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Seven crossover film composers.

Seven crossover film composers. (photo)

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There’s a dwindling number of composers doing original scores for movies that aren’t either music-free or solely composed of pre-existing tracks. New entrants in the field are often indie-rock types looking for extra cash and/or friends of those involved. Owen Pallett (previously Final Fantasy) worked with the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne to create a creditable Bernard Herrmann pastiche for “The Box.” Grizzly Bear scored Sundance darling “Blue Valentine.” LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy is handing the score for Noah Baumbach’s upcoming “Greenberg.” The indie crossover is inevitable — it’s a natural extension of Hollywood’s established trend of drafting band members to compose. Here’s seven, with resumes and career oddity highlights:

02012010_dannyelfman1.jpgDanny Elfman

The Playlist is skeptical about the announcement that Danny Elfman will score Michel Gondry’s “The Green Hornet,” grousing that “It’s probably not an overstatement to say he’s perhaps the most overrated composer working alive.” And it’s true that after a fast start, Elfman’s turned shockingly bland, an anonymous action guy. Once, he sounded like the child of Prokofiev and Carl Stalling; now, he’s the dutiful, interchangeable guy behind “Spider-Man,” “The Kingdom,” “Milk,” and the dire Philip Glass imitations of “Standard Operating Procedure.” Considering his background — frontman of the enjoyably mock-ghoulish Oingo Boingo — that’s especially weird. If I were feeling mean-spirited, I’d suggest his increasing blandness coincides with that of constant collaborator Tim Burton, though it’s probably just a coincidence. Once a Gondry-Elfman collaboration would’ve seemed an even match; now, not so much.

Career highlight: Aside from branding himself into a generation of TV viewers with the theme for “The Simpsons”? Perhaps the music video for “Dead Man’s Party,” which appeared on the soundtrack of Rodney Dangerfield vehicle “Back To School.” Just as Oingo Boingo start to seem menacing (even when they’re doing synchronized dance moves), the video cuts to random footage from the movie. There is nothing less threatening than Rodney Dangerfield.

02012010_markmothersbaugh1.jpgMark Mothersbaugh

Because Mothersbaugh once said “Rebellion is obsolete — change things from the inside working out” — and also because Devo were an uber-theoretical type band with an interest in structuralism — it’s hard to know how to respond to Mothersbaugh scoring, say, “Herbie Fully Loaded” or “It’s Pat: The Movie.” But at the very least, Mothersbaugh played Vince Guaraldi to Wes Anderson’s Charles Schulz, a fruitful collaboration.

Career Highlight: Like Elfman, Mothersbaugh’s maybe best remembered for a TV theme (in his case, “Rugrats”). But what of Devo’s score for 1988’s “Slaughterhouse Rock”? Featuring and starring Toni Basil.

02012010_stewartcopeland1.jpgStewart Copeland

I’ve always associated Copeland (drummer for The Police) with the most ’80s of ’80s productions, especially the drum pads and keyboards of “Wall Street,” which are at once supremely appropriate for a movie that’s more iconic than good and indicative of Copeland’s weaknesses. As of press time, though, Copeland’s revived his career by getting involved with the frankly unbelievable “Ben Hur Live” show: done entirely in Latin and Aramaic, with a live chariot race and Copeland wandering through the thing, narrating against his own music.

Career Highlight: Clearly, “Ben Hur Live.” Here’s the stupefyingly dull footage of the live chariot race, though the unembeddable video at the London Times is even more oddly fascinating:

02012010_tangerinedream1.jpgTangerine Dream

Once widely recognized as Krautrock pioneers, Tangerine Dream eventually became synonymous with any kind of instantly out-of-date ’80s soundtrack (they’ve done some 60 scores). Their influence keeps sneaking up in strange ways: Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak” owed them in a big way. And being dated isn’t all bad: Tangerine Dream were very good at using those distinctively ’80s sounds.

Career highlight: The 1984 Stephen King adaptation “Firestarter” isn’t particularly beloved, but their music for it has always had a kind of creepy pull for me. If you watch it as a silent movie (sans dialogue), it actually works pretty well:

02012010_sakamoto.jpgRyuichi Sakamoto

Founding member of pioneering electronic-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra, the shape-shifting Sakamoto’s hard to pin down: his work for “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and “The Last Emperor” has held up surprisingly well given his synth tools. Sakamoto’s composed for films sporadically over the years: his score for Brian de Palma’s “Snake Eyes” was haunting repurposed as a sample for Doves’ “The Storm”, but his follow-up collaboration on the otherwise great “Femme Fatale” was a distractingly close replica of “Bolero.” But he’s proven perfectly adept as an organic, non-electronic composer.

Career highlight: YMO’s awkward appearance on “Soul Train,” opposite a befuddled Don Cornelius, who mocks his inability to pronounce Japanese names and doesn’t know who Kraftwerk are. The band’s cover of “Tighten Up” is fairly indelible as well.

02012010_markknopfler.jpgMark Knopfler

The person on this list who least clearly needed the money, Dire Straits’ Knopfler has sold over 120 million records worldwide, so clearly got into score composition for his own reasons. His choices are eccentric and far-reaching: the warm-hearted Bill Forsyth movies “Comfort and Joy” and “Local Hero,” sure, but also the despairing pre-“Requiem for a Dream” Hubert Selby Jr. adaptation “Last Exit To Brooklyn.” Knopfler’s loyalties still remain true to his Scottish roots, at least as far as can be judged by his last feature score being for the otherwise unnoted Scottish soccer drama “A Shot at Glory.”

Career highlight: The “Local Hero” soundtrack, which apparently still rouses the audience live and in concert. Go figure.

02012010_randynewman.jpgRandy Newman

The once bitingly satirical ’70s singer-songwriter was given the chance to indulge his interest in American musical idioms/song-writing forms when he began his film scoring career. Eventually he lost the satire altogether — there’s certainly nothing less ironic than the Copeland-biting theme for “The Natural.” In recent years he’s focused on increasingly saccharine Pixar scores and songs (not least in his inexplicably Oscar-nominated song for outside venture “Meet The Parents”). It’s a logical trajectory given his interests, but not all that interesting relative to what he used to be capable of.

Career highlight: Newman’s first film work was for Norman Lear’s “Cold Turkey,” a fascinatingly dated-sounding movie in which an entire town kicks smoking for a month to get $25 million (starring Dick Van Dyke as a community minister). The mournful opening song “He Gives Us All His Love” is a perfect fit for Newman’s sincere anger. Here’s the trailer:

[Photos: “Music Land,” Disney, 1935; Elfman during “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Buena Vista, 1993; Mothersbaugh, by Mr. Bonzai, 2006; Copeland during 2006 Gizmo tour, courtesy of stewartcopeland.net; Sakamoto in Brazil, courtesy of ryuichi-sakamoto.com; Knopfler courtesy of MarkKnopfler.com; Newman in 2005, by Doug Mazell]

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.