By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Mike Nichols used Paul Simon’s song score for The Graduate to shade a portrait of suburban ennui, while Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix and Moby Grape highlighted a drugged and alienated counterculture in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider. Sammy Davis Jr. introduced Isaac Hayes as the "Black Moses" at the Oscars, where he would pick up his statuette for the "Theme From Shaft" in a fur-trimmed tux. When movies still offered George Lucas something more than a chance to play with toys, the director wrote song choices into his script for American Graffiti, and created a postmodern Greek chorus.
Today, filmmakers and musicians are increasingly a generation of artists virtually raised on the narrative coupling of moviemaking and pop. "You always had the guys who knew how to use music," says Glen Brunman, executive vice president of Sony Music Soundtrax, the umbrella soundtrack organization for all the Sony labels, and the entity that, in tandem with Sony Classical, unleashed Titanic upon the world. "The Scorseses, the Jonathan Demmes, there were always a handful of directors who really understood music and went out of their way to make it an important part of their storytelling process. But now you have a lot more directors who grew up with music, it’s been an important part of their lives, and it’s very natural for them to use it."
For composer and former Devo front man Mark Mothersbaugh, whose work includes music for The Rugrats Movie, Rushmore and the upcoming Drop Dead Gorgeous (as well as TV and interactive games), moving from a rock band to scoring "wasn’t really a stretch." Even before MTV, Devo was embracing multimedia presentations replete with manifestos, film and live performance.
"I started forming my thoughts about art and music, as did the rest of my band, during the pop culture of pop art," says Mothersbaugh, who admired Andy Warhol’s ability to move from medium to medium to "solve whatever aesthetic problems he was dealing with." That all-inclusive approach to the art of popular culture has meant "life after rock & roll" for Mothersbaugh and, apparently, for other pop stars as well. Elton John’s songs for The Lion King helped make the soundtrack the second most successful film score of the ’90s (after The Bodyguard and tied with Titanic), and, for better or worse, Phil Collins muscles into the fray this year with songs for Disney’s animated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.
For established artists, song-driven soundtracks offer lower-stakes opportunities to do a cover or try new sounds — think Sheryl Crow’s version of Guns N’ Roses’ "Sweet Child o’ Mine" for Adam Sandler’s forthcoming Big Daddy, or Green Day’s Bond-type instrumental "Espionage" on Austin Powers. For artists low on commercial leverage, a soundtrack is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to gain attention: Christian band Sixpence None the Richer broke their single "Kiss Me" from the soundtrack for the high school Cinderella fling She’s All That — given minimal time in the body of the film, the single gained exposure by the film’s TV advertising.
Talk to anyone in the music business, and they’ll tell you that soundtrack fever won’t be going away soon. As a graduate of UCLA film school, founder of a record label (Backstreet) and music supervisor on such classic soundtracks as 1982’s Cat People, Danny Bramson is a perfect specimen of the pop-culture hybrids powering the fin-de-siècle soundtrack scene. But as he teases with news that he’s just finished the score for Stanley Kubrick’s impending swan song, Eyes Wide Shut, it would probably never occur to him how closely he echoes that first film-music herald, Al Jolson. "Just wait," he says, "till you hear the Kubrick."