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Your favourite movie soundtracks #5: Simon Proffitt on Eraserhead

Posted: September 4th, 2007, by Simon Minter

There aren’t nearly as many good soundtracks as there should be. Quentin Tarantino seems content to peddle fairly obvious compilations of other people’s compilations, and no-one in their right mind should want to exchange hard earned cash for syrupy orchestral sentimentality interspersed with random Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks quips. The best soundtracks for me are the ones written especially for the movie, and those that engage the listener regardless of whether they’ve seen the film or not.

Miles Davis’ Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud does this beautifully – it’s a wonderful album even without Louis Malle’s brilliant 50’s black and white thriller playing alongside. Whereas cynical toss like The Wedding Singer seemed like 80s songs were awkwardly crowbarred into the soundtrack specifically to sell CDs in the foyer after the film, Miles’ band improvised in the studio while the film itself was projected onto the wall. It’s a masterpiece of audio-visual complementarity. Having said all that, it’s not my favourite soundtrack.

The best by a mile, and you’ll have a hard time trying to convince me otherwise, is David Lynch and Alan R. Splet’s Eraserhead. It’s terrifying, bleak, alien, hilarious, excruciating, bewildering and gloriously weird. Whereas soundtrack album dialogue is normally a mood breaker, snatches of out-of-context vocal sandwiched between two already well-known soul tracks, here it becomes another layer of sinister wrongness. Without the film, it’s one of my favourite albums. With the film, it becomes an integral part of one of my favourite films.

Finally, I can’t write a piece on soundtracks without briefly mentioning Italian cinema. I recently got hold of all 10 volumes of Easy Tempo, the compilations of Italian soundtrack material from the 60s and 70s, and it’s a long time since I’ve smiled so hard while listening to music. I haven’t seen any of the associated movies, but I’m going to make it my life’s mission to do so. When I am king, every home will have these. James Horner will be tried for crimes against humanity; Piero Piccioni and Piero Umiliani will be canonised. Things will be better.

Buy Eraserhead in diskant’s Amazon.co.uk store

Simon Minter

Simon joined diskant after falling on his head from a great height. A diskant legend in his own lifetime Simon has risen up the ranks through a mixture of foolhardiness and wit. When not breaking musical barriers with top pop combo Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element or releasing records in preposterously exciting packaging he relaxes by looking like Steve Albini.


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