Hey everybody. Michael C. here. Most of the time I try to find a topical question to address in this column, or failing that a universal question that is always pressing to some degree or another. But sometimes there is that third category of utterly random questions that bubble to the surface and refuse to stop nagging me until I’ve shared them with the world. Where the minds of most people produce useful thoughts like “Let’s go walk in the sunshine” or “It’s never too early to plan for retirement!” my mind cranks out gems like “It’s crucial that we know which film to soundtrack ratio has the biggest disparity. Quickly! Stop what you’re doing and make up a list of candidate films!”
I suspect many faithful readers can relate.
So let’s call this week’s episode more of a simmering question than a burning one, because that’s the query I want answered. Some films are best remembered only for introducing a star (The Silver Chalice) or for a single line of dialogue (Beyond the Forest). What movies would drift off into obscurity, if not for their killer playlists? What is the biggest difference in quality between a crappy film and an awesome soundtrack?
Doing a preliminary scan I realized finding a definitive answer was going to be trickier than I thought...
The vast majority of beloved soundtracks are from equally beloved films. Saturday Night Fever, Goldfinger, The Graduate. You name it. Great soundtracks and great movies more often than not go hand in hand.
Beyond that I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Popular albums which I found to be weak or overrated (and I stress we’re talking about my own subjective taste here) were by and large weak or overrated in direct proportion to the films that spawned them. Outside some soul classics the appeal of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack has always eluded me but then so has the appeal of that movie in general (I await your scorn in the comments). Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away are exactly the processed cheese that Top Gun deserves, just as the guilty pleasure value of watching Footloose the movie roughly parallels the experience of listening to Footloose the album.
Still, there were exceptions to be found. After running through lists of best selling and most beloved albums it seemed to me the clear favorite was The Bodyguard, the soundtrack of which is as beloved as the film is ignored. I have never met anyone who claimed to like it and it is rare to hear it spoken of except as it as a bestselling album or as a milestone in Houston’s career. The only hitch here is I have never actually seen the movie, and mother taught me never to badmouth a film I haven't seen. Same goes for Superfly another movie that has been entirely eclipsed by its landmark album of Curtis Mayfield tracks. If anybody wants to rally to the defense of either of these films in the comments please do so. I can only state from my objective perspective they clearly have legacies dependent entirely on their bestselling soundtracks.
As for a personal choice mine would have to be for the soundtrack to Hanna. I'm sure I'm in the minority here, plus it’s a bit mean to knock Joe Wright so soon after this blog heaped praise on him, but Hanna is a film I’ve come to loathe since its release. In addition to the score it takes great performances from Saoirse Ronan and Tom Hollander, as well as some terrific visuals, and flushes them all down the toilet in the service of a flashy exercise in violent pointlessness. Plus, for some reason the viewer is forced to endure several scenes of Cate Blanchett dramatically flossing.
Meanwhile, as the film falls in my esteem, the brilliant, propulsive soundtrack supplied by The Chemical Brothers only improves with each listen. It is, no fooling, one of the great modern film scores. I’ve scarcely gone a week without listening to it since 2011, whether it be while running or writing or making my subway ride more exciting than it has any right to be.
So that’s my answer. What’s yours? There must be loads of examples I’ve overlooked. Now is your chance to champion your soundtrack darlings no matter how embarrassing their cinematic parentage.