Intrigued by the recent successful collaboration between the Moldy Peaches and the film Juno, I wondered if this was an example of the union of music and film or if this was evil corporate synergy at its deceiving worst. It hit full steam for me when I heard the familiar sounds of Kimya Dawson’s and Adam Green’s juvenile delinquent voices emanating from the television in my kitchen. They were performing live on the view, which provoked some strong reactions.
I’ve always been a fan of the Peaches and their solo stuff, but this argument is above their decision to be on the soundtrack or even appear on the view.
Take the curious case of The Shins. They make an impressive album in Oh, Inverted World and follow it up with a decent Chutes Too Narrow, cementing their place in the indie rock world. Then, that aloof doctor on TV makes a movie and adds a hip soundtrack to give depth to his characters and everyone goes crazy for The Shins. Then everyone dismisses The Shins. They are no longer darlings, but standards; they are elevated to an undesirable, yet successful plane. Meanwhile Garden State becomes a joke after repeat viewings and we realize that the soundtrack choices seem more like strategically hanged posters in a dorm room that is blasting Dave Matthews Band on repeat. You may have fooled that drunk chick, but a sober visit reveals all.
So why does the OC have Rooney drop by for a live session or why does Shia Labeouf wear a Strokes t-shirt during Transformers? Corporate synergy aside, they do it to add legitimacy to hollow characters. And who benefits? The integrity of the film suffers immensely, but most importantly, the impressionable youths who actually believe that what they are seeing is a manifestation of cool are tricked by the commoditized art. They associate the freedom of rock and roll with a certain social pattern that promotes accumulating goods to represent how down one is with being cool. The only people who benefit are those who benefit from the sale of these products…and the objective hipster who can now more easily spot a poser.
I went looking for some examples of soundtracks or scores that exemplify a positive collaboration between sound and image. Here are some of the best and worst:
The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff
The direct motivation for the protagonist is to make it in the pre-Bob Marley reggae world and every song expresses Cliff’s struggles and successes. The fact that Cliff was a contemporary of Marley’s and preceded him chronologically just adds another texture to an already amazing union.
Magnolia – Aimee Mann
P.T. Anderson heard Mann sing and was inspired to make the film. The scene where the film turns into a music video and Biblical frogs fall from the sky may be a bit much, but the collaboration is true and becomes a major plot line and not just an added layer to engage the viewers sentimentally.
Pump Up the Volume – Pixies, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth
Empire Records – Gin Blossoms, Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket
Reality Bites – Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Loeb, Dinosaur Jr.
Singles – name a grunge band, any grunge band
All of the above are your typical soundtrack to a mainstream Hollywood movie, yet these have become particularly dangerous because they portray fictional characters as representing the music piped into the background. There is just too much of an artificial blend. I mean, does Matt Dillon really represent the angst Mudhoney is representing? Does Ben Stiller represent anything? Scary associations made scarier by their rampant popularity.
To tie this thing all together, what harm does it cause when Ellen Page, the amazing actress who plays the character Juno, suggests to director Jason Reitman that the Moldy Peaches exemplify her character’s blank stare at the absurdities of the modern world? I’m not sure, but I know that when Page declares than Sonic Youth is just noise, my mind immediately perceives that as a manipulation of art’s perception in popular culture. She is letting the viewer know that she is so cool that she can make a comment like that and have it seem insulting. I say I’m not sure about this because there is a correlation between Juno the character and the music of the Moldy Peaches and screenwriter Diablo Cody is able to give us insight into the confusion facing Juno as she looks out into the field of noise that Sonic Youth can create. For now, I say Juno is a positive union of image and sound, but the various efforts to market the film may soil an interesting work. Still, watch out Adam and Kimya, your next move will be watched. Closely.