Music and film have major history together, their relationship preceding the period when “talkies” became all the cinematic rage. And since its inception, Sundance Film Festival has made a point to highlight this union with musical showcases augmenting movie-centric festivities.
In more recent years, that focus has increasingly encompassed the composers of the film scores themselves, especially the trend in having popular musicians help create a film’s unique aesthetic.
“There has always been a musical subculture at Sundance, people who come with music being their primary focus,” says Peter Golub, director of the Sundance Film Music Program who also scored a film at the festival, Countdown to Zero. “This year should be great as there are a number of films that feature music as a subject but also any number that feature great music itself, with scores created by both young and very well-established composers.”
While recruiting artists with proven track records to score a feature offers its own allure for many filmmakers, others often turn to unknown or unproven composers and musicians to help push the envelope and try new things.
“Whenever a composer comes from another part of the musical world and wants to do film, it can bring something new to the field,” says Golub. “I also think that there are certain parts of the craft and how it works, that means those who try don’t necessarily need the experience but they certainly need the sensibility.”
This cross-fertilization between independent film and independent music has been occurring for quite some time, but the past several years at Sundance have seen this movement everincreasing. Take, for instance, Yo La Tengo’s prolific stint writing scores for Sundance films. In 2005, they doubled up with Junebug and Game 6, and in 2006, they again did two separate films, Shortbus and Old Joy. Not only did their sound help shape all four films, fans were treated to a ton of new music from one of the granddaddies of indie-rock when they collected the scores in a release titled They Shoot, We Score.
This year, that cool trend continues with films scored by the odd likes of Moby (a documentary called Waste Land), The Roots (Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us about 1978’s racetorn Philadelphia), and Califone (All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, a film written and directed by the band’s co-founder, Tim Rutili). Josh Radnor also called on one of his favorite artists, young folk musician Jaymay, to score his feature happythankyoumoreplease.
And don’t forget Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, two indie-rock heavyweights who released two highly acclaimed albums in 2009 (Veckatimest and Merriweather Post Pavilion, respectively) and who also found the time to collaborate with filmmakers on exciting Sundance features. Grizzly Bear teamed up with Derek Cianfrance to score his film, Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling, who tried his hand at music with last year’s Dead Man’s Bones release. Animal Collective got together with Danny Perez for what basically amounts to an hour-long music video—a very cool one at that.
Bringing in emerging independent bands not only creates added interest in a filmmakers submission, it will make fellow fans downright giddy with excitement. It’s like getting an extra, if sometimes odd, album out of your muchloved recording artists.
As Golub mentioned, there has also been a long history of film at Sundance with music as its major theme or subject. This year highlights several such works: The Taqwacores, based on Michael Knight’s book, which spawned a real-life Muslim-punk movement. (Bands featured in the film will play Star Bar Jan. 25.) There’s also a piece about the young John Lennon struggling to find his musical chops in Nowhere Boy.
The continuous interplay between these two domains is essentially driven by a pursuit for mutual stimulation. “I think that a lot of filmmakers are attracted to bands and pop music, so they tend to gravitate that way for inspiration,” says Golub. “At the same time, a lot of people who are in bands are interested in doing film scores. I think musically, too, you want to reach out and grow in different directions; film really offers that to a lot of musicians.”
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL