Notes on Film

SOUND SCREENINGS: Cineaesthetics and movie buzzes, jennifer_hudson.jpgthe highs and lows of the film art, are in the air. In the city limits, the SBIFF has seized our attention and tempted us away from home and workplace, while the general media headspace has us presumably hovering in the suspenseful zone between the Golden Globes and the Oscars. We’re inclined to contemplate recent film kultcha, and for the purposes of this column, its too often underrated musical component

According to this columnist, the finest sound out of the Hollywood movie machine last year was the ripe, soul-meets-genuine-theater sound pouring out of Jennifer Dreamgirls Hudson’s mouth. Elsewhere, it was good news/bad news, and largely mediocre news—since Hollywood actually has a controlling, love-hate relationship with music, fearing that interesting music will detract from more important elements in film (i.e. highly paid faces).

Generic Hollywood scoring, a sure way to sully otherwise good films, left its sonic stains on films like The Pursuit of Happyness and The Good Shepherd. Meanwhile, the great santo_man.jpgPolish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s muscular music was heard in at least two films, to great effect—Children of Men and David Lynch’s psycho-fun Inland Empire. Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel was a beaut, too, exotic and reflective of the film’s themes. Santaolalla is shaping up as a promising fresh voice in film, having soared on Inarritu’s earlier films Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and providing rustic atmospherics for Brokeback Mountain.

And the Academy Award nominees for best musical score are… Santaolalla for Babel, Thomas Newman for The Good German (Newman also shined on Little Children, mirroring his suburban angst job on American Beauty); Javier Navarrete for his terse-cum-fantastical orchestral score for Pan’s Labyrinth; Philip Glass for Notes on a Scandal (Glass may be at his best as a film composer); and Alexandre Desplat—another exciting and smart new voice—for The Queen.

Speaking of Santaolalla, he is the star of the annual SBIFF composer’s panel, “Scoring the Film,” Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Lobero. Also in the panel’s mix, so far, are Mark Isham (Bobby) and Mychael Danna, of Little Miss Sunshine fame, along with The Nativity Story (the loveably profane and the sacred). These panels are always enticing and instructive, not only for curiosity-seekers and aspirants in the field, but those of us who still believe that much of what makes film such a grand, complex medium is the manipulating of many senses at once, and music may be the most subversively powerful dimension of all. Some of us stay to the very end of a film’s end credits just to see what we’ve heard.

FRINGE PRODUCT: For anyone interested in thinking person’s meditative music, check out the eerily lovely recording of John Cage’s harp and vocal piece Postcards from Heaven, just released on the ArpaViva label. Victoria Jordanova does the harp honors, oscillating from between a solo setting to rippling overdubs of 20 harps. Pamela Z, who dazzled a Center Stage crowd last year, supplies sustained and delayed sung tones, in what is a strangely cool and cooling listening experience. The “heaven” connection, with visions of spaced harpists playing without a coffee break for eternity, is half tongue-in-cheek. But only half.

TO-DOINGS: jake_shimabukuro_1-thumb.jpgAs if the film festival wasn’t enough of a lure to get out of the house, the week’s musical menu is also inviting. On Wednesday, Our Man Glen Phillips, fresh off a European hiatus, visits the inviting ambience of the Lobero Theatre, joined by old pals Sarah and Sean Watkins (from Nickel Creek), and another Phillips, being notable Angeleno songman Grant Lee…unfortunately, on the same night, the “Dieselbilly” Telecaster master Bill Kirchen—ex of Command Cody—shows up at SOhO on the same night. Also at SOhO, on Saturday, the lyrical-minded ukulele virtuoso (yes, that’s right) Jake Shimabukuro returns to the scene of a packed, wowed house.

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