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July 11, 2016

Book Notes - John Domini "Movieola!"

Movieola!

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

John Domini's new short fiction collection is filled with innovative, nuanced stories that focus on filmmaking.

BBC Culture wrote of the book:

"Movieola is for fans of Calvino – and of the film director’s art."


In his own words, here is John Domini's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Movieola!:


In industrial Hollywood, "above the title" counts as a place of prestige. That's where you see the names of the biggest stars, and in this case those would be David Gutowski and LHB, inviting me back. I'm grateful, very — but what's more, I'm tickled.

Movieola! makes for a playful playlist. My last "Book Notes," by contrast, accompanied the sober business of selected criticism, my Sea-God's Herb. But sobriety would never suit the new book, in which every story's an imaginative leap, and unpredictable of necessity.

Hollywood would never have a blockbuster, after all, if it didn't knock its players ass over teakettle. The Industry sets up its "narrative arc" across every screen in the multiplex, but this would be an utter snooze without spirals and loop-de-loops. Imagine the challenge, then, for the committees who make the movies. Their storyboards practically explode before their eyes. If Production signs up a particular star — boom! — you better whip up a romance. If Accounting calls ixnay on the location shoot — crash! — there goes the African blood-diamond angle.

Amid all that, hey, what's the story? What's the outsize American dream taking shape in the dark? Honestly, I wonder, and so I've put together a set of tunes with serendipity to match.



"The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly," Ennio Morricone
To earworm one's way into my Movieola!, what could be better than this persistent wiggler from 1966? Il Maestro Morricone proved himself a tad madcap, as well as melodic; he created a mash-up , no less, with whistles and whip-cracks, and didn't hesitate to laugh as well. Just listen to that wah-wah!

"Hustler's Ambition," 50 Cent
Rap and hip-hop, all insistence and transcendence, makes a natural fit for the Dream Factory. The impact of Do the Right Thing would be less without "Fight the Power," and what little impact Dangerous Minds had resides in "Gangster Paradise." For this list I'll take a phat slice of 50 Cent, from Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The storyline is stone Hollywood, gutter-to-glitz, and there's no shaking that soul-guitar sample.

"Che Sarà, Sarà," Doris Day
I include this number not just for its singable infectiousness, but also because of how it works in The Man Who Knew Too Much, showing off how Hitchcock cooks up suspense where you least expect it. As Day does her lighthearted best with the number, her husband and son are elsewhere in mansion, fighting for their lives. Tension so delicious sustains the folderol of most movie plots.

"Starman," David Bowie

The late, great. He's on a lot of soundtracks, to be sure, and he had his own star turns. No man on earth was so fit to judge the walk-off in Zoolander. For LHB, I'll take one of his sojourns off-world, sci-fi with wit and swagger. Then too, like a great flick, the song's a miracle of collaboration; it owes a lot to Mick Ronson.

"An American in Paris," George Gershwin
Here it's Paris, or its candied rendering in Vincent Minelli's Oscar winner, but earlier it was Manhattan, for "Rhapsody in Blue." Either way, laying out a sonic crazy quilt à la Morricone, Gershwin conjures up apparitions in which we'd like to live. He recalls the vast yearnings of outsiders, in his case Lower East Side Jews, grasping after the fringes of Golden American.

"Viva Last Vegas," Elvis Presley
Talk about outsiders going for the gold! Elvis remains the paradigmatic Trash Superstar, indelible even for a generation raised on Eminem, and his movie catalogue includes some fine twitchy goods. This number's poignant as well, since co-star Ann Margaret, briefly a consort to the King, had the talent and smarts to make a genuine partner, and just possibly a lifesaver.

"Madrid/The Pleasure Seekers," Ann Margaret
While I'm at it, I ought to give A-M some — though if ever there was a musical gift made for a lavish production number, it was hers. Thus I've chosen a tune in which you can just see her shimmy and pout, from a movie forgettable except for her, and for its shameless promise: endless pleasure with an insatiable sex kitten.

"Stormy Weather," Lena Horne (Cotton Club Parade version, 1957)
Lena Horne embodies another sort of lasciviousness, what passes for "real" under the klieg lights. In this version, though, the one cooked up with Duke Ellington, she brings it off; she delivers a blues that's somehow also high, wide, and handsome. Charisma, we call that: an inborn Panavision and Sensurround.


"Live And Let Die," Paul McCartney
My list's not a history, no way, but here we've got a historical watershed, namely, the first ‘60s rocker to work for Big Money Moviedom. The ex-Beatle caught hell for taking on Bond (you know you did you know you did you know you did...), yet he brought his usual panache to the assignment and the results prove, like many of the best here, a fascinating pastiche.

"Thriller," Michael Jackson
Like Ann Margaret's, this performance comes most to life in the mind's eye. The John Landis video was a high-water mark for MTV, it punched all the right horror-show buttons, and from this perspective recalls how MJ couldn't keep his own personal zombies buried. But that bassline percolating beneath his sawtoothed croon — now that's a master at work.

"Blade Runner Theme" Vangelis
Again, I'll play historian, and say that this magnificent piece of work put moviegoers on edge like nothing they'd heard in the Cineplex before. No question, the '82 electronica had precursors (Giorgio Moroder, calmati), but Vangelis went with replicants like Adam and Eve, together escaping a toxic Eden.

"Main Title Theme, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid," Bob Dylan
Meantime, though, there's no denying the power of a few human hands, wielded just right. Dylan's soundtrack includes his ubiquitous hit "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," and that too has the quality of a midnight jam, acoustic yet soaring. In so doing, he created the template for what became known as indie, sketchy and honest.

"One For My Baby (One More for the Road)," Frank Sinatra, 1958, from ...Sings For Only the Lonely
No getting away from this guy, his trajectory something like that of Elvis. This hardboiled monologue was written for the movies, and Sinatra did it most memorably on one of the records of his peak period. Even his betrayed wife Ava Gardner had to admit that, at moments like this, he embodied impossible ambitions: "You're an angel when you sing, Frank."

"8 ½: La passarella di addio" Nino Rota (Original Music for the Movies of Federico Fellini)
Rota makes a good bookend to Morricone, and his collaborations with Fellini remain movie music at its most mind-expanding, at once relaxing in its familiarity and surprising in its final shape. Now a circus march and now a nightclub rhumba, now clowning and now despairing, it's particularly congenial for 8 ½, a movie about a movie that doesn't know where it might end up. In this too, whipping through hairpin turns as it careens along, striving to improvise its way out of every fresh tight squeeze — in this, man, it's an awful lot like my Movieola!


John Domini and Movieola! links:

the author's website

BBC Culture review
Entropy review
The Rumpus review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Sea-God's Herb: Reviews and Essays


also at Largehearted Boy:

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