Patrick’s Top Five Random Music Moments in Film

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

In most films that aren’t musicals, the music is meant to bolster the action in a scene and add weight to it; occasionally though, there are moments in movies in which the music happens to be so powerful that it completely overwhelms the scene itself, and thus, the tail wags the dog.  These moments in which the action bolsters the music (and not the other way around) often come out of the blue and have little to no bearing on the plot, but they sure are entertaining.  Anyways, here’s my pick for the top five “Random Music Moments” in film.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ — ‘Wayne’s World’

Chances are if you’re a guy, more than once you’ve been in a car with your buddies, music blaring, singing along to your favorite tunes. 1992’s ‘Wayne’s World’ celebrates this beautifully as they perform a cappella to the latter half of Queen’s grandiose epic while driving through suburban Chicago.

‘Johnny B. Goode’ — ‘Back to the Future’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox1pkvNHZko (Embedding disabled; I don’t know why – The Editor)

80’s teenager Marty McFly gets sent back through time to the 50’s and must help his parents fall in love, save his own existence, and find a way to get back to the future, but not before picking up the electric guitar and jamming to an old rock and roll staple.

‘Dueling Banjos’ — ‘Deliverance’

A chance encounter sparks an impromptu banjo-guitar duel between an inbred hillbilly and a southern city-boy; and people have never looked the same way at the banjo since.

‘Descent into Mystery’ — ‘Batman’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGAKYVGuPqE&hd=1 (Embedding disabled; what the frak? – The Editor)

Tim Burton’s music here is so sweeping, dark, and epic that you almost forget that Batman is just driving back home with his girlfriend.  It ties with the title track for the best part of this amazing score.

‘Ecstasy of Gold’ — ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PwpOmjAu1M (Embedding disabled; where is the logic in this? – The Editor)

The bandit Tuco, aka “The Ugly” has come across a thousand-grave-strong cemetery with a fortune buried in just one of them.  So he spends the next three minutes running through it, looking for the name of that single grave, accompanied by some of the most lively, dramatic, and powerful music of composer Ennio Morricone’s career.  This piece is so awesome and enduring, in fact, that Metallica has used it to open up their concerts for the past twenty-five years.

 

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Classic Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

Stars: ★★★★

Summary: Arguably the first horror film, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ is an indelible part of film history and a cohesive idea that simply works.

Review:  When you’re studying to become a filmmaker, you run into all kinds of rules, stated or implied.  Filmmakers develop most of these to guide their own works, but soon enough they’re foisted on everybody else, and by necessity it becomes a creative act to reject good advice.  The first psychological thriller, and arguably the first horror film, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’, is evidence that our postmodern rules of visual storytelling often obscure the power of simplicity.

‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ is the stylistic antithesis of the excessively busy, painfully impatient, and overproduced postmodern film.  The filmmakers used the limitations of silence, locked-down camera angles, and (by our standards) long takes to its advantage.  ‘Caligari’, of course, pre-dates the demands of postmodern filmmaking, which puts an emphasis on extreme camera movement and rapid cutting between different angles.  What ‘Caligari’ testifies is that the image’s union with the story is the most important thing.  Because of the exquisite compositions and a pacing that’s rooted in the performances, the film is hypnotic.  The set design is oft-cited for a very good reason, with crazed lines and distorted spaces reflecting the madness central to the film’s story.  The performances are purposefully exaggerated and always crystal clear.  I think most films would be better off taking a page from the silent era and letting the actors communicate as much as possible without dialog.

The film is an indispensable experience for cinephiles and budding filmmakers.  Its influence continues in almost every horror film produced today, as well as in filmmakers such as Tim Burton, Henry Selick, Alex Proyas, and God knows who else.

 

Classic Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★★★

Summary:  Tim Burton’s magnum opus, with all of his shocks, laughs, and, most importantly, heart.

Review: Tim Burton may be the most stylistic filmmaker of our time. His films are dark, twisted, strangely humorous, and, when done well, carry tremendous dramatic and emotional weight. Burton peaked twice in the early 90’s with two films that captured his style’s essence. The first was the live-action ‘Edward Scissorhands’ in 1990. The second was the stop-motion animated ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ in 1993. And while they both contend for his best work, I think Nightmare just manages to edge out.

Ironically, though this may be his best film, Burton didn’t actually direct on it. That honor went to Henry Selick, a director who specializes in these kind stop-motion films. His other credits include ‘James and the Giant Peace’ and the recent ‘Coraline’. Burton did serve as a co-writer and co-producer, however, as well as providing the original idea; and this film certainly screams of Burton aesthetic and influence.

This is a holiday film and, as Burton described it, is something of the reverse of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’. Instead of someone trying to ‘steal’ Christmas, this movie tells the story of someone who finds it. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, is the leader of Halloween Town, and, of all the ghouls who live there, he is the most frightening. Recently though, he has begun to tire of Halloween; it no longer feels exciting or fresh to him, and he’s secretly depressed. That is until one day when he accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town and discovers its titular celebration. He is overtaken by the wonder and joy of this new holiday and quickly embraces it as the perfect beautiful replacement for his old one. The only problem is that he gets carried away: he not only wants to celebrate it; he wants to run it. He wants to be in charge of it, as opposed to Santa Clause. Unfortunately for him, he finds Halloween-past and Christmas don’t mix easy.

It’s a story that has a lot of heart to it, and it’s told incredibly well. Jack’s tale is an introspective and meaningful account of someone’s quest to find happiness and meaning; and it also serves as a larger commentary on the Holiday culture in general. In the Western world, there’s a lot of build-up to holidays, but it’s common that the day itself and the time immediately afterword can be something of a let down. The theme of this movie seems to be that even though Holidays are important, it’s foolish to wait till the actual days or “Holiday Seasons” themselves to start celebrating the thoughts, ideas, and emotions they’re about, and it’s equally foolish to stop celebrating once the holiday is over. We need to always be mindful of what we’re thankful for, at some level always celebrating the things we have that give us joy. If we do that, then holidays will never be a let down. As my mother used to say, “It’s Christmas everyday in our hearts.”

As I said earlier, this film is entirely stop-motion animated, and it’s incredibly well done. All of the models and sets are very elaborate and have the trademark Burton/gothic feel to them. The choreography and movement that they pull off, especially during the musical numbers, is wonderfully graceful, no doubt thanks to Selick’s skilled direction. As a musical, it features very memorable work by Danny Elfman, with such impressive songs as “What’s This?” and “This is Halloween” buffering an outstanding score.

Burton’s made good and bad movies over his career, but when he hits something profound, he’s always dead on. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is a beautifully crafted, excellently executed work and his true masterpiece. It’s both visually stunning and provocative, and it makes for wonderful story telling. There are few animated films, or holiday films for that matter, better than this. For Halloween or Christmas or anytime really, it’s more than worth a watch.

James’ Top Ten Directors (Without An Order)

Sorry about the long hiatus, folks, but I kind of lost my drive to write.  The good news is, I did regain my drive to screenwrite, and I’ve got a solid idea progressing nicely.

It occurred to me that a major obstacle to the success of this blog is the lack of variety in articles.  Sure, we’ve got reviews and the ‘Elements’ series, but what about top-tens and other die hard blog tropes?  Ain’t nothing wrong with a good trope.  So, here we go.  My top ten favorite directors.  Minus the numbers one expects from such things.

Steven Spielberg

Spielberg shades his eyes because they're too bright for you.  Hence the hat, even without the glasses.

Spielberg shades his eyes because they're too bright for you. Hence the hat, even without the glasses.

Here’s the why. He made ‘Raiders’, ‘Close Encounters’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Jaws’, and your mother’s amazing plasticine face.

Christopher Nolan

I think he's an accomplshed actor, too.  Didn't he play a James Bond villain at one point...?  No?

I think he's an accomplished actor, too. Didn't he play a James Bond villain at one point...? No?

Here’s the why.  He saved Batman’s batfilm batexistence batfrom bathell.  He’s really good at screwing with your mind, even in relatively straightforward movies like ‘The Dark Knight’.  On the extreme end of intentional mindscrews, of course, is ‘Memento’, which is referenced in way too many screenwriting books. C’mon, people, we’re novices, if we’re reading your book looking for advice, don’t mock us with a challenge to repaint the Mona Lisa.  Also, Christopher Nolan is the only fellow I would trust to remake ‘Blade Runner’.

Quentin Tarantino

That's the German three.

That's the German three.

Here’s the why. Quentin cares enough about his stories that he lets them gestate for ridiculous periods of time.  That way, he doesn’t rely on formula, but delivers a compelling and original story that breaks a lot of “rules” and yet somehow still works.

Peter Jackson

Before

Before

After.

After.

Here’s the why. He directed ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, which kicked everybody’s ass, except J.R.R. Tolkien himself, who was on the moon fighting vampires when it was released. Mr. Jackson has since lost a lot of girth and become a Hollywood heavyweight, shepherding up-and-coming directors and projects, like Neill Blomkamps’ ‘District 9’, which was like the ’80s sci-fi craze had come back to life with a blood transfusion from Jason Bourne. So he’s got that going for him.

J.J. Abrams

He is not clueless.  Merely geeked the heck out.

He is not clueless. Merely geeked the heck out.

Here’s the why. He’s great at fusing genre films with solid, emotional stories.  Sometimes too good.  I didn’t expect the opening of ‘Mission: Impossible III’ to be nearly as traumatizing as it was, but that’s okay.

Alfred Hitchcock

Nobody does it better...

Nobody does it better...

Here’s the why. Hitchcock represents the majority of exposure pretty much anyone has to the silent era and its powerful ‘show, don’t tell’ ethos. Thanks to this training as a silent film director, Hitch kicks lots of ass in the suspense department, and his stuff is really memorable.  Every suspense movie, ever, is compared to Hitch.  Not to his movies, no, to the man himself.  Why is he laughing in that photo?  Why?  Why!?

Brad Bird

Let's see... Bird pun... Bird pun...

Let's see... Bird pun... Bird pun...

Here’s the why. Brad Bird is another fellow who can blend genre with emotional, original story. So far, his works have been fantastic animated movies, such as ‘The Iron Giant’, and Pixar’s ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Ratatouille’, but he may be making his first foray into live action soon. Whatever the case, Brad Bird’s imagination is sure to soar.  Ha.  Ha.

Sergio Leone

OVIEIf he looks fazed it's only because he spent all his energy making THE BEST MOVIES EVER.

If he looks fazed it's only because he spent all his energy making THE BEST MOVIES EVER

Here’s the why. Sergio Leone is the godfather of the Spaghetti Western subgenre.   Since he’s passed away, there’s no point in making Spaghetti Westerns anymore.  Unless you’re Quentin Tarantino or something.

Duncan Jones

This is what happens when you put out the fire with gasoline.

This is what happens when you put out the fire with gasoline.

Here’s the why. He directed ‘Moon’, the best sci-fi film of 2009.  Strangely, he’s David Bowie’s son.  Sure, this guy’s new, but he’s awesome and he looks to be building a sweet sci-fi series.

Tim Burton

How dare you, Tim.  I used to hate your movies.  Who do you think you are?  Get out.  You misfit, you.

How dare you, Tim. I used to hate your movies. Who do you think you are? Get out. You misfit, you.

Here’s the why. He’s quirky.   He’s got scissors for hands.  He was not permitted to eat sweets as a child — because his father was (not) Christopher Lee.  His movies are bizzare.   I don’t like the ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’.   I do love ‘Batman’.  Why, Tim?  Why do I admire you, so?

And, that’s my top ten.  Patrick should be coming out with his soon.  Very soon.  You hear that, Patrick?  WRITE THE DAMN LIST.

What?  Oh, okay.  Bye for now.