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AIR on Melies, Le Voyage Dans La Lune, and the art of soundtracks

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Georges Méliès is having a moment. Not only was his 1902 science-fiction classic “A Trip To The Moon” heavily referenced in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated film “Hugo,” but his original film was recently restored from the lone remaining hand-colored print. To celebrate this remarkable feat of film preservation, Air was invited to create a soundtrack for the film prior to its presentation at Cannes last year. It was an opportunity that band members Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel jumped at and then managed to knock out in less than a month. Inspired by the project, the band also just released a full-length album, Le Voyage Dans La Lune (for sale here) featuring guest tracks from Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Au Revoir Simone. We sat down to chat with AIR about George Melies, how to find the perfect sync, and when a soundtrack isn’t really a soundtrack.

How did you get involved with the project?

Nicolas Godin: We had a request from the foundation and they wanted to have AIR doing the music for the film and they were in a rush because they suddenly realized that the movie was ready and that Cannes would be okay to project it. So they asked us to do the soundtrack really really fast. And when we saw the movie, when we became conscious of the exposure, and the consequences of doing it, we accepted and we directly went on to work. The day after they asked us, we said yes we were going to do it. We started working that day. We had one month.

One month? Wow. Do you normally work that quickly?

NG: People think we are perfectionists because of the music we do, when you hear it, it seems so neat and perfectly recorded, but we don’t like to spend too much time on one song. We like to work really fast. We get bored really fast. We could do a lot of songs in one time, but not all of them are good. But we don’t like to spend a lot of time on one song. We like to be spontaneous.

Had you seen the film before?

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: No. We knew so well the image of the moon and the rocket that we thought we had seen the film. But when we saw the film we said, okay, we have never seen it. So many people were inspired by that movie. So many directors stole some stuff, some elements, from the movie and used it in their own productions. So I think the movie has much more influence from the people who got inspired by it than from itself.

I was struck by how well your soundtrack was synced up to the film. How many times did you watch the movie to achieve that?

JD: [laughs] Lots. Lots. Lots. Like all day long for like one month. It was the key to success, this synchronization. It was a big gift for us. We knew it was the final edit of the film. We knew nothing would change so we could get really crazy about synchronizing sound. We knew no one would betray us, that no one would change anything. So for us it was a big opportunity. I think it was the key to the success of the music with the film.

You made your album Moon Safari several years ago. Do you think the producers remembered that and when it came to a lunar movie they knew it had to be AIR doing the soundtrack?

JD: I think it was more about the design. More about the style. It is inspired by Jules Verne and HG Wells. The symbols. The stars were characters. It came from the Jules Verne thing. We were really attracted to that. And for Moon Safari it was the same thing. We were really attracted to that because of the Martian Chronicles by Bradbury. It’s old science fiction culture. The idea of how wrong they were. These mistakes transform into poetry and it is this poetry that adds to the music.

When you were composing your soundtrack, how did you ensure that the music was so perfectly synced to the action on the screen?

NG: When you work you have the image on the screen on the left and on the right screen you have your recording station and you test things. You throw more ideas and then you test things. You see if it works or not. Sometimes you have a great idea and you test it and it doesn’t work and you say, “Oh shit.” So then you test and test and you can tell right away if it’s going to work or not. You just see it right away. It’s very easy in fact.

Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight Tonight” video was based on the Melies film. Had you seen it? Or is it just one of those questions that plagues you in interviews now?

JD: Yeah yeah we had seen it. It was crazy! But it was on MTV. It was on TV all the time. You know, before YouTube. It was a great video. Really dramatic.

Queen used clips of the film as well.

JD: Yeah they did! Metropolis too. I forgot about that.

When you were making the soundtrack, they were in a rush so they could show it at Cannes. How was it received?

JD: The movie was a blockbuster. Even among the Americans, even though it was by a French filmmaker. What we saw from our side was a lot of press speaking about it. There was a huge response from the French press. We had a lot of articles. They thought the style of AIR with Melies was worth writing about. But some people were shocked by the anachronism that our music is modern and the movie is old, but I think it’s a good thing, actually. To run some risk. It’s good to do a sort of new make up to the movie.

You also did the soundtrack to Sophia Coppola’s film “The Virgin Suicides,” do you enjoy making soundtracks?

NG: Each time is so different. “The Virgin Suicides” was such a special movie and “Le Voyage” was, too. And if we did another movie compared to that it would be so strange. If we did a silent movie after this one, it would be strange. And after “Virgin Suicide,” it matched so well, the movie and the music matched so well it’s like we touched something, we achieved something amazing. We are concerned that if we did something again that it would have a strange taste. Like it was not as good as what we did. We prefer to do new experiences all the time. Whenever we work on a side project we prefer to work with new people from different backgrounds. So after “Virgin Suicides,” we worked on choreography. We did something with contemporary art. We just finished video game music. When we do an experience on the side, we like to do things that are so special that after it’s hard to repeat it. That’s why we didn’t become soundtrack composers.

It’s really strange the fact that Melies is called a soundtrack when the Virgin Suicides is called a soundtrack when it’s not the same process and its not the same result. It’s a totally different world. It’s the same word “soundtrack” but it has nothing to do with each other. When Sophia needed a theme for the movie, so you write a theme and then you arrange it in different ways throughout the movie. We approached it so differently. But this, it’s a silent movie. The music is the dialogue. The music tells the story. It’s completely different. You have to make different music for each scene, for normal movies you make a theme and you put it in all the scenes. So that’s why I don’t think we like doing soundtracks. I don’t think it’s something we plan to do as a way of life. As a job. We are not film composers. It’s a really intense job. If you decide to do that, you have to organize yourself to do that. You can’t go on tour, you are at the service of someone, and you are not the boss. You have no freedom. But on this project we were completely free. Basically we were writing the music the day before Cannes, so no one could say a word about it. It was a blank screen. We could do whatever we wanted.

Was that liberating? To have a blank screen and be able to do whatever you wanted? Or was it daunting?

NG: It was freeing. We knew, if they don’t like it’s going to be my responsibility. But normally when you do the music for a scene, the next day the scene would be longer or shorter then all your work would be betrayed in a way. That’s why it was so important for us that we knew this was the final edit of the film. That we could sync things very precisely. Like someone building a watch.

You took the soundtrack you created and turned it into a full length album

JD: The other way around. We took an album and turned it into a soundtrack. It’s a hybrid. We had some parts of everything before but we created some original recordings for the soundtrack and added some tracks on to the album and we edited the version of the soundtrack to the album. The result is that when you see the movie you see a lot of heart and emotion because it’s made to be shown with those pictures, but on the other hand if you don’t have access to Melies, if you are listening to the album you will understand where we were and what’s going on. It’s very special. Also tracks were driven by scenes of the movie, if it’s supposed to be a fight or a sad, it will give an emotional impulse to the music. That’s why it gets really crazy at some points. That’s why we have crazy solos at some points.

It seems like Melies is really having a moment right now what with “Hugo” and this film.

NG: Yeah, it’s amazing. I have no idea, this thing with Scorsese. Especially Scorsese, because his film is all about the moon and the rocket. Hugo has this notebook from his dad with directions to build a robot that will draw that moon with the rocket in the eye. It’s this quest throughout the movie. Then at the same time the original movie comes back to life with this restored version. It’s crazy. Wherever he [Melies] is now he must be … He was ignored by everyone and now he’s back! We are really happy to contribute to this phenomenon. I think he deserves that. We wanted to make his movie as entertaining as possible, because for too many years it has been considered a piece of museum work, something to raise your culture, but you would not see that movie for entertainment. But now with the color and the music, you really watch the movie for fun. For us that was the key of success. If the music was successful it was not that we were making great music, but that you watched the movie without any second thought. That would be the key of success, if we managed to do that it would be a good job.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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