01 July, 2010

HiFi 天碟 Golden Discs (3): Film Music I The Soundtracks of Wim Wenders

HiFi 天碟: Film Music (1)
The Soundtracks of Wim Wenders

In general I am not a fan of soundtracks, but there are notable exceptions. I shall start with Wim Wenders. All his soundtracks have fantastic sound.

Wim Wenders is one of my favorite directors. Every inch the auteur, he is never afraid to experiment. His compass is vast, from documentaries to road movies to love stories. If you have not watched any of his films, you have missed much sensual experience (nothing to do with sex, which is largely absent in his films), and certainly you have missed mesmerizing performances by many of the world's most beautiful women, like Natasha Kinski (Paris, Texas) , Solveig Dommartin (Wings of Desire and Until the End of the World) and Milla Jovovich (The Million Dollar Hotel), to name just a few. Talking about Jovovich, who can forget her in Luc Besson's Joan of Arc?

Wenders is obviously a connoisseur in music too. Whether using original music or compilation, his film music more often than not form "concept albums", where the individual numbers cohere into a greater whole. This last attribute can in general be said of the better film music (such as from Preisner and some of Morricone, to be covered later).

A listing of Sountracks from his Official Site is missing many items. Perhaps many have been discontinued.

Until the End of the World
Many of Wenders' soundtracks not only feature U2, some even are musically directed by them. These all have the signature of Wenders, but Until the End of the World has to be my favorite of the bunch (and of all his soundtracks), and really the only one you need to have for Wenders' films featuring rock band compilations. From this soundtrack I discovered people like Daniel Lanois, Neneh Cherry, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds etc. Paradoxially, this is IMHO one of Wenders' worst films.

Paris, Texas
Fantastic Soundtrack by Ry Cooder. It is very short, simple and atmospheric, but the guitar work, like solo violin music, is endearing to most simple-minded audiophiles.

And it is not just for the slide guitar either. If you can, catch the movie too! Great film that shows the "road-movie" side of Wenders.
The story is simple and heart-warming. Natasha Kinski here is no longer at her youngest, but her portrait of a ravished woman has inner beauty, making one regret all the more the many trash films that wasted her.

Lisbon Story
A non-story. Despite the nominal billing, the real stars in this film are the beautiful city of Lisbon, and emphatically Teresa Salgueiro, playing herself, beauty and beautiful voice of the band Madredeus. Ainda is actually the name of the album.

I have collected quite a few of Madredeus' albums, but Ainda remains the best to me. The music is based on Fado, but modernized.

Wings of Desire
An unusual film in Wenders' canon, not only for the structure and cinematography, but also for the atmospheric instrumental score. However, this soundtrack may not be so useful to those who have not watched the film, as it includes German monologues.

The beautiful Solveig Dommartin, who died young, is the remarkable actress in this film. It is hard to believe that she learned the acrobatics (lots of it) in eight weeks!

Buena Vista Social Club
Probably the greatest thing Ry Cooder ever did was to bring these wonderful Cuban musicians to the world's attention in this documentary. The compilation coherently blended the vocal and non-vocal numbers.

But if you have the chance, catch the film. There's a lot more in the film about these musicians. Their arrival in glitzy New York from Cuba is literally eye-opening for them, and a reminder for us of the repression of communist rule. It's most touching.

Several of the stars, like Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and Rubén González went on to make their own internationally released albums. You really don't need that many albums of Cuban music; the soundtrack still is the best. Of these, the one I like the most is Ruben Gonzalez' solo effort, beautiful piano playing by any standard, excellently recorded too.

Soundtracks to die for

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