No matter what era they take place or which actor is brandishing the Walter PPK, there are several essential components to any Eon-produced James Bond film: a cunning villain, loads of beautiful women, eye-catching gizmos, and an instantly familiar score. There is distinctive musical language that characterizes Bond’s cinematic adventures, credit for the development of which largely goes to composer John Barry, who scored a dozen films featuring Ian Fleming’s hero between 1962 (the franchise-launching Dr. No) and 1987 (The Living Daylights). It was Barry’s favoritism for certain musical keys and his repetition of that familiar guitar riff set to traditional orchestration—bolstered by a particularly muscular brass section—that has persisted through the adventures of six leading actors, and makes the audience immediately aware that no matter which actor is up on screen that they are watching a film about Agent 007 and not, say, Simon Templar or Jason Bourne or any other super spy you could care to name.
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It’s almost impossible to imagine Bruce Springsteen’s predicament back in 1977. Two years earlier, Springsteen and the E Street Band released the epic Born to Run, arguably the greatest rock album of all time. The record had everything: great hooks on every track, lyrical beauty, and in its two cornerstone pieces, “Backstreets” and “Jungleland”, a sweeping operatic majesty. The album was mythic urban romance writ large. But after that big noise, silence. A lawsuit from the band’s manager, Mike Appel, prevented Springsteen from recording for close to three years, an eternity in the ‘70s music industry. By 1978, Springsteen was the invisible man in American music.
The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town is a documentary of Springsteen and the E-Street Band recording their 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, the crucial follow-up to Born to Run (for brevity and clarity, I’ll refer to the documentary as The Promise and the album as simply Darkness). The stakes are remarkably high and the film is reminiscent of the Beatles’ Let It Be, as we glimpse a band under the pressure of expectations. Darkness is a flawed album, and The Promise reveals why. Back in the studio after years of exile, Springsteen is determined to make an album that reflects the betrayal and disappointment of the last three years. The documentary shows Springsteen and the E-Street band in the studio, banging out song after song, take after take. It’s fascinating to see Springsteen and his band mates at the zenith of their powers.
Like so many residents of Washington, DC, I am originally from elsewhere—Boston, specifically. Earlier this summer, I took the opportunity to ship up to Boston to attend the wedding of one my closest friends. The date that he chose for the ceremony, June 12th, was a significant one because it fell during the twelfth meeting of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. At the time of the ceremony, the series was tied 2-2.
I suppose that I should make it clear early on in this posting that I am neither a sports analyst nor a sports historian—and I am probably not much of a sports writer, either. Nevertheless, as I look back on the glorious wedding reception that followed my friend’s ceremony, I’m startled by how relevant the “storied” Boston-LA rivalry was to one particular song that the DJ played that evening.
About halfway through the reception, just as the party was moving from stately to unruly, the entire room was propelled onto the dance floor care of the opening one-two stomp of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys. I mean that, too. The. Entire. Room. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers all jumping, dancing, and shouting the lyrics (or at least the “wah, oh-oh’s” backing each chorus). It was probably the most intense three minutes of the night, and the dance floor will never be quite the same as a result.
Back in December, AEG Live, Action 3D and Cinedigm released Larger Than Life in 3D. The 90-minute theatrical concert movie featured performances from Dave Mathews, Ben Harper and Gogol Bordello from the 2009 Austin City Limits Festival. It was a limited one-week run to test out a new kind of theatrical concert experience filmed and presented in full 3D HD. Did it successfully usher in a brand new bread of concert film or did it’s lack of cinematic storytelling rock fans to sleep?
Larger Than Life was the first of several other 3D theatrical concerts AEG Live plans to release in 2010. When I heard the news last fall I thought that they had captured footage from 2009 music festivals like Lollapalooza, All Points West and Mile High Music Festival, I thought about all the ways this could revolutionize how we relive our favorite concerts experiences, or even influence what we expect from real live concerts. I initially considered it a move that would forever change the art of the concert film, too. I also wondered if Larger Than Life would be an improvement on the U2, Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus or even the Micheal Jackson This Is It IMAX concert experiences.
While the summer has now passed us by, many theatres in my town are still playing the hit rom-com (500) Days of Summer. The story of young lovers Summer and Tom marks the feature-length directorial debut of music video director Marc Webb, and with his use of pop music in the film, his pedigree shows. The music isn’t just confined to the soundtrack—it colors the story to the point where it almost becomes another character in the script.
It seems no accident that Summer herself is played by an actor who is also a singer and songwriter, Zooey Deschanel. Her main musical vehicle is the duo She & Him, “Him” being indie troubadour M. Ward, and their debut CD, Volume One was released to critical acclaim in 2007.
Summer is portrayed as the ultimate muse, and Deschanel, well… she just married Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Girls like Summer/Zooey are worshipped by guys like Tom/Ben—intelligent, sensitive, slightly nerdy types possessed of depressive tendencies and more than a working knowledge of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s back catalogue. The kind of girl who can boost area sales of Belle and Sebastian’s The Boy with the Arab Strap CD single-handedly by quoting lyrics from it in her high school yearbook. Even at the karaoke bar, where even the best of us are reduced to Whitesnake’s greatest hits, Summer keeps her hipster cred intact with her winsome and incredibly charming take on Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town”. Summer is the thinking man’s heartthrob.