17 July 2008

Indiana Jones and the Golden Soundtrack

I've decided that one of the problems with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that nowadays an Indiana Jones budget can buy the rights to any pop song.

As a result, the movie's soundtrack establishes its late-1950s setting by playing some of the most familiar records of the period. We hear Bill Haley and His Comets' "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (not Big Joe Turner's earlier, dirtier version). We hear Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" (not Big Mama Thornton's, of course, or even Freddy Bell and the Bellboys' crucial intermediate rewrite). Most of the movie's music is John Williams's orchestral score, but by then the damage has been done.

Not that there's anything wrong with those recordings as such. They're great. They're also so familiar as to be cliché. We can barely hear the actual music over all the connotations and other memories that come along. Using less familiar songs from the 1950s could have produced a period feel without the overload.

For John Travolta and Uma Thurman's twist contest in Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino chose Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell." Playing a more familiar Berry tune, like "Sweet Little Sixteen," just wouldn't have been the same. Ditto John Waters's choice to have the a capella group in Cry Baby sing the Chords' and Crew Cuts' "Sh-Boom" instead of a later doo-wop love song already played to death on oldies radio.

When Rushmore's soundtrack started to pump out Unit 4+2's "Concrete and Clay," I knew we were in the hands of a filmmaker of elevated taste. And at the end we got the Faces' "Ooh La La" to sum up that movie. More money might have bought bigger hits, but it wouldn't have made a better movie.


Sam said...

I'm glad you mentioned John Waters. I remember buying the Hairspray soundtrack -- back before many people, including me, had seen the movie.

I as at first disappointed that songs weren't the "classics" I knew. But I soon learned that Waters knew what he was doing. Those songs are amazing. Amazing, I tell you!

Anonymous said...

You have no idea of what are talking about.

J. L. Bell said...

Explain please, Joseph.