Sunday, February 28, 2010

especially when it's wrong

Last night, I finally stopped acting like a brain dead med school zombie and went to see a good movie instead of a mindless, moronic one (cough*Avatar*cough). At some point, I will get it together and try to explain how it came to be that I became a fan of Townes Van Zandt and T. Bone Burnett and the like. For now, you’ll just have to take my word for it that, for some strange reason, I’ve had this music in my blood for a long time now.

So watching Crazy Heart was like hanging out with some old, familiar friends for two hours. And of course, the movie is filled with actors to whom I already extend plenty of good will. Jeff Bridges gets a lifetime pass for The Dude, after all. Robert Duvall is always entertaining when he’s playing an old loony. I think the only time Maggie Gyllenhaal has ever seemed out of her element was in The Dark Knight, and who could blame her for that- it sort of just makes me more fond of her. And then, of late, it’s hard to think of Colin Farrell as the greasy sleazeball who was turning up in Miami Vice and Alexander- ever since In Bruges, it’s been hard to think of him negatively.

And then you toss in throwaway movements, like using Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You and Sam Philips’ Reflecting Light at opportune movements, and some picturesque shots of the great wide open, and it’s hard not to want to give this film a big hug.

Amusingly, there’s absolutely nothing new about this movie. When I’ve skewered Avatar to friends, I’ve accused it of being a thoroughly derivative piece of work with nothing new except for the special effects. Well, I have to own that there is very little that is at all novel about Crazy Heart, although it thankfully dodges a completely tidy ending. Still, it’s such a genuine movie, and so is the music. In a movie like this, the music is a crucial co-star. So it's a relief that the music is solid, and reminds me of all the career musicians E and I used to go see in New Jersey at these tiny little venues, older men who had clearly spent their lives working at increasingly smaller clubs playing to dwindling crowds- but music is in their blood and music is what they do and so there they are.

While there are other songs that are nominated for Oscars and such, the one I’m posting this week is my favorite for many reasons. It’s in the film because it’s advanced as the protagonist Bad Blake’s biggest hit. When asked if he gets sick of playing it, he gets in one of the many gems of the movie, stating that he owes the song too much to get tired of it. And when you hear the song, it’s catchy enough to be believable- T. Bone Burnett’s trusty fingerprints are all over it. The song also serves to be the backdrop for a beautiful scene in which the aging musician opens for the star that owes him his big break. It’s perfectly played- the new star is not a jerk and means well. It’s a subtle thing that could easily be misinterpreted- I’ve seen bands come out to support the opening act, and it’s always meant as a gesture to get the audience to pay attention. But you can see the tension in the performance. The aging musician knows it’s well-meant, and yet you can see that it crawls under his skin. All without a word exchanged between them.

And then there’s the song itself, the lyrics, which say everything you need to know about who this character is. His name is Bad Blake, and this song just reinforces that name. And it’s everything that’s great about country music. Good country music is deceptively simple. And this song is just like that. It doesn’t seem deep- ‘I was going where I shouldn’t go, seeing who I shouldn’t see, doing what I shouldn’t do and being who I shouldn’t be.’ But there is so many things you can take from it if you want, if you want to find them.

About the song Killing The Blues, which Robert Plant and Alison Krauss later made very popular, Shawn Colvin wrote: “Just when you think there’s no new way to say anything, you hear a song like this and think, that’s as good as anything before or since.” It’s not as if the subjects or themes of music are that varied. But I think Colvin’s quote gets to the heart of why that is okay.


If anyone is still reading this, I really am going to try to turn over a new leaf. Now that I have survived the germ-infested abyss of Pediatrics (all kidding aside, though, I do have some positive things to say about that rotation), I am making a concerted effort to get back into writing regularly, and perhaps tweeting a little less regularly. Can't promise anything of substance though, since lately most of my spare thoughts involve trying to piece together what the heck is going on with Lost.


Maitri said...

*smile* Their use of Reflecting Light, which came from Sam Phillips's divorce from T Bone Burnett in this film of love, music and breakup, is way nuts. But in a good way.

It's also one of my favorite songs. I can't wait to watch Crazy Heart.

"Give up the ground under your feet.
Hold on to nothing for good."

brimful said...

I know- I'm similarly crazy about Reflecting Light, and practically fell over when it was used, as I didn't think T Bone would go there. But it works. I am quite certain you will like the movie. :)

Maitri said...

It really is time to pull out my old Cowboy Junkies albums.

Anonymous said...

just saw the film yesterday &
sorry to say it: it sucks as a movie !
Jeff's acting is amazing,
the landscapes are epic
and the music is a killer, but these things alone
don't make a great movie.
apart from this if yer into country, try some Malcolm Holcombe.