Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on Cineplex.com looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil looks at the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch`s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE.
One of the most musical films of 2014 is making its way to blu ray and DVD tomorrow as Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive gets the home video treatment.
Devoid of sexy, big-name musical icons and indie buzz bands alike, Only Lovers Left Alive finds its musicality from an interesting source: the film’s settings. Bouncing back and forth between Tangiers, Morocco and Detroit, the film pays homage to the musical fabric of both cities and bridges it, through the main characters (vampires, portrayed by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) and their love and perfection of music over the course of eternity.
The musical fabric of Detroit is pretty easy to pin down for the educated and casual fan alike: the most obvious connection being the Motown label, or perhaps Jack White and his 21st Century bluesman ways. But beyond those two pillars, or perhaps between them there is yet more that has driven the nowadays-destitute city. The likes of The Stooges, MC5 and Rodriguez have come between the two, with the blues having laid the foundation in the 1940s and 1950s when it moved up from Detroit.
But ironically, the film opens with one of the acts that White helped resuscitate in the 21st Century in rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. White produced her 2011 album “The Party Ain’t Over,” in hopes that he could help provide her with the late-career success he helped provide Loretta Lynn by producing 2004’s “Van Lear Rose.”
The song that opens Only Lovers is her 1961 track “Funnel of Love,” but it comes in the form of a cover. More on that shortly, but first, the original.
So back to the covers… Here’s where Jarmusch steps in with his personal touch.
The band covering Jackson’s song in the film (and in the linked clip above) is a group called SQÜRL featuring a vocal turn by Madeline Follin. The funny thing about the former act is it’s Jarmusch’s own band and they provide a lot of the original score that works as the bridge between Detroit and Tangiers.
Before delving into the score, it must be noted that Jarmusch’s musical contribution to cinema is long-standing. Ever since casting Lounge Lizard John Lurie and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Richard Edson in his breakthrough Stranger than Paradise, the 61-year-old has found a prominent space for music in nearly every film he’s made.
He cast Tom Waits in Down By Law, Joe Strummer and Rufus Thomas in Mystery Train (itself an ode to Sun Records), got a stunner of a score from Neil Young in Dead Man, leaned on Wu-Tang Clan’s The RZA for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, featured The White Stripes in Coffee and Cigarettes, shone a spotlight on Ethiopian jazz giant Mulatu Astatke in Broken Flowers and on and on it goes.
However, what Jarmusch was able to do with SQÜRL along with contributors Jozef van Wissem and Zola Jesus is something else. It takes the feedback of the Detroit garage sound and slowly fuses it with Middle Eastern instrumentation to create a hybrid sound that comes to define the sound that Adam (Hiddleston’s character) gains a cult following producing.
In the end, it comes out sounding like this:
But Jarmusch takes neither soundtrack nor score entirely on original in-house efforts and along with the aforementioned musical tributes gives a loving spotlight near the film’s conclusion to Yasmine Hamdan, a Lebanese singer-songwriter, as the story works its way to Tangiers.
Still, the meat of the film – dramatically and musically – is Detroit. With that in mind, one final Motor City reference from Jarmusch that comes from neither Motown (since Swinton’s character, Eve, reveals she’s “more of a Stax girl”) nor the garage pantheon.
Here, originally from Detroit’s Westbound Records, is blues giant Denise LaSalle with “Trapped by a Thing Called Love”.