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The Wrap Vs. Idolator: The Death of Soundtrack CDs?

There's an interesting conversation going on at Idolator about Hollywood biz sight The Wrap's recently published eulogy to film soundtrack releases. Wrap writer Dominic Patten examines the lessened impact of the soundtrack release, and wonders whether we're seeing the end of an era.

Nino Rota on a soundstage during the recording of one of his Fellini film scores.
Nino Rota on a soundstage during the recording of one of his Fellini film scores.

The first paragraph in Patten's essay captures what seems to be a logical statement:

Slumping CD sales and the increasing influence of iTunes over the music industry have taken a toll on the once reliable revenues of movie soundtracks -- and that's left studios increasingly reluctant to release soundtracks to many films. ... [G]one forever are the days of "The Bodyguard," the best selling soundtrack of all time -- thanks to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" -- moving 17 million copies, "Top Gun" selling 9 million copies and the rootsy 8 million sales of "O Brother Where Art Thou." (See accompanying story, "The Top 10 Soundtracks of All Time.")

Idolator's Maura Johnston was dubious about the argument, and responded:

Seems odd that ... the Disney soundtracks (Hannah Montana, Camp Rock, etc.) were mostly glossed over in this roundup. And there have always been sorta-crappy tie-in soundtracks that haven't sold very well--the cutout bins at the Princeton Record Exchange would seem to bear that out!

Johnston then got on the horn with Courtney Smith, a music supervisor and writer for the great soundtrack blog The Playlist. Smith's response to Patten's premise?

A lot of this article strikes me as looking at it the wrong way. A lot of the movies they're talking about are not music-driven films. In fact, most of the past examples they site as releasing seminal, best-selling soundtracks--Titanic, The Bodyguard, Hannah Montana movie, Twilight--these are chick flicks, and the latter two are heavily invested with a music element. The proper comparison is Mamma Mia!, whose soundtrack did gangbusters. To compare them to Watchmen or Bruno is silly.

The fate of soundtracks is a worrying prospect, for sure; we especially mourn the loss of artfully crafted collections, the best of which, like Apocalypse Now's classic release, featured tidbits of dialogue wrapped between the music to create a kinda-sorta radio play.

There are probably legit reasons why few movies sample dialogue (and they probably have to do with rights, licensing and guild contracts), but it seems to us that the one way to draw in the film fan is to weave the two experiences together the way that, say, Terrence Malick did in the remarkable Ennio Morricone-scored soundtrack to Days of Heaven; or the classic Five Easy Pieces soundtrack replayed the entire "chicken salad sandwich" dialogue from the film. We always wondered why Wes Anderson's films never included dialogue.

Either that or just release indispensable soundtracks like those for Paranoid Park and Mr. Lonely.


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