Soundtracks and Storytelling

The soundtrack is the story.
The soundtrack is the story. “The Commitments” via The Telegraph

This Friday, May 8th, Fresno Filmworks is excited to screen the musical documentary “The Wrecking Crew“. Filmmaker Denny Tedesco, who will be joining Filmworks for an audience discussion after the 5:30 show, created a labor of love in this film telling the story of the Los Angeles area studio musicians behind some of the most famous songs in rock n roll. The Wrecking Crew, as they became known out of fear that their new sound would wreck music, played on so many hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s that they have often been credited with creating a soundtrack for Southern California. Tedesco’s film builds a story around that soundtrack by showing how this group of talented musicians changed American pop music while remaining largely anonymous. However, the soundtrack remains the star of the show, after all without the music there is no real story to “The Wrecking Crew” and no film to view.

A good soundtrack can fade away or stand out depending on the story’s needs.  In some cases, like “The Wrecking Crew”, a soundtrack becomes part of the story, so closely tied to the narrative that a movie would not exist without it. These can be stories of making music, stories of experiencing music, or stories that take place in the world of music. In these films the presence of music is not an afterthought. The soundtrack is not an added bonus, it is the entire point. Before we experience the story of California rock n roll, let’s take a look at two films that build stories around amazing soundtracks.

“All That Jazz”

Iconic show tunes? Snippets of a musical that might be about an oversexed airline crew? Vaudeville standards? Hallucinogenic song and dance numbers about death? 1979’s “All That Jazz” has them all! Bob Fosse directed this strange and wonderful fantasia loosely based on his own experience nearly working himself to death trying to finish a Broadway musical and juggle a complicated personal life at the same time. “All That Jazz” would not be the beguiling experience it is without the soundtrack tying together the loosely woven narrative. From the opening sequence of George Benson’s “On Broadway” to the closing song and dance number saying goodbye to it all, without its soundtrack “All That Jazz” wouldn’t be the same film.  In fact it would barley be a film at all. The film fluctuates between show business story to dark fairy tale at will with little concern for making sense. The music woven through is what gives method to the madness. All of the loose vignettes come together with the soundtrack that allows the audience into the mercurial minds of one of the great geniuses of American theater.

“The Commitments”

In 1991 a sleeper hit out of Ireland introduced a new generation to soul music. A group of aspiring musicians in Dublin were going nowhere quickly. Broke and ignored, they decided that Ireland’s history of institutional poverty has more in common with the great artist of American rhythm and blues than anything closer to home and started a soul band. Like so many before and after them, “The Commitments” took the gamble that if they were good enough and just lucky enough, a band could get them out of the world of dead end jobs they all grew up in. If the goal was escape then the pioneers of Motown were pretty good choices for role models. They also knew what it was like to be born second class citizens on the wrong side of town with few ways out. Director Allan Parker draws distinct parallels between Dublin and Detroit through the music covered by “The Commitments”. And what music it is! The cast (made up of actors, musicians, and singers) went into rehearsals pre-production so they could perform the music in the film. The result is by turns joyous and heartbreaking, proving Parker’s thesis that soul music belongs wherever it is needed most.


Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves on the Filmworks board, working on marketing and development.