Soundtracks: Any Given Sunday; Magnolia; The Talented Mr. Ripley
Listening to film soundtracks can be an oddly empty exercise. In the theater you’re captive and vulnerable, and when the right song hits at the right moment, the result can be uniquely powerful. But what succeeds in the heightened sensuous state of movie watching seldom achieves the same effect at home on CD.
Take Any Given Sunday. The soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s chaotic, concussive football flick is full of crunching hip-hop and metal, and given the movie’s sensory assault, Stone couldn’t have found better musical accompaniment. You’re not supposed to listen to it; you’re supposed to feel it. Bodies crash, egos clash, and Capone-N-Noreaga yell about ”keepin’ it raw.” Missy Elliott’s operatic ”Who You Gonna Call” would do Ben-Hur proud, while Mystikal’s maniacal hollering could knock Emmitt Smith for a five-yard loss. But while the music complements Stone’s sports-as-war motif when booming out of theater speakers, it doesn’t hold up so well outside the multiplex. As any football fan knows, ferocity goes only so far; grace and skill are what make a player great. It’s the difference between a fat offensive lineman and a star running back, and listening to Sunday without the film feels a lot more like blocking than running.
Magnolia — the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s portrait of regret and despair — has the opposite problem. Anderson says he based his film on the Aimee Mann songs he eventually included, but her restrained, inexpressive voice is a strange choice for such a passionate movie. True, it’s not hard to find connections between Mann’s lyrics and the movie’s intertwined plots. But Anderson went too far by giving Mann’s tunes a starring role. Magnolia’s emotional centerpiece is a sequence in which all the characters sing along with her resigned ”Wise Up,” yet the scene feels flat, mostly because Mann’s careful, airless delivery lacks the intensity of the anguish it’s meant to represent. There’s a disconnect between what you’re watching and what you’re hearing, and you end up feeling…not much at all.
Don’t blame Mann; she wrote some of these tunes for Bachelor No. 2 — an album her ex-label, Interscope Geffen A&M, declined to issue — and others are previously released rarities. (Mann will come out with the complete No. 2 in early 2000.) Her work is intended to be lived with and pondered: Removed from the context of the movie, these nuanced songs reveal an easy California charm well suited to her clean voice (the Eagles could’ve made a mint off of ”Driving Sideways”). But Magnolia doesn’t hold up as a Mann album, either, since much of this material is recycled. There are also two silly Supertramp tunes and an equally intrusive piece of fluff (Gabrielle’s ”Dreams”). That leaves a too brief taste of her new music—just enough to make you want to hear the full No. 2.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, on the other hand, is the rare soundtrack that both complements the movie and captures its mood on CD. Although jazz giants like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout, Anthony Minghella’s movie leans heavily on Gabriel Yared’s dreamy orchestral mood music (Sinead O’Connor lends her voice to the eerie ”Lullaby for Cain”). Ripley’s music oozes the bland elegance of an upscale shopping mall—not necessarily a bad thing, but a bit lazy (too bad the filmmakers didn’t take more risks, like the track from obscure British folk-rocker John Martyn). Still, Ripley’s scenery is breathtaking, and the music nicely matches the Italian vistas and cool Vespas, if only in the most obvious way. Maybe much of it is tasteful Muzak, but so what? Aside from its first two tunes — a sloppy novelty sung by Matt Damon and Jude Law, followed by the former’s painful Chet Baker impression — the album evokes a stroll through a Mediterranean marketplace. Or a Pottery Barn. Sunday (music in movie/music on CD): B+/C Magnolia: B-/B+ Ripley: B/B