Why the Oscars are a mad world for the sound of music
THERE WAS a grand total of two contenders for this year’s Oscar for best original song and next year there could be none. Both were awful: Man or Muppet from The Muppets and Real in Rio from Rio marked a new low for last Sunday’s event.
Granted, the best original song is a wretched category, as the list of past winners testifies. The winning song always seems to be either overwrought (much in the style of La Streisand) or some hideous nonsense from a musical. And nowhere in the list of winners is there any nod to prevailing musical climates – they just keep banging out what can only be described as a type of cheery noise. It can make the Eurovision look like the Mercury Music Prize.
The reason only two songs were in contention this year is due to a change in the eligibility rules. Voters are now asked to rate songs with a score in between 6 and 10. If any song doesn’t average out at 8.25 or above, it doesn’t make the cut. Which is why this year Elton John, Lady Gaga, Chris Cornell, Mary J Blige (who had a total hissy fit about the new scoring system) and Elvis Costello were left disappointed.
The whole problem with the moribund best original song category is the word “original” in that the rules specify that the song must have been written specifically for the film in question. In other words, you have to write to order.
Now that there may not even be a best original song category next year if nobody manages to hit an average of 8.25 on the new rating rules, it’s high time a new category was installed: that of best use of music in a film.
The placement of music in a film is an art form into itself. And some directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino, can curate their work so skilfully that now whenever anyone mentions the Stealers Wheel song Stuck in the Middle with You, everyone’s thoughts turn to the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs. And Tarantino’s use of Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street in Jackie Brown is a superior moment of using music in a film to outstanding effect.
It can make for a sublime experience if done right. Have a look and listen to how Wong Kar-wai used The Mamas and Papas’s California Dreaming in his outstanding Chunking Express. For so many reasons it shouldn’t work – wrong lyrics, wrong tempo – but it’s quite awesome.
With proper cinematic placement, a song can be twisted and turned out of its original meaning and imbued with a whole new set of attributes. Listen to how Danny Boyle utilises the Andy Williams song Happy Heart at the end of Shallow Grave. That’s approaching genius.
Go back to the classic Harold and Maude and consider how Hal Ashby uses Trouble by Cat Stevens. And contrast with how television dramas always seem to reach for Jeff bloody Buckley’s Hallelujah to indicate the viewer should be feeling a sense of sadness – or something. These days, as soon as you catch a glimpse of a lifesupport machine on a TV drama, you might as well launch into the first verse of Hallelujah yourself to save time.
It may be a clichéd choice, but the use of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous should convince that there really should be a category for best unoriginal song. Even the worst song in the world ever – Bohemian Rhapsody – can be redeemed a tiny fraction by how it is used in Wayne’s World.
Once you’re over those music/ film moments that people get excited about but really aren’t that great (think Trainspotting’s Lust for Life and Donnie Darko’s Mad World) there’s a wonderful array out there. The Jesus and Mary Chain cropping up in Lost in Translation; the Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s Crying in Mulholland Drive. I could go on.
Only a muppet would vote for this