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Notes on Film

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
DreamgirlsJennifer
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.

Victoria%20Jordanava.jpgFRINGE 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? fringebeat@independent.com.)

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