Soundtrack for a Sunday: Get Shorty

On a whim, I watched Get Shorty again last night. I’ve been feeling kind of lousy lately and I thought it would be just the ticket. Of course it’s hard to miss with Elmore Leonard’s dialogue (though it happens, alas), but it struck me again that the soundtrack by John Lurie is part of the magic that makes the picture sing.

Finger-snapping New York feel but wandering in the sun: the keys give the walking pace, the horns the attitude, and the tick tick tick of the percussion is a lively mind ticking along looking for angles, opportunities. It’s of a piece with the Florida bright text of the opening credits and the trouble that kicks off the film.

Everything works so well in the film: Rene Russo’s intrigued grin (a criminally underused actor), Travolta hits all the right notes and conveys the sense of wonder of someone from a world away in love with Hollywood (before the reality sets in). I remember that feeling when I first moved there. You carry the romance for a while. Maybe some carry forever. What else? Delroy Lindo looking fine. Gene Hackman playing a clueless hack. Farina: ah man. Gandolfini giving such character. And all the swell folks taking bit parts like Bette Midler and Miguel Sandoval.

But the music pulls it all together, makes it seamless. It matches Leonard’s pacy dialogue. That’s what goes all wrong in the tepid ‘sequel’ Be Cool. Hollywood literalism: it’s about how the music industry makes everything a product (because yeah, Hollywood doesn’t do that, right?). So forget the original soundtrack, let’s stuff it full of product — seriously stuff it. A bloated bag of nothing but air.

Makes me want to get out my Lounge Lizards vinyl…

The television series is good — though it strays a long way from Leonard — maybe because their soundtrack is aces.

[Tangential digression: Elmore Leonard is often called the ‘Dickens of Detroit’ which is a disservice to both. I get it: popular, he writes intricately interweaving narratives of people from all walks of life, but Dickens was never funny. If you have to compare him to a nineteenth century writer, why not Trollope? Funny and cracking dialogue plus all kinds of people — but I mean, funny. But the Trollope of Tiger Town? Probably not going to catch on, is it?]

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