||topic: Upcoming Music on Film
on April 14, 2006 - 11:19 PM PDT
|Making movies is hard. Writing music is harder. Looking for a combination of outstanding film and excellent music? Good luck.
When the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival opens next week, it will offer an unusually varied representation of the genre, with quality ranging from four stars to none. Here's a quintet from the lineup:
* "Perhaps Love" (Peter Chan, Hong Kong, 2005), SFIFF screening on April 20, opening the festival - one star
* "Iberia" (Carlos Saura, Spain, 2005), April 21, 23, 25, 27 - four stars
* "Raccoon Princess" (Seijun Suzuki, Japan, 2005), April 26, 28, 30 - no star
* "Romance and Cigarettes" (John Turturro, US, 2005), April 29 - two stars
* "A Prairie Home Companion" (Robert Altman, US, 2006), May 4, closing the festival - three stars
Pretentious, artsy directors fare badly; honest veterans with respect for music do well. Suzuki, whose 2001 "Pistol OPERA" was just a weird mess, operatic only in the sense of some bizarre JapanTrash, now offers "OPERETTA tanuki goten" (called "Princess Raccoon" here), giving operetta a bad name, with the most annoyingly insipid, syrupy music on this side of the Pre-Yanni School of Andrew Lloyd Webber. China's favorite faux-Japanese star, Zhang ("Geisha") Ziyi, is the anthropomorphous nocturnal mammal, singing and dancing against a pastel papier-maché sky.
On the other hand, Garrison Keillor's understated, relaxed radio show from a mythical American hinterland has some stick-in-the-brain good music (mostly by Keillor and Richard Dworsky), served up by the remarkable Jearlyn Steele and such surprisingly effective musical novices as Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, and John C. Reilly. Altman's direction is laid-back enough to be invisible, the show and the film are both natural and real.
Not so in case of Turturro's venture into directing, a "Pennies from Heaven"-type down-and-dirty musical set in the world of working-class New York, with characters bursting out in song, a la Dennis Potter, but without that late master's deft touch. The cast is a collection of big names: James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Mary-Louise Parker, Elaine Stritch, and Eddie Izzard, mouthing the voices of Engelbert Humperdinck, the Buena Vista Social Club, Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin, Cyndi Lauper (and occasionally singing themselves, but let that pass, even for the great Stritch at this point in her career).
There is a Samson-and-Delilah motive running through the film, but not from Saint-Saens. Rather, it's Tom Jones' "Delilah," James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World," and Victor Young's theme from the 1949 Cecil B. DeMille "Samson and Delilah."
"Perhaps Love" ("Ru guo Ai"), which opens the festival, is one of those "Kiss Me Kate" backstage musicals, about the "real" and on-stage lives of characters in the making of a film, but Chan (credited as Ho-Sun-Chan) is no Sam OR Bella Spewack, and - more importantly - there is no Cole Porter on the horizon here, only Peter Kam (of "Golden Chicken 2") and Leon Ko, composers with a weakness for elevator music; no, it's more Hong Kong style, so call it "lift harmonies."
The struggle for the heart of a new movie star (played by Xun Zhou, of "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress") between the director (Jacky Cheung) of the film this film is about and the Big Star/Sex Symbol (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is devoid of any human interest or validity, and Kaneshiro's permanent hangdog melodrama gets terribly tiresome during the two-hour-plus run.
And now we come to the promised four-star film: Saura - director of 40 films, including the gorgeous flamenco "Carmen," "Salomé," and "El amor brujo" - has now created another jewel of merging music, dance, and film. Isaac Albéniz's Iberia suite, written a century ago, is celebrated here by the greatest living Spanish masters in dramatic, dance, folk, modern, operetta and flamenco variations in performance. Performed against a simple studio background, the numbers flow into one another, introduced by only the names of the pieces and the performers. There are no subtitles, which a questionable decision: no text detracts from the performances, but the exact meaning of the songs - beyond the emotions conveyed by the artists - remains hidden from those who don't speak Spanish.
Rosa Torres-Pardo, singers Estrella and Enrique Morente, dancers Aida Gomez, Sara Baras, Antonio Canales, José Antonio, guitarist Manolo Sanlucar, pianists Rosa Torres Pardo and Chano Dominguez
are the mainstays of the performance. They are surrounded by such artists as the Orquesta Plectro de Córdoba, Aixivil Criollo, Zacarías Martínez, José Segovia, Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, Tino Di Geraldo, the Banda Municipal de Madrid (in "El Corpus (Christi) en Sevilla," with Estrella Morente), the Aukeran Dantza Konpaina ("Zortzico"), Chano Domínguez, Tomás Moreno ("Tomasito"), Blas Córdoba ("El Kejío"), Israel Suárez ("El Pirana"), John Stokes ("Asturias - Leyenda"), Ara Malikian, Jensen Horn, and Balan Dragos ("Castilla - Seguidillas"), and on and on, in a stunning roster of Spanish music.
Although a Deutsche Grammophon CD of Saura's "Iberia" is available now, better wait for the DVD. "This you've got to see!"