The Big Screen: Soundtrack Available

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Much money has been made by looking at pop music in movies as another way to cash in beyond the box office, like toys and fast-food tie-ins.

Throw in a few nostalgia-heavy dance hits, some Top 40 tracks and one or two original songs by hot new artists being pushed by the record company owned by the same conglomerate as the movie studio, and there's potential to scorch the charts in two industries.

If Smash Mouth's "All Star" turns up in something you're watching, this philosophy probably guided the soundtrack selections. On the other hand, directors like Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino take a more dramatically intense approach to choosing music for film.

They'll be featured Thursdays this summer at the Wexner Center in the series Soundtrack Available: Music in American Film, which kicks off tonight with a double feature of Scorsese's Mean Streets and John Badham's Saturday Night Fever.

"I think there are plenty of films out there with great soundtracks but the music isn't used in an interesting way," said series curator David Filipi.

"There are a handful of filmmakers who are recognized as being very adept at using music in creative ways, to set the mood or serve as a kind of chorus to what's happening on screen. The films in this series, you can really think of the music as an additional character."

Hollywood had been pairing pop music and film since the mid-1950s, when Blackboard Jungle came out and Elvis signed on to be a movie star. Kenneth Anger later explored the narrative potential of R&B tunes in his experimental classic Scorpio Rising.

Factors including the collapse of the studio system and the cultural revolution of the late '60s further developed the relationship between the two creative forms.

First came Easy Rider in '69, which declared its outsider status through Steppenwolf and The Byrds (it screens Aug. 20 with O Brother, Where Art Thou?). In 1973, Mean Streets fed autobiographical elements with doo wop, opera and the Rolling Stones, the music Scorsese heard from open windows in his neighborhood growing up.

Anderson is represented with Rushmore on July 30, Tarantino with the underrated Jackie Brown on Aug. 13. Filling out the series are a few other directors with a proven flair for music, like Sofia Coppola, and zeitgeist movies such as The Graduate and Purple Rain.

Altogether, Soundtrack Available covers quirky comedy, raw drama and romance misguided and dead-on. It also represents some of the best movies of the past 40 years. No matter which you choose, you should walk out with a good song bouncing between your ears.

Great music scenes

"The Virgin Suicides"

Screening July 16

Watch and listen: After a long, frustrating night under strict parental watch, Kirsten Dunst sneaks out to jump Josh Hartnett in his car, just as Heart's "Crazy on You" reaches its hook.

"Dazed and Confused"

Screening July 23

Watch and listen: Said Filipi, "I don't know why it hits me so much but there's a scene in which Pink and Wooderson and Mitch - three generations of young guys - walk into the game room and Bob Dylan's 'Hurricane' is playing. I think it's the perfect marriage of music and what's happening in the scene."


Screening July 30

Watch and listen: Woody Allen's all-George Gershwin score works beautifully all over, but best in the introduction, set to "Rhapsody in Blue." "I could watch that scene over and over," Filipi said.

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High"

Screening Aug. 13

Watch and listen: The innocent crush of Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" is a cruel backdrop for Jennifer Jason Leigh's first time, in a graffiti-covered baseball dugout. As Filipi said, "It's so sad, but that's high school."


Screening Aug. 27

Watch and listen: Across Los Angeles, a sprawling cast of traumatized characters is assembled to sing Aimee Mann's "Wise Up."

What do you think? Comment below.

"Soundtrack Available"

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, July 2-Aug. 27

Where: Wexner Center, Campus