Wednesday, February 13, 2013


The voting has been revealed in the competition over the Muriel Award for Best Music (Original, Adapted or Compiled), and as it turns out the winner was decided by one vote. Django Unchained was a predictable contender in this category (third place), as was Jonny Greenwood's score for The Master (second place), a movie and music that continues to elude my appreciation. And though I was also profoundly unmoved by the movie that has been honored by the pole position in this category, I don't have much of a problem with the choice. The reason is because, as Jeff McMahon points out in his well-informed and thoughtful essay, the movie not only benefits from a superb score by a composer who may, after years of great work already logged, be only just now hitting his stride, but also a director who has proven himself, however one feels about his movies, brilliant at synthesizing existing music with indelible details in often unexpected ways that become some of his films' most memorable moments. 

The Muriels winner was, naturally, one that didn't make it among the top five choices on my own ballot-- however apt and illuminating the music was for this movie, it couldn't warm up what was a hollow and mannered experience that is typical for me in encountering this director's films (one animated literary adaptation and a brilliant early journey into precocious academia aside). My own votes went to the scores for Haywire (David Holmes), Dark Shadows (Danny Elfman), Cloud Atlas (Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer), which placed fifth for Muriels voters, Searching for Sugar Man (Rodriguez) and, yes, the tunes and their presentation as heard in Katy Perry: Part of Me, any one of which could, for many, call into question my own qualification for casting a vote in this category in the first place.

But none of those votes represents the true winner in my eyes, which I most certainly would have cast my first-place vote for, had the movie itself qualified for the award. If it had been officially released and not only just screened twice in Los Angeles, my support would have gone to the music that is the lifeblood coursing through Jim Akin's thoroughly mesmerizing road movie After the Triumph of Your Birth. Featuring an eclectic soundtrack fashioned by Akin and his primary musical collaborator (and costar, and wife) Maria Mckee, ATTOYB made me rethink the way music could be made to serve the fleeting, searching impulses of a truly independent film, which seems to meander into nooks and crannies of experience but, like its mysteriously compelled protagonist, reveals a purpose which has everything to do with the way music not only adorns life, but actually composes life. 

I wrote this about ATTOYB after a second viewing last fall:

"(After the Triumph of Your Birth) is a movie made by musicians, a movie of profound, fleeting beauty that glides and drifts and darts and sweeps to its own internal rhythms in the manner of a classically structured, lyrically slippery Leonard Cohen song, or a boundary-busting Radiohead experiment, or a regionally attuned Ry Cooder melody. It has the spirit of inquiry that only the best pop music, with its ability to be alarmingly direct and yet also plumb the inner workings of the heart in ways that often cannot be articulated, can respond to in kind... Mckee and her director have woven a powerful musical accompaniment for the film that often blissfully derails the proceedings from dirt-encrusted, poetically enhanced realism into the realm of a full-on post-modern (to say nothing of post-MTV) musical. And of course it is music that courses most freely through the veins of the characters Akin and his able and fascinating cast have imagined; all are in one way or another performers along the gravel and asphalt paths of existence whose stymied hearts are best displayed while strumming, singing or dancing their lives away."

That's what makes for the best movie music of the year for me. Word has it that After the Triumph of Your Birth is going to be shepherded around Europe this year with the possibility of an actual American release in the wings, so let's keep our fingers crossed. In the meantime, you can buy the CD and hear it for yourself, and you can take a look at the trailer for the movie and start looking forward to your next opportunity to see it, hopefully on the 
big screen.


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