by Josef Woodard
SOUND SCREENINGS: Movie buzzes are in the air, and the highs and lows of the film art abound. Within the city limits, SBIFF has seized our attention and tempted us away from home and workplace, while the general media headspace has us 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 Dreamgirls’ Jennifer 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 (ie: highly paid faces).
Generic Hollywood scoring, a sure way to sully otherwise good films, left its sonic stain on films like The Pursuit of Happyness and The Good Shepherd. Meanwhile, the great Polish 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 Iñárritu’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 Theatre. 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 also for 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 that 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, Postcard from Heaven, just released on the ArpaViva label. Victoria Jordanova does the harp honors, oscillating between a solo setting to rippling overdubs of 20 harps. Pamela Z, who dazzled a Center Stage Theater 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: As if the film festival wasn’t enough of a lure to get you out of the house, the week’s musical menu is also tempting. On Wednesday, Our Man Glen Phillips, fresh from a European hiatus, visits the inviting ambience of the Lobero Theatre, joined by old pals Sara and Sean Watkins (from Nickel Creek), and notable Angeleno songman Grant Lee. Unfortunately, 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. (Got e? email@example.com.)