As “Smily” mentioned, we saw Igby Goes Down on Saturday night. I found the film tremendously entertaining but still wanting in some respects – it is a heartfelt, witty movie but a fundamentally empty one. You’re not given anything in which to get too emotionally invested. It’s not that the characters are unsympathetic – many are, but that’s not the problem – or that you’re not cued to know who the “good” and “bad” people are. It’s that the movie jerks you around a bit in wanting any particular outcome – should we want Igby to escape? do we want him to get the girl back? if none of the characters are all good or all bad, should we want any of them to experience comeuppance/redemption?
As I tried to articulate to Emily and friends at a bar after the movie, I feel like Igby Goes Down has the same problem as The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s brilliant but maddening third film. But it ends up there by the exact opposite route. Tenenbaums has an extremely tender story that it doesn’t actually want you to feel too deeply about – its snarky approach is always undermining its sentiment; whereas Igby is sentimental and seductively grandiose about not much at all. The former lacks passion, the latter lacks a point. Both make you feel like you’ve just seen a filmic exercise rather than a film. But as with Tenenbaums, getting to the end of Igby is loads of fun, and I would urge anyone to see it. It’s a clever, brilliantly acted movie with an excellent soundtrack.
About that soundtrack: Igby’s collection of songs is one of the best I’ve heard all year, which is saying a lot, considering that my three other favorite flicks of the year so far – Y Tu Mama Tambien, About a Boy and 24 Hour Party People – have amazing soundtracks.
Like Boy, Igby makes ample use of British singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy. But the Hugh Grant film had major studio money backing it up, which meant the filmmakers were able to get BDB, aka Damon Gough, to write and record an entirely new collection of songs specifically for the film. The lower-budget Igby, a debut feature for writer-director Burr Steers, makes do with selections from BDB’s acclaimed album The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Actually, since Bewilderbeast was my favorite album of 2000, I ended up enjoying the BDB songs in Igby more than those commissioned for Boy. But then, I’m predisposed to like the earlier songs.
Basically, the whole movie featured songs that felt warmly familiar – a cheap way to make your movie seem more emotional, but in this case it worked. The moment when Steers’s camera sweeps along the floor of a loft where Kieran Culkin’s and Claire Danes’s characters are making love to BDB’s “Everybody’s Stalking” (”Strap your hands across my engines/I’m not broke so please don’t mend me…Maybe all I need, you need too/Don’t wait for me, I’ll wait for you”) is utterly captivating – a life moment in Cinemascope.
I hate to admit it, but this is a tactic that always works on me. I’ve long tried to figure out what makes me want to watch a movie over and over, as my tastes are not easily categorizable – I love dramas, but I tend to rewatch comedies; I don’t like most action movies, but those I love I will return to constantly; etc. But I’ve finally, recently found a common thread – and, surprise, it’s music. I’ve discovered that a prominent, well-chosen, well-placed soundtrack is the bait that will hook me every time.
A perusal through my DVD collection turns up a lot of plainly rock-oriented films, of course: This Is Spinal Tap, Almost Famous, A Hard Day’s Night, The Last Waltz, Gimme Shelter. But the movies I rewatch that aren’t about rock per sé are often infused by rock, thanks to a driving soundtrack or just a rock attitude: Boogie Nights, Do the Right Thing, Easy Rider, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghost World, Goodfellas, The Graduate, Harold and Maude, High Fidelity, Pulp Fiction, Rushmore, Say Anything. Sometimes the soundtrack can make all the difference: I love both of the great teen films by director Amy Heckerling, Fast Times at Ridgmont High (1982) and Clueless (1995); but I own Fast Times, which has an interesting early ’80s soundtrack (a bunch of propulsive new wave songs offsetting some cheesy songs by Jackson Browne and the former Eagles) , and I haven’t bothered to buy Clueless, which is a more clever film but features an utterly unremarkable soundtrack. (Anyway, Clueless is probably Emily’s favorite comedy of the past decade, so I see it plenty.)
There’s a long-running film series on VH1 called “Movies That Rock.” Usually it’s a rerun of a bowdlerized-for-television rock flick like Purple Rain or Grease; sometimes they’ll stretch the definition enough to encompass teen-oriented fare like The Breakfast Club. But last night, as I flipped past VH1, the evening’s Movie That Rocked was The Godfather. Yes, that Godfather – I had to hit the “Info” button on my remote to make sure this was VH1 and not a movie channel. I left it on but sort of threw up my hands. I love watching The Godfather as much as the next guy, but how, exactly, could this fit into VH1’s programming mission, flimsy though it is? As if realizing the movie didn’t make sense for them, when they went to commercial, VH1 interspersed the film breaks with short clips of rock and rap stars (Alice Cooper, Moby, the Goo Goo Dolls, Darius Rucker, Snoop Dogg) imitating their favorite Don Corleone-ism. Okay, so rock stars love The Godfather – that’s like TNN doing a special cooking show about eggs because Nascar drivers like to eat eggs; I mean, doesn’t most everybody?
Then I thought some more about it, as I puttered around my apartment with Coppola’s masterpiece playing in the background. The Godfather has sweeping camera work and scenes dark enough for a DMX or Tool music video. Its dialogue has the rhythm of music – not just the Nina Rota orchestrations on the soundtrack, but the propulsive cadence of rock. It has more bad-ass characters than a year’s worth of MTV Jams. And, well, I own it. If that isn’t a Movie That Rocks, what is?