Boy, the Pimp is never happy! This month, the Animation Pimp discusses his great distaste at being hit over the head with music. Of course, he uses more colorful terms...
In general, music today is a piece of shit as r its anoiac listeners. The Top 40 has always been a stinking pile of fumosities, but there was a time when you could find The Kinks, The Who, Big Joe Turner and other semi-legitimate musicians. Today, it's a combination of blatantly manufactured boy/girl groups or a sad series of minstrels disguised as genuine reps of black urban experience. Bull cud, all of it.
Naturally (naturally because corporations have horizontal integration now --owning film studios, music labels, television stations), music in film, and specifically animation, reflects the cud quality of the Top 40. In fact, music has become the canned laughter of movies today. Movie music has always been pretty bad except when used properly as either diagetic material (part of the mise-en-scene) or as an integral component of the film that set a tone or mood without overdoing it (e.g. Warner Bros., UPA or John Hubley). Today, music is in a sense the motherboard of most movies. It doesn't just suggest a tone or mood; it pinpoints EXACTLY how you should be responding to a scene. Hey maybe U enjoy this. Not me. When I go to a movie I would like to have the option of figuring it for myself. I don't need to be told when I should laugh, cry, hurt, shit and sigh. It's bad enough that I have to endure this canned laughter nonsense on television. "Umm...just in case you forget, we're hoping you'll laugh right about here." It drives me INSANE. Needless to say (but I will), the music produced in film is the sort of bad noise (there is GOOD noise) you're gonna be listening to in the 7th circle of hell alongside that toe-tapping Riverdance asshole.
But hey forget about me; think about yourselves. Movie music is the BIGGEST slap in YOUR mug. Soundtracks are not only telling you that you are stupid, but they are also controlling your reaction to their product. There's a long line of suckers who, moved to tears by a Stink song in Emperor's New Groove, rush out to the nearest mall and pick up the soundtrack in order to recreate that plastic feeling they thought they felt in the theatre.
On a strictly financial level, soundtracks are an ideal way to generate some extra mullah for a failed piece of cinematic cud, save some asshead's career (see Elton John, Stink and Phil Collins), and get mom and pops into the mix. Timmy and Susie won't know Stink and the 2 fat guys, but eternal hipsters Mom and Dad will remember them when they were 'cool' (heh heh heh...right) and rush out to re-live their lost youth, which would never have been lost if they'd just avoided Disney films, organized religion and alcohol-inspired unprotected sex to begin with. You are what u eat I guess. This is perhaps THE 2nd major problem with animation soundtracks. They're trying to sell the music to the parents. Look at The Iron Giant's '50s soundtrack, Shrek (John Cale!) and those ultimate pseudo-hipsters, Klasky Csupo. Just because you get the B52s dickhead, Patti Smith and other uncool visions of what makes COOL, to sing in The Rugrats does not make it any better than Stink and the others. Anyway...if Patti Smith were COOL she'd never have agreed to it in the first place (btw, she was NEVER cool).
Targeting parents has probably done the most damage to the overall quality of music. I mean...while it ain't Robert Wilkins or Bud Powell, earlier Disney films (Winnie the Pooh, Jungle Book, Aristocats) had some catchy melodies that kids and adults grooved to. The closest any film's come recently is Toy Story. Yeah...there's some annoying mood music and that cow cud of a Jessie/Sarah McLaughlin interlude, but they got Randy Newman (who was and sometimes is cooler than Patti Smith) contributing a slightly not so terrible song, "You've Got a Friend in Me" (although why do I sense that one of those NAMBLA sickos uses this as a theme song?**), and Riders in the Sky do a decent ol' howdy doody stylin' for "Woody's Roundup."
And hey, bad scores are not just a 'commercial' problem. Let's take The Old Man and The Sea (sorry...I'm always picking on it), Father and Daughter and The Night (Regina Pessoa). The adaptation of Old Man is bad, but the music is even worse. Father and Daughter is a decent enough film, but when the old broad dies and runs to her father (becoming a young girl again in the process), the music reaches this icky crescendo that destroys the simplicity and authenticity of the rest of the film. The culprit in both cases is Normand Roger, but I doubt it's his fault. Dudok de Wit, like Petrov (or maybe Pascal Bland), lost confidence in his ability to convey emotions simply through his images (picture = 1000 words).
Another film that irked me was festival fave, The Night. A young girl is having trouble sleeping because of the shadows and sounds she imagines in the night. Pessoa creates a really creepy atmosphere and boosts it with the sounds of doors creaking and other house noises...but not feeling this is enough, we get a "UMM...I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU SHOULD BE SCARED RIGHT NOW" soundtrack. Pop...there goes the tire on this baby. Another flat.
And hey...even my man, Priit Pärn suffers from the occasional lame soundtrack, but in his case it's not the use of the music, but the cheesy, synth sound.
Conversely, take a look at the films of Igor Kovalyov. Until Flying Nansen, he'd never used music in any of his films (and even in Nansen it's very brief)...and yet his films convey so much through movement...the movement of the characters, the camera and the editing.
In a strange sort of way, the commercial reasoning for damaging our aural senses is understandable: they're trying to sell CDs. While the kids are playing with their Atlantis toys and porking out on Atlantis happy meals...mom and dad can enjoy a nice little number from that ex-punk rocker Stink. But what's with Petrov, Dudok de Wit and Pessoa? They ain't selling soundtracks. Hell, being impoverished indie animators, they could have saved some bucks by avoiding music altogether.
Aside from the greed element, the OVERUSE of music shows how utterly unconfident the image-makers are. They're supposed to be visual-visionaries and yet NONE of these modern dipshits seem to understand the power of a silent image. Before they spend their money on music, maybe some of these ARTISTES should take a walk to the video store and pick up a Buster Keaton film or better yet, Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc. Watch. Learn. Listen.
*allochezia/al o KEE zee uh/n
Defacation from somewhere other than the anus. Also, defecation of something other than feces.
** just in case it's not clear I think that NAMBLA and anyone associated with it should be fustigated.
Hottie Animator of the Month
Perry Kiefer. The guy short-circuited. I didn't know him. It's too bad 'cause it seems like he was more than an 'unemployed transient.'
Chris Robinson is a writer, festival director, programmer, junky and has been called the John Woo of diplomacy. His hobbies include horseback riding, pudpulling, canoeing and goat thumping.