Friend to the buddy film: Robert Redford charms the Castro during SFIFF52.

SFIFF52 Blogs: Keeping Scores

Marc Capelle May 11, 2009

"The action picture romance comes when each hurdle is a tableau, when there is indeed an art -gallery-beauty in each one of its swift glimpses. When it is a race, but with a proper and golden-linked grace from action to action, and the goal is the most beautiful glimpse in the whole reel."

Vachel Lindsay, "The Art Of Moving Pictures"

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid changed my perception of the West, of good and bad guys, and taught me one of the many proper adult slang usages of the word "shit." I first saw it as a seven year old with my two older sisters sitting in the balcony at the Castro Theatre at a Saturday matinee in 1969.

Revisiting the film in a gorgeous new print I realized just how strange and wonderful a film it really is. Conrad Hall’s cinematography has odd surprising points of focus and non-focus throughout. The music feels often like Burt Bacharach may have banjoed up some cues originally intended for Casino Royale, and the incongruity of the Newman and Ross bicycle ride to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" feels particularly bizarre and new, coming as it does, moments after a faux rape scene with Redford and Ross.

When I saw Laurie Anderson speak a week or so ago she told a great story of writing a letter to the not-yet-elected JFK asking him for advice as to how to win the class presidency at her high school. She was surprised when she received a telegram back. His advice was simple: Find out what the students want and promise it to them. She went on to win the election. JFK, again sent a telegram, as well as roses.

I always thought that Robert Redford was more Kennedy than any Kennedy. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out in a year of westerns and buddy films, albeit rugged ones like True Grit, Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy. But BC &TSK made twice as much at the box office as Midnight Cowboy. 1969 was an interesting year both in film and film business as this link shows.

Whether unwittingly, or with full intent of all involved, the modern buddy movie sprang out of BC &TSK with it’s "Who are those guys?" catch phrase and non-stop jocularity. The Prussian psychologist, and early cineaste, Hugo Munsterberg said that a caustic critic would describe the average American filmgoer as a mixture of business, ragtime and sentimentality. While he made no mention of blue eyes or mustaches his mixture very much describes the appeal as well as much of the content of not just BC &TSK but also of it’s slightly younger sibling 1973s’ The Sting. By ’73 there was no avoiding Scott Joplin,( with a good deal of assistance from Marvin Hamlisch), as well as the broad-striped suits and newsboy hats soon to be co-opted by Ralph Lauren, Diane Keaton and millions of teenage girls, forever. There is something in both those films that we all wanted during that time and all time: a promise of escape, plundered riches; easy love and an easier time.


As the festival draws to a close I wanted to take a moment to mention some of the more noteworthy scores and musical moments in this year’s selections:

The music for Frazer Bradshaw’s remarkable Everything Strange and New is fantastic. The score is formed by what is just a bit more than a few minutes or so of a chamber ensemble of strings, clarinets, double reeds, marimba piano and tympani playing ostinatos and repetitive but freely-expressed figures. The score was written by Dan Plosney and then manipulated and remixed by Kent Sparling. These multiple variations that occur episodically through the film are more maximalism than minimalism and are spot on. The musical interludes occur between scenes of the fucked up quotidian challenges of the protagonists. These pieces hit me with an emotionalism and integrity that more conventional scores and films would never accomplish. Again and again the score arises out of moments of static action in the same way that an awkward scream or shout or laugh might surprise until one recognizes the naturalness of it. These surprises are not acted out but sounded out by the score in a way that allows the story to settle into the filmgoer. It is exciting and gratifying when something is so simple, wild, and right.

Phillipe Falardeau’s It’s Not Me, I Swear! captures dysfunction, growing pain, and the dangers of childhood exploration and self-definition with a vast of palette of colors and sounds. It is a nearly perfect film. There is a remarkable scene between an estranged self-destructive son and a distant single father in which they take a moment from the wild ride of the narrative and sit at a piano calmly and beautifully playing a simple impromptu four-hand version of Schubert’s "Danse Allemande." In a film full of chaos, upheaval, and complete unpredictability this brief moment unites the characters and the filmgoers gorgeously, and is a powerful unfettered view of love and music.

The Bulgarian ultra-noir Zift has a score as bizarre as the film itself. I mean that as high praise. At times the low growling of an oddly anachronistic electronic score blocks out the low grumblings of the doomed in love, oft-tortured protagonist’s Bulgarian voice over. This can be forgiven once we get to hear a very Lynchian night-club combo, which includes the film’s composer Kalin Nikolov backing up the film’s femme fatale in a fantastic but shoddy and stilted ballad. Like much of the film the ballad is simultaneously perfectly horrible and beautiful, wrong and right. A great mishap of plot that harkens back to DOA and Welles’ take on The Trial it also magically recreates a 1950’s Bulgaria walpurgisnacht.

The music lovers of the world owe a thanks to director and editor Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, who on his own dime dug through hours of audio and film to come up with the remarkable Soul Power. Featuring the Spinners, James Brown, The Crusaders, Bill Withers, The Fania All Stars, and B.B. King—all at the top of their game. The film, a companion piece to * When We Were Kings*, is heavy on pre-show preparations for the festival in Zaire, which in this case is a good thing. There is much music in the conversations and incredible back-and-forth between the African and African American performers. The Bill Withers and Miriam Makeba footage alone is priceless. And the footage of a young Sister Sledge, teaching backstage hangers-on the bump is revelatory. Look for this film this summer in general release and plan your movie-going and dance parties accordingly.

"Director Choi Ho’s Go Go 70s starts off a bit awkwardly, detailing the roots of true-life Korean soul group The Devils. Where it goes after the group is formed is both unexpected and heart-wrenching. A side of popular music and cultural politics that would probably go unnoticed here in the USA, reminds that at its best soul music is an ultimate form of music and political discourse: an affirmation of our need to gather in power, joy and movement. There is also quite a bit of fringe-driven go-go dancing that has to be seen to be believed.Go Go 70s

The Boys
, the Sherman Brothers bio from Disney, gives a fairly unflinching view of the hard work of composing music and coexisting for families and specifically co-writers, while pulling a few punches. My hope is that at some point a plucky programmer will put it on a co-bill with Anvil! The Story of Anvil with which it surprisingly shares many themes. While the songs "Metal on Metal" and "Chim-Chim-A-Ree" are worlds apart sonically, the foment whence they rise is much the same.