I am just as cynical about The Oscars as I am about The Grammys. In particular, I think they both make a pretty bad case for music. Unfortunately they both continue to hold sway over cultural discourse. They establish the public record of what art is valuable and what is not. The only two awards for music at the Oscars are for best original score and best original song. But there is so much movie music that does not fit neatly into those categories. That music can still involve incredible craftsmanship. It can still shape a film in profound ways. But we talk about that music less because the Academy does not acknowledge it.
Consider Selma. The music supervisor, Morgan Rhodes, is also a DJ and a crate-digger. She put together a soundtrack of incredible music, much of it underground soul and gospel from the 1960s. Then there are musical moments that are diegetic, meaning that the music comes from within the scene. Early in the film MLK calls Mahalia Jackson (played by Ledisi) and asks to hear “the lord’s word.” Over the phone and in the middle of the night, she sings “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” into his ear. Later, a group of organizers in Selma receives a rare bit of good news from the singer Harry Belafonte. Somebody sings out “Day-o, Daaaaay-o” and the whole group responds singing, “Freedom come and it won’t be long.”
Selma makes a great case for music. In these scenes, music is a comforter. It reinvigorates civil and religious purpose. It provides a much needed release for weary freedom fighters. Because of the Oscars, we don’t talk much about that music. We’re all talking about “Glory,” a tepid piece of work by John Legend and Common which plays during the movie's ending credits. “Glory” was nominated for best original song and it is probably going to win. It has already won at the Golden Globes and the Academy probably feels bad about snubbing Selma for almost everything else. Personally, I prefer “Everything Is Awesome.”
What The Internet Has To Say:
Here’s some more background on Harry Belafonte’s involvement in Selma. Like The Grammys, the Oscars have frustrating voting rules that sometimes make incredible scores ineligible for nomination. Sometimes incredible scores by rock stars win the Oscars and revolutionize the way movies sound. I am obsessed with this Slate article by Jack Hamilton. It’s about the Boyhood soundtrack, yes, but it’s also about the soundtracks of our own lives. Both Boyhood and Wild use music as a way to mark time. But in Wild music doesn’t move us forward. It takes us back. Kid Millions says that Whiplash gets music wrong. Or maybe Whiplash is showing us that the jazz academy gets music wrong.
What we've been doing:
This week we re-issued our episode “Piano Player,” which is totally related to the Oscars. Just bare with me for a second. The episode is about Cristin Milioti, the actress who learned to play piano so she could play the role of “Girl” in the broadway musical Once. But of course the musical is just a staged version of a movie by the same name. Once was a truly indie film. It was made with a tiny budget by and about unknown musicians in Ireland. The movie's song “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar for best original song in 2007. Watching musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova accept their award makes me forget—just for a moment—to be cynical about the Oscars. It’s easy to imagine why Miliotti would teach herself an instrument just so she could be a part of their creation.
If you need me I’ll be listening to the Once soundtrack all day and probably crying. “Make art!”