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A RANDOM TASTING OF PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS OF CURRENT INTEREST. TODAY: THE SOUND OF MOVIE MUSIC
Byline: Merle Ginsberg
NEW YORK — Recordings of movie soundtracks have become so important, some CDs have become bigger than the films that spawned them. No longer are soundtrack records nothing but long, lush instrumental tracks. Now, even a snippet of a rock or rap song from a movie will probably wind up on the record, and more and more major artists are composing and recording original songs for their favorite directors.
The soundtrack coordinator — a position that’s come into its own in the last decade — often picks the tracks and negotiates with record companies. But the smartest and hippest directors chose their own material, and get through the maze of record company red tape by having relationships with the artists themselves. Wim Wenders (“Paris, Texas,” “Wings of Desire,” “Until the End of the World”) and the troika of director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) have new films and accompanying soundtracks out. Here, they tell how they put music to film and film to music.
‘The Oldest Man’
Germany’s Wim Wenders has developed close working friendships, almost collaborations, with artists such as Ry Cooder, Nic Cave and Bono and U2, so that his soundtracks have become dependable strong sellers. The record for “Until the End of the World” featured the title song by U2 and every song related to the apocalyptic love story at the center of the movie.
“Too bad the movie wasn’t as successful as the album,” sighed Wenders.
Wenders went straight to his regulars to commission songs for his new film, “The End of Violence,” and the album, on a Los Angeles label called Outpost Records, has tracks by Bono teamed with Sinead O’Connor, Tom Waits, Michael Stipe, Spain, D.J. Shadow, The Eels and Howie B.
Asked how he gets such hipsters to participate in his projects, the 50-something Wenders, who now lives in Los Angeles, admits he spends much of his leisure time seeing bands or listening to the great L.A. radio station, KCRW.
“I don’t do much more than that,” he confessed. “I am the only one my age I know who goes out all the time to see bands. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am always the oldest man in the audience. I just saw the Eels, and of course, I saw a lot of U2’s Pop Mart tour. When I met Gabriel Byrne [who’s in the film] it was in the Viper Room.
“Making the soundtrack is often my favorite part of the filmmaking process,” he noted. “I love matching images to music, and I like introducing my musician friends to other filmmakers so they can work together. I hope my films inspire the musicians, because I know their music affects the films I make — it’s changed the whole mood of contemporary film.”
There are, of course, big expectations for a follow-up to “Trainspotting,” the soundtrack of which sold about half a million copies just in the U.S., and featured tracks by major Brit poppers Blur and Pulp, oldies by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, and hypnotic rave tracks by Underworld and Left Field.
For “A Life Less Ordinary,” Boyle, Macdonald and Hodge wanted the music to be more American, because the story concerns a road trip by Cameron Diaz and Ewan MacGregor across Utah. So it features a folkier sound, with original songs by Beck, REM, Luscious Jackson, Dusted and Folk Implosion, with a few dance tracks by electronic groups like Sneaker Pimps and Underworld. The U.K. trio employed American soundtrack coordinator Randall Poster to help secure the rights to songs, but tried dealing directly with the artists themselves to secure the tracks.
“For ‘Trainspotting,”‘ says Boyle, “our whole approach to the soundtrack was very personal; we have relationships with Oasis and Blur, and we could deal with them directly. But because ‘Trainspotting’ was such a hit, we suddenly found ourselves in a mass of red tape, so we hired Randall.”
“The business part of soundtracks has become so huge,” adds Macdonald, “that we could hardly pay all the artists the same fees on this one. Luckily for us, we met Michael Stipe through Ewan MacGregor, and then we met the Dust Brothers, who produced Beck’s album, and then we met Beck. We gave them all some of the film to look at, so they knew the mood we were going for. Actually, Oasis has a song in the movie, but we couldn’t put it on the soundtrack, because of record-company hassles.”
The Beck track on the album will be released as a single, so now everybody’s involved with the video: Beck, Boyle, Hodge, Macdonald and four record companies, since the soundtrack is being released by London Records and Beck is signed to Geffen Records. “Believe me,” says Macdonald, “if I’d never met Beck personally, we wouldn’t have gotten him. Even he can’t believe how hard it is for him to have done this.”