Thursday, September 23, 2010
What Does The Future Hold For You?
"The Son of Man", by Magritte
Right from the start there was a contempory sound attached to the trailers for Boardwalk Empire. Dead Weather and Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights provided songs for different trailers. Still...I was surprised when the opening credits of this new HBO series began. First I was more surprised by the surreal setting of Steve Buscemi looking like a Magritte painting. Then a very electronic sounding guitar works it's way into the visuals. The surrealistic atmosphere continues with massive amounts of booze bottles floating everywhere and time lapse photography in the clouds. Buscemi's feet get covered with the rising tide and waves...then the water recedes and his shoes are bone dry. What?
Something is going on here and we are being shown that this project has a self-conscious awareness of it's history and somehow ties into us today. Why? What? The music for the opening sequence is none other than the brilliant band Brian Jonestown Massacre. Wow. What the heck?
Production rumours had already circulated about the rigorous research and attention to details this program was making from building an entire recreation of the Atlantic City boardwalk (in Brooklyn) to a purists wetdream of a soundtrack. Really, a pop band from today was included in the opening segment? Really?
The soundtrack is incredible. I had to look as soon as we finished watching the first episode to see who had worked on the music. It is Randall Poster who did the music for one of Stagg's and my favourite movies, Velvet Goldmine. They also did the music for School of Rock, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic, I'm Not There and Zodiac all outstanding soundtracks. Poster has found some beauties for Boardwalk Empire and it's going to be a lot of fun just to try and catch and identify these songs in the new series.
Martin Scorcese is all over this first episode. From the clothing to the montages and the result is really good and violent and compelling. I was really impressed with the casting and the actors are super charismatic and solid. I was especially surprised by Michael Pitt (Last Days). I love Steve Buscemi though.
Buscemi is just one of those actors who is capable of making you care about him. Maybe it's his huge eyes. He's been in a lot of great movies often not playing a lead. One of the first times I really fell for him was when he was cast as a lead in Living In Oblivion and I remember thinking, wow, he's more sexy and compelling than I originally had thought. I had always seen him as a sidekick. He was lively and handsome when playing that lead. I went to Germany in the late 90's and was taken by surprise that Buscemi was in a major ad campaign. He was suave and handsome in print ads and billboards all over the city and I was impressed that in Europe he was recognized as a real stud. Of course. During the days of 9/11 my girlfriend and I hunkered down in her basement ordering in food and watching the news 24/7. We just didn't know what else to do. We stepped out only to buy special editions of the newspapers. A Toronto paper issued an afternoon edition with a picture of the Twin Towers on fire and the word "Bastards!". (how very Canadian huh?) We watched all kinds of interviews and just went nuts. One segment had a firefighter recalling the day before. He said his firehouse was digging through the ruins and there was tons of smoke and through the smoke they thought they saw a ghost. They saw a man in old firefighting gear digging through the wreckage. They went over to him and his fire uniform was decades out of date. He pulled off his mask and it was Steve Buscemi. He used to be a NYC firefighter and he just grabbed his old gear and headed down to help.
The deal was sealed for me then. I will watch every thing Buscemi ever does. I only loved him more.
And that very quality of compassion and action is powerful in Buscemi taking this role as politician and scoundrel. He managed to be violent, and greedy, decadent and loving and he supports this longform story already. I can't wait to see what happens to his character and this town.
So why a contemporary psychedlic punk rock band playing the opening segment?
At one point in the premiere episode Buscemi's character walks past a fortune teller on the boardwalk and looks in to see a gypsy reading a palm. Painted on the windows is the question "What does the future hold for you?" and we also see the words inverted. Making such a story about the past gives us a choice if we want to tell the rotten truth and we have to turn it inside out from all the romantic images we have of victory from war, lively smiling singers and dancing, the partying, good old fashioned family values that are pumped into us all the time about "the past". Inverting the time period and exploring what made some of these corrupt citizens tick might tell us how we came to our society today. Scorcese says it's the "dark side of the American Dream". (he should know, he's portrayed the dark side with genius so many times with Casino, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York) We are connected culturally with the birth of organized crime in America to this era in Atlantic City, New York and Chicago. The problems we have with education, gangsters, the stock market are related to this war between prohibitions and opportunity to live the high life that emerged full force in the 1920's. Our urban centers are a direct time capsule of the people and desires of that jazzage rising. The music that was popularized by the nightlife then is also connected to the music we listen to today. In this way, mixing visual surrealism and an innovative band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with a moniker reflecting the violence of our own times , seeped in drug culture, somehow makes sense.