Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Stranger Things" by S U R V I V E

The Duffer Brother's "Stranger Things" pays homage to Spielberg or Zemeckis' character driven sci-fi movies from the 80's. It perfectly captures the era, and the sense of wonder and magic of "ET" or "Back to the Future". Though the show itself is pure Spielberg, the Austin synth band S U R V I V E's score borrows more heavily from John Carpenter, with a dash or two of Vangelis' score to "Blade Runner". The opening titles are spot on, simple and effective and augmented perfectly by the arpeggiated analog (sounding) synths. This score has just enough of a modern sensibility to keep it from merely being a rehash. S U R V I V E are obviously well versed historians of the synthesizer, and that's reflected in their good choices here. The whole packaged is super entertaining, highly recommended. Streaming now on Netflix. Buy S U R V I V E's music here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Goodnight Mommy" by Olga Neuwirth

The Austrian horror film "Goodnight Mommy" is disturbing, slow, moody, and beautifully shot and Olga Neuwirth's dense, atmospheric score underscores the unsettling feeling throughout it. 

The score is used very sparingly at first, it comes into more abundant play during the latter half of the film, which makes sense since "Goodnight Mommy" is basically a one hour 40 minute crescendo. Reverb-soaked atmospheres adorn the picture in outdoor environments, adding to the vast feeling of the cornfields and forests that surround the house that most of the film is set in. Inside the house we're confined, claustrophobic - strange, out of focus photographs are on the walls. Though the house is large it feels cramped; and when we're inside it the music reflects the cramped feeling. The score is almost exclusively atmosphere; melodies don't really appear out of the haze.

There's a lot of effective sound design outside of Neuwirth's excellent score - the tried and true "not quite in tune distant piano played by a child" is used well here, as well as children singing a lullaby in unison. The kind of stuff that seems to work every time. What sounds like it may be a glass armonica plays a baroque piece in one scene; I didn't recognize it, it may be Neuwirth's own or it could just as easily be from the actual baroque era. (A glass armonica is an instrument that produces a sound similar to running your finger over the edge of a wine glass; obviously the mechanics of it are more sophisticated than that. It could also just be a church organ on the flute setting.)

For more on Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz great horror film, read this great AV Club piece on it. Or better yet just watch the movie with no expectations. It's streaming on Amazon Prime now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Spring Breakers" by Mac Quayle and Gregory Tripi

I was a little late to the party on Harmony Korine's colorful epic "Spring Breakers" (and there's no party quite like a Harmony Korine party) mostly because I assumed it was for teenagers and I was not the target audience; I didn't know it was directed by Korinne, and the poster is somewhat misleading too, given the weight of the film. (not the poster above, that's an alternative designed by Linda Hordijk. The main promotional poster shows the four female co-stars donning skimpy bikinis. If you give it anything more than a passing glance, you'll see it actually is quite ominous. But I didn't.)

The film is visually stunning; there are beautiful cinematic moments throughout, particularly of the four main characters - doing headstands and cartwheels in a dimly lit dorm hallway; dancing in a circle holding hands while toting machine guns and wearing ski masks by a Miami Beach swimming pool at dusk; a really nice tracking shot around the outside of a building portraying a robbery inside. There's also a lot of gracefully shot slow motion sequences of Ft. Lauderdale spring break debauchery.

Many times in the film it was difficult to tell how Korine wanted me to interpret things, or if he was leading me in any direction at all. Sometimes it seemed he was demonstrating the vapidity of the sort of frat culture that exists in that environment, other times it seemed like he was making no judgement on it one way or the other, just merely portraying it as it is. Some scenes that showed the non-stop partying were accompanied by a voice-over of one of the girls talking about how beautiful everyone on spring break is, how beautiful the experience of spring break is, and how many friends she's made, and while it certainly comes across as sounding naive, it was again difficult to tell how the director wanted me to interpret this, or if he was leaving it up to the viewer without bias.

In any case, music and sound play a vital role to the feel of the film. The additional music was composed by Mac Quayle and Gregory Tripi, and the washy, three dimensional synth pads and bells blend really well with the colors splashed across the screen. There's a lot of great transitional elements in the sound design, including the unsettling sound of a gun being cocked which is accompanies cutting throughout the film. It's ominous; a darkness on the horizon, and it's very effective. The soundtrack itself is mostly Skrillex, which is an obvious choice to complement the debauchery onscreen. Whether it was meant to be or not, his music is an effective metaphor for artifice without substance; vapidity. It doesn't know that it's stupid; it's puffed up, proud.

If you thought this was just going to be a dumb teen exploitation movie, watch it and be pleasantly surprised. It's actually a classic, and I think it will be mentioned years from now as an indicator of the youth culture of this time...