Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hollywood | Music | Musical Hollywooding

J.K. Rowling's Minerva McGonagall - the Harry Potter books are full of po-mo references to other bad writing.

‘I love all films that start with rain,’ begins Rain, the final poem of Don Paterson’s most recent collection, Rain – that’s not a typo by the way, both poem and collection are in fact entitled Rain, and the first line of said poem also includes the word ‘rain’, so those three rains have to be there, I know, I’m as put out as you are… (What is the correct means of dealing with this problem of poems and collections sometimes sharing the same name – and the sometimes-necessity of putting both in the same sentence, thus creating a clunky, clunky sentence? Title-poem?)

‘I love all films that start with rain,’ begins Rain, the title- (and closing-) poem of Don Paterson’s most recent collection. It continues thus:

rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one long thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

(For the whole thing, lookee here)

It’s a wonderful piece of writing, playing similar games with technique-expectation, art-about-art and the concept of simplicity as Song For Natalie ‘Tusja’ Beridze in the same collection, and The Rat and The Reading in Landing Light. And its point – at least, its point until the fabled Paterson italics kick in a couple stanzas down – is, I think, spot on also. Hell, I remember, eight years old, going to lie down and sky-face in my garden in my shorts whenever the summer rain came, because I’d seen somebody in some film I thought was awesome or something doing the same. It’s a bloody lovely feeling, incidentally. Makes you look like a prick though, so I stopped. Pity, really.

Rain: one of the most successful and common Hollywooding techniques there is. Hollywooding: the covering up of any number of individual crippling flaws in a film via evocative, heart-bursting shit – a method popularised, undoubtedly, by Hollwood. So, rain: one of the most successful Hollywooding techniques there is. Another one: music.

Lovely, lovely film-music. What follows is not going to be a lengthy diatribe about the subtleties of good and bad film-scoring slash -soundtracking though because, one, such things have been done far too many times already (yah, the thing about Tarantino is that his approach to track-selection for his soundtracks mirrors exactly the way his films are, in fact, a bricolage of reference and little nods to, y’know, B movies and stuff) and two, because the relationship between Hollywooding and music is about something much more specific than whole soundtracks. It’s about moments, see. (All this said, I’ll be including the Twin Peaks theme on this week’s essay-soundtrack-playlist for reference’s sake, because it’s so completely magnificent. Oh, and if anyone is, in fact, at all interested in what people are still saying about scores etc., you could do worse than read this.)

Moments. Individual moments during which the empty script and score or bad or overlong sequences are, particularly, unambiguously, shamelessly glossed with the music-equivalent of Paterson’s rain. It is these that are the currency of musical Hollywooding, not soundtracks as a whole. Everybody can call to mind one such scene immediately, surely… Here’s mine. Ah yes, we’re all at a funeral but we’re all going walk out halfway through, because that’s totally cool, in order to get our hands on a photocopy of Ryan Pillipay’s journal that we’re all suddenly aware of the significance of and that incrimates Buffy totally (I’M A BITCH! Benedict Bitch!) without any of us actually having the time to read it – to the point that her 70s-pimp-style blow-crucifix gets nabbed, poor love. And then two of us are going to ruefully shake our heads in the most breathtaking display of accidentally-comic condemnation ever filmed. And all of this, all of this is redeemed via ‘mad’ Richard Ashcroft and a set of vaguely convenient lyrics.

‘One of the best endings to any movie I have ever seen,’ gushes Youtube user Worldskye. Worldskye, it sounds to me like you’re a fucking idiot. (What a car though, right?)

Anyway, for the purposes of Music As Reading, I’m interested in whether this technique is capable of glossing bad writing of another sort. Poetry, specifically. Can the right music make awful poetry sound like a specific genre of good poetry because of its own connotations? Can Hollywooding save bad poetry? Don Paterson having been my starting point, I will be utilising that unlikely influence of his, the utterly great William Topaz McGonagall as the focal-point of this experiment. And to celebrate Brief Encounter’s perfect use of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 – no Hollywooding there – I will be relying upon ‘classical’ (whatever that means) work only. The following three ideas will be expanded upon – and accompanied by several others – on this Saturday’s mixtape, A Musical McGonagall.

The Tay Bridge Disaster + Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 = Hitchcockian suspense…?

…It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

The Christmas Goose + Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 = Arthouse enigma…?

…When Smiggs bought the goose
He suspected no harm,
But a naughty boy stole it
From under his arm.

Then Smiggs he cried, “Stop, thief!
Come back with my goose!”
But the naughty boy laugh'd at him,
And gave him much abuse…

An Autumn Reverie + Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings = Lush panorama…?

Alas! Beautiful Summer now hath fled,
And the face of Nature doth seem dead,
And the leaves are withered, and falling off the trees,
By the nipping and chilling autumnal breeze.

The pleasures of the little birds are all fled,
And with the cold many of them will be found dead,
Because the leaves of the trees are scattered in the blast,
And makes the feathered creatures feel downcast…

(To access a Spotify essay-soundtrack-playlist to accompany the above, click here)

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Sam. You've made my day :)
    Do you accept requests? Could I please have an appropriate soundtrack for "Lines written under the Conviction That It Is Not Wise to Read Mathematics in November after One’s Fire Is Out" by James Clerk Maxwell?
    Or perhaps we should celebrate Canada Day by honouring the world's worst Canadian poet, the Chaucer of Cheese, the inimitable James McIntyre