinpah, Shelly Winters… and Franco Nero.

About Silent Movies #6: Kinetoscope, Vitaphone, Part-Talkie…. huh?

Today over at Movies, Silently there’s a very nice overview of early cinema with focus on eras and technologies. I particularly like the gallery of frames from tinted films.

Movies Silently


Let’s talk a little bit about the terms that are bandied about silent film circles. This is just a brief overview, nothing too heavy. I will probably write some more in-depth articles later but I wanted to provide a handy glossary for readers who may be new to silent film viewing. Here are some important terms:

Time Periods:

These are just generalizations used for easy reference. No two film historians seem to agree on what exact dates these eras began or ended. I like the dates used by the University of California Press’s History of the American Cinema series and they are the ones I borrow for my writing.

Early Cinema (Invention-1907)

There is debate over just what can be considered the first motion picture. (You may have noticed that film historians cannot agree on anything.) Here are the facts: The Lumiere brothers showed a projected film to a paying…

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György Lukács, Creator of the Star Wars Franchise

J.W. McCormack on a film adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666:

In fact, the blockbuster potential of 2666 should be obvious to any reader who has braved its something-like-900-page-length. It is manifestly what György Lukács, creator of the Star Wars franchise, called “the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given…yet which still thinks in terms of totality.”

To read more, click here.

I Am the Last Omega Man on Earth

In her current blog series, “10 Days, 10 Expiring Movies,” Britta Moline reviews the 1964 Vincent Price vehicle, The Last Man on Earth:

…Last Man [on Earth] is a shockingly effective sixties thriller. The visuals, for one, range from the fascinating (Price in a room of mirrors, selecting a handful to hang on his front door) to the disturbing (a silent, empty city, littered with corpses that Price drives casually over). …

The Last Man on Earth is a grim, enjoyable tale, a granddaddy of both zombie and vampire stories. With striking visuals and the always-enjoyable Price, Last Man is definitely one to get in before it’s gone on Instant.

The screenplay for The Last Man on Earth was co-written by Richard Matheson, the author of the novel upon which it was based, I Am Legend. (The novel also inspired The Omega Man, a zany Charlton Heston film, and the less said about the 2007 version of I Am Legend, the better.) Apparently Matheson was dissatisfied with the result of Last Man and is credited as “Logan Swanson” in the film. But even though it doesn’t hew as close to the original story as I would have liked, it’s still fun to watch because of the presence of Price, one of my favorite vectors of 60s horror.

So I’ll second Britta here, The Last Man on Earth is one to watch before it disappears from Netflix Instant. (Or after it disappears, if you want to watch it on YouTube in HD.)

The Last Man on Earth 1The Last Man on Earth 2The Last Man on Earth 3

I’m a Cozy Conspiracist

Who would have thought the cigar-smoking garage-saler with a shaved head and black combat boots would be a conspiracy theorist?


Last summer I was looking for movies to show in my fall semester film class, so I visited a few garage sales. Early in the day, I scored copies of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, The Brothers Grimm, and Miami Vice (great night cinematography), all for a dollar each. (When I got my course evaluations back, I found out that for many of my students Ocean’s Eleven wound up being the only good film I showed all semester. And who knew they would hate Stalker so passionately?)

After combing though acres of baby clothes and flipping through endless permutations of The Land Before Time on VHS, I found a sale in St. Paul which promised DVDs.

When I walked up to the house, I passed a man in a tight black t-shirt, black pants, and black boots. His head was freshly shaved, his goatee well-groomed, and his cigar was smoked with precision. His whole appearance was so trim and disciplined that his cigar seemed less like a bad habit and more like a purposeful statement. I wondered whether he was a bored husband, a smoky loiterer, or the neighborhood watchman.

On the sidewalk in front of the house stood a woman with a baby in a stroller. She was talking with another woman who poked among the flotsam of life that covered the porch, poured down the front stairs, flowed across the yard, skipped the sidewalk, and picked up again on the grassy strip on the other side.

I found a shelf of DVDs right away, but what attracted my eye were the burned CD-Rs of Alex Jones’s radio shows on a blanket beside scores of wooden cigar boxes ($5/ea.) Near the CD-Rs were books about WMDs and NWOs and inside jobs and how much did Bush know and is Obama a Muslim and so on and so forth.

When I finally edged up to the militant-looking garage-saler (so that’s what he’s doing here) with Peter Hyams’ 1977 conspiracy thriller about a faked NASA mission to Mars, Capricorn One (starring James Brolin and Elliot Gould!), he made a comment about what a great movie it was, and I told him that I’d just watched Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact a few days before and was interested in seeing more of his work. He squinted at me and wanted to know if I, you know, went in for conspiracies. Taken aback, I said that they made for good entertainment, realizing after the words had left my mouth that I was devaluing an important part of his life. I wish I’d said yes and struck up a conversation. I could have been inducted into the St. Paul Prison Planet Society or something.

I know it sounds like I’m making fun, but you should have heard the way he sounded when he asked if I liked conspiracy theories. He wasn’t paranoid or crazed or fearful, just interested in meeting a fellow enthusiast. Considering how much I enjoyed Capricorn One, I should have just said yes.