Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Sight of Music

Today I've been listening to ITunes internet radio while putting together some media lists, and there was a block of eighties music on that really took me back. See, I'm the generation they tested MTV on. I graduated high school in 1981, and that was the same year that the Buggles said video killed the radio star.

Soon, there were all sorts of competitive shows for the MTV audience - Friday Night Videos, NightFlight, etc...and things were...experimental. There was a symbiotic relationship between sound and picture and editing that had never occured before.

(And yes, I know Scopitones were around as were performance pieces by bands on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, but there wasn't the merging of storytelling and music quite like there was in the eighties.)

Then, in 1983, while I was drunk off of cheap beer at my fraternity's house there was something else entirely that burst onto television screens - Miami Vice.

A hybrid of eighties rock/pop music and story. Each influencing the other to such a degree that to lose one meant you lost the other. Musicians Glenn Frey, Phil Collins, Sheena Easton and others guest-starred on the show. The look, the feel, the sound, the entire persona - it was the eighties wrapped up in a linen suit and no socks. Pure destination television that stopped parties in their tracks. People would pile into the House "den" and wait to see what happened next and what music the show would play that week.

Twenty or so people crammed in a 10X15 room, spilling beer and food and sweating on one another. God forbid some stray partygoer opened the door at the wrong moment and wandered inside - he would likely be pelted with beer and popcorn and told exactly how harsh his punishment would be... once the show was over. We had to see and hear the show first.

Intense. Over the top. Aural pornography. The music was so integral it actually filled in some of the story gaps, and provided a narrative voice to the action. At the very least, it was the subtext, the inner monologue for the characters on the show.

It got me thinking... has there been another TV show of its type - meaning an intense hybrid of sound and picture? Has there been a TV show where to lose the soundtrack also meant you lost part of the story?

There have to be some other shows like that out there in the electronic ether....doesn't there?

For the life of me, I don't see them in my head.

Probably because the radio isn't on.


sean witzke said...

While neither show does it in the same way, both Spaced and Cowboy Bebop rely entirely on the music to communicate fully.

Kelly J. Compeau said...
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Kelly J. Compeau said...

Off the top of my head I can't think of anything, Bill. I'm wondering if the lack of shows that feature hip and sexy songs in order to punch up the story is because getting the rights to so many songs for the DVD, video game and other tie-ins just costs waaaay too much money. I heard that the Miami Vice DVD collection was stalled for many years because of it.

And because I think I can defy the odds and work my way around anything & anyone, The Black Tower will feature dozens of pre-existing songs, as well as music written especially for the series, by some famous musical artists. In fact I'm already hammering out deals with a couple of famous musicians -- and I haven't even sold the show to a prodco yet!

marc bernardin said...

well, there's two I can think of, one that worked, and one that didn't.

The one that worked: Sesame Street. Lose those songs and you lose at least half the magic.

The one that didn't: Cop Rock. But that was a mistake all around. Still, without the songs, you'd have no idea what was going on. Then again, you'd have to care first.

Bill Cunningham said...

Yes, Cop Rock is one of those things you can point to during the eighties and say, "What were they thinking?"

Piers said...
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Piers said...

Hey, I liked Cop Rock!

But while we're on the subject, The Singing Detective (TV version - I don't know about the film) and Pennies From Heaven used music as commentary and counterpoint.

And, of course, inspired Cop Rock. Which actually made me tear up at one point.

(For the other person who enjoyed the show - it was the bit where the young mother decides to give her baby away so it can have a better life. And sings to it about this heart-wrenching decision.)

RogerRmjet said...

The Patridge Family! Just kidding.

My favorite Keith line: "It's sort of an afro thing" (spoken to Richard Pryor and Louis Gosset, Jr.).

Christian Johnson said...

As Sean pointed out there are shows where "sound" is an integral part of the show. I know sound is in every show/film since talkies began, but in something like Samurai Chamloo the thematic nature of the aural makes it more dependent.

What you are talking about is when the aural component, in your example music (but I don't think it is limited to music), is just as intentionally crafted as the visual/dialogic aspects of the narrative. Think of Kill Bill vol. 1 for a second. If you watch the fight with the Crazy 88s, the sound design in that scene is awe-inspiring. Every moment is intentional. Miami Vice had that kind of intentionality.

Some movies that I can think of that used music with that kind of intentionality, successfully, are She's Having a Baby and Pretty in Pink. John Hughes was a master, pre-Home Alone, of making the soundtrack the "chorus" of the film.

The problem with modern soundtrack selling features, ie vehicles to sell soundtracks is that the music isn't integral, it is dominant. Escape from LA and What About Brian suffer this problem. They know that music has emotional power and they substitute it for dramatic narrative power.

The reason the end of She's Having a Baby works is a combination of the narrative tension, Kevin Bacon's performance, and the Kate Bush song. All of the elements are equal, but none dominates.

I guess that's a long way of saying...nope can't think of any television shows that do what you are asking.

Anonymous said...

I think Ally McBeal had the same merge of ideas as Miami Vice it just used a more 'gentile' music genre. Same with the current show Grey's Anatomy. Scrubs does it. GET READY FOR JULIE TAYMOR'S NEW MOVIE MUSICAL...I'M SURE IT WILL BE GROUNDBREAKING.