Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Music in Two Recent Spike Lee Films

Both Inside Man (2006) and Miracle at St. Anna (2008) are mainstream films that can be watched by anyone, if one allows for idiosyncracies of Spike Lee's directorial voice in the same way one would for, say, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, or Sergio Leone. The underscore for both was composed by Terence Blanchard, who was trained as a jazz musician, played for earlier Spike Lee films, but has gradually morphed into a composer of orchestral underscoring.

The music for both of these films is surprisingly unadventurous, in both cases doing its job effectively and efficiently according to prevailing fashion in Hollywood but not attempting anything beyond that. (One can say the same of the treatment of sound in general.) The most striking moments are in the main titles and end credits of Inside Man.

In the former, a disconcerting moment occurs somewhat like the beginning of North by Northwest: the musical style (its style topic -- see HtM, ch. 8) seems out of sync with our expectations. It's obvious this will be a thriller or crime pic, but we hear a Bollywood-style pop tune. Nor is the connection made clear anywhere later on (there is a Sikh man, a minor character who is treated poorly by the police, but that's as close as we ever get to a motivation for the music). In the end credits, the same music has short segments of rap embedded in it, but the hip-hop elements barely ripple the surface of the tune's Bollywood optimism.

All this being said, an instructor might ask students to compare the musical style in Inside Man with a crime thriller from the 1990s, perhaps The Fugitive (1993) or Se7en (1995), though many others would be possible of course. Miracle at St. Anna can be compared with WWII films from that era (Back to Bataan (1945), for example) or from the decades that followed (perhaps The Longest Day (1962), a scene from which is shown near the beginning of Miracle at St. Anna).