Sometimes the music in the movies is so good, the films are better if you
just close your eyes and listen.
Stephen Frears' "The Van" is a quaint little number from Ireland,
make us love the beer-swilling soccer fans of Eyre. About a couple of guys
who are about to become terminal losers, the film follows them as they
entertain the idea of selling fast food from a van. Thus is born "Bimbo's
Burgers." (Which reminds me of a vegetarian idea that would catch on here on
the Croisette, only you'd just call it Bimbo's Buns).
Eric Clapton does the music for "The Van", which gives it a groove it
otherwise wouldn't have. It's a great unplugged sound that gives the Irish
rhythm. And relief from the blues.
Same thing happened in the ballyhooed "Kansas City," the
latest from Robert
Altman. The shortcut through this flick (laugh track, please) is again the
fabulous soundtrack. Fortunately, Altman knows that, so there are times when
he simply stops the story and lets the jazz joints of Prohibition Era Kansas
City do their stuff. There's Joshua Redman and this extraordinary collection
of jazz artists. There's even a scene with two saxophonists cutting each
other. Given how good all that is and how simple the story is, the actors
have to take a back-seat every once in a while.
Ever the diplomatic director, Altman informed the press conference that he
had conceived of the film as a jazz riff on his home town, Kansas City. He
even spoke of stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson and Brook Smith
as a jazz trio. Of course, some numskull European critic got up and asked
which one was the bass, the keyboard, etc., or did Monsieur Altman have some
other group of instruments in mind?
Altman dodged that one and went on to say that the first music he'd ever
listened to seriously was Duke Ellington's "Solitude," which his black nanny
had made him sit down and hear at the age of about eight. She called the
best music ever written, and Altman has tried to make the film worthy of that
Musically, he has done it. The actors could have been better tuned,
especially the twitchy Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her performance is so neurotic,
she resembles Amanda Plummer more than a gangster's moll who dreams of being
Steve Buscemi's "Trees Lounge" is another film that's better with your eyes
closed. Its soundtrack is vintage jukebox in a forgotten Long Island
watering hole. Bluesy and drunken songs from women in need, a little R & B
to pace the action scenes, and voila! The movie's got a swing to it.
Otherwise, it's full of the kind of characters Buscemi always plays -
lowlifes who don't drink as systematically as they'd like to. These folks
will never make it to a classy place like Vegas. Their livers will rot in
Hoboken. "Trees Lounge" does prove that Buscemi has a vision of the whole
world being exactly like him. You may not share that vision, but his taste
in music is a bit better, so he's not lost.
And before we leave the subject of movie music, I'd like to put out a call on
behalf of Robert Altman. (He did not ask me to do this, nor does he know,
but I think it's a good idea.) He announced at the press conference that he
had several hours of really good footage of his jazz musicians playing
together - rehearsing, doing various takes for the scenes, trying stuff out,
simply jamming - and he'd like to cut it together as a half hour music movie.
Now, journalists are notoriously impoverished, so that fell on deaf ears, but
I think there may be some jazzophile out there who sees a good deal in this.
Altman needs $20,000 to cut together his jazz pick, and film companies want
to put lawyers on it and before you know it, the lawyers have each made
$20,000 but there's no bread for the jazz. Any jazz patrons out there? Let
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