Cameron Crowe : A visual mixtape
It would be naïve to think that music still plays an important part on film. Although many a soundtrack feels more like a record label’s sampler (see ANY soundtrack for superhero films) there’s a few directors that still use their music diegetically, marrying the power of notes with a visual portrait that is not only a visual base, but a companion.
The films of Cameron Crowe, mostly derided for their mushy content, might lack some cinematic flair and perhaps might need a notch of originality clicked to raise the standard, but the quality of his musical selections is bar none. The passion he’s had for music since he was a just small kid aspiring to be a writer.
Cameron Crowe manages to intertwine beautiful scenes with the right tune, grafting into the viewer’s heart images of life, with songs from genres showing pretty much all emotions in the spectrum of life. Let’s a do quick re-cap of his films and the musical queues that elevate quite a share of scenes from standard feel good celluloid to bonafide classics.
Say anything (1989) Mostly known by the wonderful scene with superclassy John Cusack holding a ghetto blaster whilst booming Peter Gabriel‘s ‘In your eyes’, this cozy love story does have a few nods to the indie scene (The Replacements), beginners (in that time, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Living Colour) and some oldies but goodies (Cheap Trick, Fishbone). This amalgamation of classic and current (mostly unknowns waiting to explode) would be Cameron Crowe‘s watermark. And this is the film that started it all.
Genres explored: Old hits masterfully mixed with big acts waiting to explode.
If the film was a mixtape it would be titled: Please go out with me again.
Singles (1992) A love letter to then burgeoning genre, grunge, based entirely on the city where all those lovely muddy notes radiated from. Although again there is some nepotism (although it’s valid, Nancy Wilson‘s version of ‘Battle of evermore’ would make Led Zeppelin proud), the film boasts a veritable delicatessen sampler of the best acts of the era (barring Nirvana, due to pricey rights issues), while balancing the theme of single life when you are a successful (?) graduate. It’s not all about grunge, though, as there’s some magical moments set to living legends such as Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters. The film also begins the Cameron Crowe tradition of musicians doing cameos, with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and (amongst several others) doing a few lines.
Genres explored: Grunge, late eighties alternative rock.
If the film was a mixtape it would be titled: Grungy coffee beans (for the soul).
Jerry Maguire (1996) The most optimistic piece that Crowe has made to date is also it’s mushiest. That’s alright, even rockers need to exercise those feelings too! A tale involving sports, love and friendship, it all ties together under the sounds of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, with the driving message that success can be nice, but not having someone to share it with might take the excitement out of it. An all American soundtrack to an all American film about sticking to your principles and riding out the worst times.
Genres explored: Americana, Sports Rock (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC).
If the film was a mixtape it would be titled: You’ll never run alone.
Almost Famous (2000) The most personal of his films and maybe the most insular, music wise, as the time period has very important groups that need to be re-injected into the popular consciousness so we may never forget their importance. A combination of the up sides and the bitter, dark side of rock and roll is perfectly juxtaposed here, to the tunes of The Seeds, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Who. Seeing Mark Kozelek start an impromptu sing along to Elton John‘s ‘Tiny Dancer’ is more than enough reason to see this one.
Genres explored: Dad rock (Mostly classic seventies rock).
If the film was a mixtape it would be titled: Introspection from a tiny dancer called Penny Lane.
Vanilla Sky (2001) If Cameron Crowe’s films were songs, this would be the divisive cover that would find people polarising. A remake of Alejandro Amenábar‘s “Abre los ojos”, the film becomes trippier than the original version (and probably open to more interpretations) due to dream like selection of music (Sigur Rós, Red House Painters, Jeff Buckley, R.E.M., Radiohead, Spiritualized). Even if the official cd doesn’t have even ¼ of the cornucopia of songs, it still manages to paint a pretty picture (Monet, surely) of the zeitgeist of the film. A lovely scene that encompasses how popular culture, whether music, film or tv, is amazingly put to the tune of Sigur Rós. Added bonus, again, is the lovable curmudgeon Mark Kozelek, who gets some cinematic gold, yelling “Fix your fuckin’ face, dude!” to Tom Cruise.
Genres explored: Slow core, Ambient, Rock, Post rock, whatever Radiohead was playing in ‘Kid A’.
If the film was a mixtape it would be titled: Songs to wake up in a strange place.
Elizabethtown (2005) The much maligned film could very well be the equivalent of a band that has been around for ages and seems to be creatively devoid. Sure, there are again recurring themes, but they’ve been always there. Again, a range of musicians as old as The Hollies and as recent as My Morning Jacket and Ryan Adams, put the mood to this hit and miss film that although it never lived up to its full potential, it still is a homage to his deceased father and a love letter to mix cds and how even if loved ones go away, the music will always live with us.
Genres explored: Americana, folk, old school soul.
If the film was a mixtape it would be titled: Emotional songs for an emotional road trip.
Although there’s a recurring theme on all his films, in the vein of an underachiever finally cutting it whilst surrounded by some cracking tunes, his musical tastes are exquisite and the soundtracks are like a catalogue of mostly less-known tunes by excellent artists. Because of his love of music and its effect on life, many a fan has seen their bank accounts dwindle, but their musical knowledge grow exponentially. Keep the mixtapes coming, Mr. Crowe.
Listen to a small mixtape we made for you from all the tracks we love from his films*!
*Actually the ones we found in Spotify. Sorry for the glaring omissions.