The three films I saw today -- Mark Ruffalo's directorial "Sympathy for Delicious," Australian-Aboriginal musical "Bran Nue Dae" and Greenland's first international feature film "Nuummioq" -- are very different in tone and cinematic success, but each has at least one thing in common: a good backing soundtrack.
“Sympathy” features lead actor Chris Thornton as former scratcher DJ Delicious D down on his luck after he’s been confined to a wheelchair. He auditions to be in a nightmarish, fuzzed-out rock band, which takes advantage of him as a “sideshow” because of his ability to heal (some) people with his hands (himself being at least one exception). It’s a parable about squandering one’s gifts, which doesn’t hold up entirely as a cinematic work, but at least the tunes do.
In this aforementioned band, dubbed Burnt the Diphthongs (among one the worst band names I’ve ever heard), we have at least a pair of noteable actors singing and playing: Juliette Lewis and Orlando Bloom. Lewis plays a very believable junkie, just as well as she plays bass and sings; while I’m not particular on musician Lewis and her band the Licks in real life – I find her disingenuous as a performer – she carries the look and the feel of this music well. Bloom plays The Stain, an archetypical evil, eyelinered, open-shirted, cane-carrying post-rock hammy fame-whore of a frontman who, for all intents and purposes is a total tool. Bloom sings all the songs in the film, but benefited from a little help from friends of Lewis'...
Bixler and Omar Rodriguez of The Mars Volta helped mold and shape the songs of the real band in the film to give it a honest soundtrack and feel. Other dark modern rock music choices include two well-timed Godspeed You Black emporer tracks, which give the movie glimpses of heavy hope. Plus, there’s instrumental band Do Make Say Think, in a similar vein to this soundtrack's belle of the ball: Besnard Lakes. This Jagjaguwar band’s score to “Sympathy” is raw and shuffling like the streets of Skid Row in the film, with changing time signatures and happy accidents that add to the unsettling feelings with each new foul-up in Delicious D’s journey.
Shift feet, and there’s “Bran Nue Dae,” a sunny musical set in Australia, in Perth, Broome and the bush, which follows young mama’s boy Willie (newbie Rocky McKenzie) as he leaves his hometown Broome to go to seminary school to become a priest. He runs away, to return home and to his love interest Rosie, played by the runner up in the 2006 season of “Australia Idol” Jessica Mauboy.
There’s silly songs and love songs, blues, rock, church, dance and even Aboriginal music; there’s a little tap dancing and well-choreographed fight scenes (like any good Broadway). But it’s Mauboy’s sultry, big voice that can slap the smirk off of a seasoned Sundance vet.
And while she has the ability to do so, Missy Higgins – who plays ditzy Aussie hippy Annie – doesn’t dare to overpower any of the other actors and singers in the film, only gives it a smooth-sailing pair of backing tracks. Higgins is a star in her home country, but has never quite managed to reach the masses here in America, but her label, bless them, will keep trying, even if its just licensing her tunes to shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “NCIS.”
Last, there’s the Greenlandish “Nuummioq,” a doozy to pronounce but a total pleasure to watch. Much like the Sigur Ros concert film “Heima,” it was a film that showcased the mind-bendingly beautiful countryside of a nation, as well as a good opportunity to show off some good taste as the hills roll by. Music has little to do with the plot of the film, but there is so much space in the dialogue and the plot, that quiet strumming and mumbled lyrics fill in some of those gaps, your eyes feasting on the rest, nature’s best. Excellent New York singer-songwriter Matt Bauer gets a showcase here, along with Howe Gelb and his Giant Sand, Park City local Emily Aron and other English-speaking contributors.
However, the instrumental pieces from composer and music coordinator Jan De Vroede transcend any ol’ language, with natural, hovering plucks and hovering exhalations of guitar strings, sad and contemplative. He is to the aural beauty of the film what the location scout was to the visual: a reader of thoughtful terrain.