Sunday, February 10, 2008

Great Soundtracks: "Grosse Pointe Blank"

(Note: This is the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series.)

For me, the film soundtrack has always been one of the most important aspects of a movie. Be it a score or a compilation of songs, the music backing a film can make or break it. However, it is my firm belief that the best film soundtracks are those that not only take pre-existing songs and give them new definition, but perhaps turn the audience on to music they've never heard before. Every so often, I'll be taking a look at essential film soundtracks. Before I begin, I'd like to make note of two rules with this: I won't be tackling scores, because I've never taken theory and wouldn't know thing one about describing what makes orchestral pieces good, and I also discount any musicals based on pre-existing stage shows, because the music wasn't put together explicitly for the film.

In trying to find soundtracks for this article, I considered which stuck with me, and I kept coming back to one above all others. The soundtrack for the 1997 John Cusack film "Grosse Pointe Blank" is easily one of the best I've ever heard, and really, it's doubtful a lot of people have heard it. This is mostly due to the fact that this is the "forgotten" Cusack movie, next to his classics such as "Say Anything", "High Fidelity" and even "Better Off Dead". However, the genre-bending this film pulls off (equal parts assassin movie, romantic comedy and violent action film) has been re-used over and over again in the 11 years since its release.

The soundtrack is perfectly fit to the plot, for it follows Cusack's assassin as he returns home for his 10-year high school reunion, and reunites with the girl he ditched on prom night (Minnie Driver), who has gone on to become a local rock radio DJ. Because of this, the film flashes back to the best rock, and especially punk, of the late 1980s. One sequence, in which Cusack and Driver sit in the balcony like wallflowers watching the dance below, is scored to Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open The Door (To Your Heart)", which for my money is one of the best rock ballads ever recorded. Also, the final shot of the film is set to the perfect climactic song: Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now".

Don't think that the soundtrack is all mellow ballads, though. Driver's DJ has impeccable taste, spinning the Clash's "Rudie Can't Fail" and the Specials' "Pressure Drop", among others. Another standout is the rousing "El Matador" by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (used, appropriately, in "The Matador" a decade later), which scores a violent fight sequence. Also, the Violent Femmes' "Blister In The Sun" appears twice on the soundtrack (one is a remix), years before it became used to hock Wendys hamburgers.

Given that the story is about trying to find redemption while doing an unredeemable job, the presence of the David Bowie/Queen collaboration "Under Pressure" is necessary, with its frantic plea of "Why can't we give ourselves one more chance?" Or, for that matter, in "Pressure Drop": "Oh, all that pressure's gonna drop on you". Finally, the romantic aspect of the film is captured within the line in "Rudie Can't Fail", where Joe Strummer declares that "I went to the market to realize my soul, 'cause what I need, I just don't have".

Most likely, this won't be the only Cusack film that I eventually break down the soundtrack album for (a column on "High Fidelity" will probably pop up sooner or later), but this is the one I had to give the edge to. From both a hip perspective and a thematic one, the music of "Grosse Pointe Blank" is, no pun intended, dead on.

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