Why the Os­cars are a mad world for the sound of mu­sic

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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

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