Best Oscar Songs: Time to Turn Off the Music?
I was having a nice chat with my pal Aeon Skoble, who wrote to me this morning about the "Best Song" winner in last night's Oscar telecast. That song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," is not exactly in the class of some of the songs I highlighted over the past three weeks in my tribute to "Best Oscar Songs." In fact, I'd dare say that some of the composers of those past Oscar winners are probably spinning in their graves. Swiftly.
As Aeon put it, the newest song was "Utter crap." He continues: "Not that I was especially impressed with the other two nominees either, but really, what crap." He made a more general point that I think should be addressed:
Actually, "best song" is, IMO, a non-category in the first place and ought to be abolished. 95% of the time, it's a song that plays over the closing credits and has nothing whatsoever to do with the film. The other 5% of the time, it's in the film, but is played over some montage (think the obligatory song in every episode of Baywatch) while someone thinks about something or a couple frolics. The validity of this category seems to me to be a throwback to the days when there were lots of musicals -- in that case, you'd have to be able to award the best song, a song that's actually part of the movie. But that's almost never the case anymore. That's my 2c on that.
I pointed out to Aeon that years ago, film scores were much more integrated with the film than what we see and hear today. And many of the songs selected in the second half of the 20th century were from non-musicals. But, again, those songs were integrated into the larger film score, which itself was integral to the story being told. Often, the "Best Song" nominee offered words for a musical theme that was prevalent throughout a movie.
For example, listen to the title song for Henry Mancini's magnificent score for "Two for the Road," or the famous song from Johnny Mandel's luscious score for "The Sandpiper." When words were added to that Mandel love theme, the song became "The Shadow of Your Smile." I'd say the same about "My Heart will Go On," which featured words that were provided for the omnipresent love theme, composed by James Horner, for the film "Titanic." That love theme is, indeed, heard throughout the entire film; the song is integrated with the score, and expressive of the story.
And this is what is all too often missing from "Best Song" nominations in recent years: In my view, the category remains valid, but it has become a lost art.
Aeon pointed out in reply "that the issue of whether the song is integrated into the score is relevant." He certainly agrees "that score is a key component of a film, and it's totally appropriate for the Academy to recognize and reward that." Commenting on my recent "Best Song" tribute, Aeon states further:
I noticed from the links you provided that back in the day, they gave separate awards for score of a regular film versus scores for musicals. That makes sense, and I guess now there aren't enough musicals to bother having two categories for. But this just highlights the gratutitous nature of most "movie songs"—and I say that even about movies I like, LOTR ["Lord of the Rings"] for instance. Just playing a song over the closing credits doesn't make it part of the film. Seems to me that the category makes more sense for something like "The Sound of Music" than for "Titanic."
On that particular point, as I say above, I think "My Heart Will Go On" was fully consistent with what I have in mind; it may have been played over the credits, but it was, in fact, the omnipresent "love theme" of "Titanic," with lyrics relevant and appropriate to the tragic story. Of course, songs from "The Sound of Music" would not qualify, unless they were original with the film version (rather than first performed on the Broadway stage). That's one of the reasons that the composers and lyricists from Broadway musicals often add new songs for the film version. (The song "Funny Girl," heard in the film of the same name, but not in the original Broadway musical, is one example of this.)
Anyway, I'd love to hear more on this from Aeon and others; since I don't open up my own song choices for "Song of the Day" to further debate or discussion, now is your chance to get in some thoughts about this particular topic.