The day the music sucked
Who's saying what
For a long time - since my brother and I used to play Audioslave's Show Me How To Live and then do our best Sports Tonight voiceover impression once the main riff began - my dream job has been "the person who picks the music for sports broadcasts" and, to a lesser extent, music supervisor for film and television.
This dream was given further fuel by the late-'90s-through-'00s trend for music supervisors to become, themselves, superstars: most of us would remember the stellar run of Dawson's Creek soundtracks, and perhaps more compellingly, Alexandra Patsavas' work on The O.C., Gossip Girl, and finally the Twilight Saga films.
Of course that stretch of "music from and inspired by" records was more about staying ahead of the game (i.e. by discovering the hippest new artists and then "launching" them in-series before their music had even reached record stores or radio) than it was necessarily about working with music to serve the narrative, but what Shakespeare is trying to say here is "I care about music in films".
And, because I care so much, there are few things that upset me like dodgy song choices for big ticket movies.
And few big ticket movies have disappointed me on that front like Robert Zemeckis' Flight did.
The film (out January 31st in Australia, currently in a pre-awards-season holding pattern here in the States) is Zemeckis' return to live action after considerable time in the motion-capture CGI wilderness.
Zemeckis is one of my favourite directors (chiefly because he uses flashy special effects in the service of narrative, not spectacle, unlike so many of his peers), so naturally I was hanging out for Flight's release.
The film itself, eh, it's okay; the script is lazy and can't seem to decide if it's a disaster film, treatise on addiction, courtroom procedural, or wacky comedy with drunk people. It's certainly not one of the best films of the year (in a year stuffed with three-star films), but Washington's reliable performance and Zemeckis' knack for bloodcurdling plane crashes makes it worth the price of admission.
The music, however, was among the worst I have heard in recent years - not because the songs chosen were bad, but because they were cripplingly obvious.
It is absolutely 100% not a spoiler to tell you the following scene/song link-ups: Someone takes cocaine and feels better? Let's play Joe Cocker's Feelin' Alright! Someone takes heroin in a filthy apartment? Better reach for RHCP's Under The Bridge! Audience didn't get the gist of the latter? Beat them over the head with the Cowboy Junkies' dour cover of Sweet Jane.
By the time those two song choices rolled along, I had more or less checked out of the film (which incidentally got progressively stupider). The IMDb page for Flight doesn't list a music supervisor (listing only music editors and scoring crew), so god knows what happened. I doubt Zemeckis would have personally okayed such witless choices, but then who knows? Maybe he just plugged in his iPod and got to work.
I kept thinking about far better use of music in film in the weeks after seeing Flight. A great song choice can do so much for the narrative: look at When Harry Met Sally. At the first New Year's Eve party (the scene is, naturally, not on YouTube), Harry Connick, Jr.'s version of I Could Write A Book plays; it's clear the waters of Harry and Sally's friendship is becoming muddied by attraction, and the song signposts the direction the narrative will head from then on (i.e. "The the world discovers, as my book ends/How to make two lovers of friends").
Or, in Jerry Maguire, the best example of a winking nod to music supervision itself, as Jerry scrolls through radio channels trying to find the appropriate song to soundtrack his emotional state: too strung out for the Stones' Bitch, but not relaxed enough for Merrilee Rush & The Turnabouts' Angel Of The Morning or Gram Parsons' She, he finally settles on Tom Petty's Free Fallin'. The irony of his choice is, of course, delicious, since Matt Cushman's word is not, as it turns out, stronger than oak, and Jerry will soon be left flailing with the difficult Ron Tidwell as his sole client.
It might seem unfair to compare Flight - with its apparent lack of a music supervisor - to those two films, given Nora Ephron and Cameron Crowe's work is so deftly intertwined with music. But hell, I've seen crappier films than Flight manage to pull it together when it comes to song choice.
And since I don't really know how to end this screed, other than to say "I expected better from you, Zemeckis; I want 1000 words on why Under The Bridge was a sh*t choice for that scene", I'm going to leave you with the best melding of song and scene of all time - all ten seconds of it: