By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
Let me tell you about this really great idea I have for an independent movie. It opens with a six-year-old kid becoming an orphan because his parents die when they stand up to the local drug cartel after his father breeds a strain of coca plants that have poppy flowers. Then, as he reaches the age of 17, he starts to rebel against the father that raised him and that father dies in the lawless streets of his hometown. Then, lost and bereft of any father figures in his life, he listens to his girlfriend’s father for advice and instead of trying to get back at the drug cartels and innumerable criminals, he tries to protect the innocent, and in the middle of protecting people his girlfriend’s father ends up dying. Lastly, he looks to his birth father’s botanist colleague for approval and the colleague tries to kill the boy and the rest of the city when he gets high on his new drug, herocaine. I set it around Halloween in Mexico and call it “Dia de Los Muertos de Los Padres.”
But, you’ve probably already seen it in its American incarnation as The Amazing Spider-man and I think all those deaths are the reasons that led to me noticing the music in this film. It is also the first time I remember thinking, “Why is there so much music and why do I hate it?” (I felt that during Katy Perry: Part of Me as well because that title didn’t tell me that all I would see was the bad parts.)*
* Before you think less of me, I didn’t really see that movie. I will probably never see it. If it was called Katy Perry: All of Me Covered in Whipped Cream, well, I’d be tempted a little bit.
By the time that Peter Parker becomes Spider-man there’s already been the death of two fathers. In a two-hour movie, I’d call that routine. To make us feel the betrayal that Peter feels as Dr. Curt Connors becomes The Lizard and to make us feel sad when Gwen Stacy’s dad dies, the movie has to rely on music. The music keeps building and soaring and popping up at every single moment possible and it finally got to the point that I just longed for a touching moment of silence. I even started rooting for prayers.** Unfortunately I didn’t get either wish.
** Think of me as an atheist and then you see how strange that sentence would be.
Whenever I think of movie music, I think of my favorite movie quote, “Bah, bum, bah bum. Babum babum babum.” I think it’s one of the most memorable movie quotes of all time and brings to mind immediately what is happening on the screen in Jaws. (I have reread this a few times as I edit it, and I can’t help but mouth a few bars of that piece of music.) There’s also the best use of a single note as played by a four-year-old on a piano in Eyes Wide Shut. Then there’s the music as a summation of character history in Once Upon a Time in the West. All add to the story, but aren’t the only thing. There’s “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” and crazy masked sex parties and the childhood images that go with the music of Harmonica. The music is just an interesting part of those movies and my remembrances are how the music added to the story, not because it stuck out more than a severed human limb in Pixar’s Cars.
Music can also create a feeling of era.*** Though it sometimes feels like a shortcut, it can work if used correctly. Hey, there’s A Flock of Seagulls and we’re in the 80s. Hey, there’s Elvis Presley, we’re in the 50s. (Maybe the 60s, but the 60s usually means a Beatles song.) If you want a primer on this type of shortcut, just watch Forrest Gump. I don’t mind it because the car and the car radio has been a part of my life and so many other people’s lives that those songs do evoke images and nostalgia in us easier than any line in a movie like, “You know what Donnie, I love the 80s” as a guy flicks out the hair in his mullet. In an independent movie the line would be, “You know what Brecklin Sarpord, I hate the 80s because of White Lion. They caused my parents to divorce and I’ve been sarcastic toward hair metal ever since” as Jenny Kolt puts on a black shirt before Brecklin’s wide eyes at seeing his first bra on a girl. In both cases, I would expect a chuckle from the intended audience.
*** As far as I know, this is not a score, but as I say later, I don’t know much about movie music.
I really wanted to love The Amazing Spider-man and instead I merely liked it. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had amazing chemistry.**** I could have watched those two interact instead of most of the music-swelling action scenes. (Really? Cranes? Can’t the writer just have Spider-man be closer to the Oscorp building?)
**** Feel free to boo me for that one.
I don’t like doing traditional reviews because the act of creating is a very personal act and just getting something creative finished is a major accomplishment. I prefer reflecting on things that the movie inspires me to write about. I wish I knew more about music scores so that I could just write about those some more as I’ve exhausted what I know in just two paragraphs. I guess The Amazing Spider-man will just have to serve as my first major negative lesson on scores. I learn from both good and bad and this will just have been one more movie lesson.