Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A single song

I'm in a state of perpetual awe and wonder when it comes to music and musicians. You would think it would be easier to learn to play an instrument than try and be a filmmaker but, for me, the attempt to make films is an attempt to get as close as possible to what I imagine - naively? - to be the purity at the heart of music. I don't seem to hear lyrics as easily as many people do and so songs as stories are not as powerful for me as others. But I do love the rhythm, swagger or strut of music and, at it's best, the rhythms of cinema, through editing, performance style, dialogue or movement, hits these rhythms and struts in the same way. Yet, also, like good cinema, a song suspends time, stops that shitty urgent acceleration of life, for a handful of heartbeats and lets you feel stillness in a way that, I think, most closely approximates the immensity of nature. For this reason, I find myself either lured into music that is, in itself, stillness, or music that is so chaotic and urgent that it also stops time in it's midst. One decelerates, the other accelerates, but both take you out of the actual rhythm of life.

One song I return to again and again for deceleration is the song 'Cruiser' by Red House Painters. I've written a scene around this song in one of the films I am labouring away on as the first moment between two lovers unfolds around the duration of the song (8 mins). It is really just one chord progression played over and over (and over) while Mark Kozelek mournfully sings over it, but something about this song is so profoundly cinematic in the way it gently, repetitively, eases you into a dreamstate of narrative. Likewise, the song 'The Way' by Bonnie Prince Billy or any of the late 90s tracks by the Perth band Blue Tile Lounge. There is a gentle violence to these songs that simmers like any good film narrative. They all make me hungry for cinema. And strangely, in the same way, Cat Power's cover of The Highwaymen's 'Silver Stallion' just makes me want to make moofies so bad it hurts.

On the other hand, there is the jagged lilt of songs like 'Pentagram Ring' by Chavez or 'Do You Like Me' by Fugazi or the stupidly youthful joy/melancholy of songs like 'Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)' by Taking Back Sunday, 'Travel by Telephone' by Rival Schools or 'Not Turning Off' by Spoon. These songs make you want to run with any bolt of energy you can grab hold of... So rarely do you find a similar thing in film - perhaps the aforementioned 'Head On' by Fatih Akin - in which the loud/quiet/loud of these songs and the same pulse-quickening abrasive impulse is translated into cinema.

A band who decelerates through abrasion is My Disco. In my mind, I have an entire film set to their album 'Paradise'. Song by song. I don't quite think it is the kind of film I will be able to get up any time soon, however, so it is sitting very firmly on the backburner.

In the meantime, as I work on the script with 'Cruiser' at it's heart, I can only hope the band will ultimately let me use it in the flick.

A piece of dialogue currently in the script (who knows where it will end up) goes like this:

What? Is it a Scottish song?

Shona laughs and shakes her head. She presses play. A slow, plaintive song begins to play. Toby looks at her and adjusts the headphones. He bows his head and listens intently. Shona watches him. A man’s mournful voice sings out in Toby’s ears.

“Purple nights and yellow days
Neon signs and silver lakes
LA took a part of me
LA gave this gift to me...”
Toby looks up at her.
S'about LA?

Singers never sing about what they seem
to be singing about. And this song, though
he would have never knew it, is all about
me. Listen...

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