Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crazy Tender Heart Mercies

My Freeze Ray - Neil Patrick Harris (mp3)
Come What May - Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (mp3)

Any fan of movies who fails to immediately connect the movies Tender Mercies and Crazy Heart upon viewing the latter... well, isn’t nearly the fan of movies they might think they are. It didn’t take a lot of hard work to find a 10-point breakdown of similarities between the movies. Heck, Robert Duvall all but admits he couldn’t play the main character because he’d already played the guy 27 years ago.

I’ll get to the music portion of this post in a minute, but I’d like to focus on Crazy Heart the movie for a couple of paragraphs first.

Jeff Bridges is easily on my list of top five best actors. (Most days, anyway. My top five would fluctuate more wildly than the DOW.) For him and Maggie Gyllenhaal to share prime acting real estate virtually guarantees I’ll find the movie palatable. Bridges’ acting job is stunning and deserved the recognition it received. Crazy Heart is good, but it’s not great.

The music in the movie is passable. It might even be “OK.” But the problem with almost all movies attempting to show the rise and/or fall of musical gods is that you’re required to believe that songs you’ve never heard before are songs that should have burned into your soul.

It’s a reminder how selective we all are in our suspensions of disbelief. I can watch dudes in outer space clash with light sabers and battle in funky-lookin’ spaceships under the command of an ugly-lookin’ lizard named Ackbar, and I won’t bat an eye. But ask me to believe that some song I’ve never heard of was a famous piece of immortal Americana, and I blanch.

“Foolish consistency...” is my best and only defense.

It’s not just movies that do an injustice to music for me. Books that try to deal with music the wrong way leave me cold as well. My absolute least favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy is when Tolkein breaks out the lyrics. I just don’t know what to do with them. They’re not poems; they’re supposed to be set to music. So I find myself drifting away into a place where I’m trying to find some tolerable tune that works with the words. And I’m doomed to fail, because if I could succeed, then I’d be off churning out awesome Middle Earth ditties.

Dan Jenkins, author of many a guilty pleasure, is famous for including lyrics to made-up country songs in his books, and those are the only parts of his books I can’t stand. If Tolkein couldn’t win me over, a Texan has no chance.

Music is the tuning fork on my heart, on many hearts. Attempting to translate that into a different medium, into another art form, is to destroy the connection.

Glee? I can totally dig Glee. It’s dark teenage comedy with karaoke. Musicals like Moulin Rouge or Chicago or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog? They’re creating music for the medium, not crafting the medium around music that supposedly existed in the past but never really did. I can dig that. Soundtracks (instrumental or compilations)? Helllll yeah. Again, it’s about what comes first and about what role the music plays.

My beef with Crazy Heart has nothing to do with country music. Honestly, I don’t even know what “country music” means anymore. Music categories, in the last 20 years, have become as increasingly meaningless as bond ratings.

It’s one thing to translate comics or books into movies. Or to make audio recordings of poetry readings. Or to make a TV show into a comic book. But songs and music are different. They can’t be bandied about across media so easily. And that, my dear readers, is what makes music a unique snowflake of artistry.


cinderkeys said...

Because I'm not a country music aficionado, I didn't have the same problem. For all I knew about the genre, the songs invented for Crazy Heart could have existed as timeless classics for the last few decades.

Would be interesting to see if I could suspend that disbelief for pop or rock.

Bob said...

That's funny, I bought legitimacy of the music easily. You mention Crazy Heart and I'm immediately singing:

"It's funny how fallin' feels like flyin,'
For a little while."

troutking said...

I liked how Robert Duvall channelled his inner Doug May to play that part.

Billy said...

As I attempted to note, I find it strange that I can't make this fictional leap of acceptance yet see no problem watching movies about zombies or human-looking aliens with lightsabers.

@Cinder - Try the movie "Rockstar" with Mark Wahlberg. "Almost Famous" also does it, but I don't recall Stillwater's music being as frequently a centerpiece to the movie as Bad Blake's songs are to "Crazy Heart."

cinderkeys said...

Stillwater's music in Almost Famous wasn't all that great. That didn't kill the suspension of belief, though, since the movie took place in the early '70s. Easy enough to think that they'd long been forgotten. :)

cinderkeys said...

As for different standards for suspension of belief ... You don't even have to compare different movies for examples.

If Spock cracks a smile for two seconds during Wrath of Khan, Trekkies everywhere will be shaking their fists. But nobody has a problem with the fact that the universal translator flawlessly syncs English with Klingons' lip movements, or that every planet has a breathable atmosphere.

Thom Anon said...

A classic song's gotta get its start somewhere.

Besides, the music in Crazy Heart turned me on to Ryan Bingham, and dude is a legitimate force on the Country Scene. Real Country, that is.