Monday, November 26, 2012

SONIC CINEMA (SONIC YOUTH'S PRESENCE IN MODERN CINEMA)

For a while I've wanted to do a blog entry on the use of modern music in French cinema (Tindersticks/Claire Denis, Daft Punk/Gaspar Noe, Sonic Youth/Olivier Assayas, etc). That write-up was eventually changed a bit and whittled down to focusing exclusively on the use of Sonic Youth’s music as their name kept popping up more than any other band, musician or producer in what I had written so far. Their connection to cinema is very strong yet it’s gone virtually unnoticed (unless I missed something) until now...

Demonlover (Oliver Assayas) / Simple Men (Hal Hartley)
Sonic Youth and cinema are two of my favorite things in this world. Growing up in a town like Amherst, Mass, which is the hometown of 2/3 of Dinosaur Jr. (a band that’s been very close to Sonic Youth for decades) it was almost impossible to not come across a Sonic Youth album at least once as a teenager. Even if you listened to hip-hop exclusively there's a good chance you'll still cross paths with SY as they've collaborated with everyone from Cypress Hill to Chuck D. I was listening to SY long before film consumed my life, but it was my love and fascination with cinema that made me come to love them even more. The more films & filmmakers I discovered the more Sonic Youth's music would pop up. And I’m not just talking about the numerous documentaries on the band (Kill Your Idols, All Tomorrows Parties, The Year Punk Broke, etc). I’m talking about all the different directors who have used their music in their films throughout the years- From Olivier Assayas (Demonlover & Irma Vep) & Hal Hartley (Simple Men) to Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) & Leos Carax (Pola X). These are all musically inclined directors where music is one of the most important elements in their work. Just look at Leos Carax’ use of David Bowie in his first two films or the fact that Hal Hartley is a musician/producer himself (he goes by the alias of Ned Rifle when composing music for his films). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sonic Youth's music has been used in Judgment Night, Suburbia (which makes perfect sense as Sonic Youth & Richard Linklater are both important Generation X figures), Sorry Haters, etc. And it’s not like their music was just mindlessly thrown in to a film to make it look it cool. Their music is always used in some key scene. Even though the songs used in these two clips below were from pre-existing albums they somehow fit so perfectly…




Feature filmmakers like Mark Romanek, Richard Kern, Spike Jonze, Harmony Korine & Todd Haynes have all directed music videos for Sonic Youth (a young Chloe Sevigny even makes an appearance in an old SY video before she became the academy award nominated actress we know today)…




Additionally, Kim Gordon has become quite the actress in recent years making appearances in Boarding Gate, I’m Not There and Last Days (which probably hit close to home as she and her band kinda mentored Nirvana back in the day). She isn’t the world's greatest actress, but she gets by on her coolness...

(L-R Last Days, Boarding Gate, I'm Not There)
Olivier Assayas, whose use of music in film should be mentioned alongside other filmmakers like Scorsese & Tarantino, used their music talents to score his misunderstood masterpiece; Demonlover. It’s clear that Assayas was a true fan of their music. If you listen to enough of Sonic Youth's music you'd know that they don’t always need to rely on vocals to make a great song. They have this great ability to create these ambient/atmospheric sounds (courtesy of their experimentation with everything from analog & digital music equipment to power tools and modified guitars) which makes perfect for background music in films. Even on songs that do feature vocals, sometimes it takes minutes for them to kick in after the instrumental jam. Imagine Brian Eno with more guitar feedback. As I mentioned in my Demonlover write-up, Sonic Youth's score for Demonlover was key in creating that uneasy, tense, noir-ish vibe. Oliver Assayas even made a mini documentary on the band and how they went about making the music for Demonlover. Given their signature sound and work with Olivier Assayas I’m surprised other progressive filmmakers haven’t tapped them for more work.




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