Sundance Soundtracks: Dirty Projectors, Hank Williams, ‘Life’ and ‘Die’

01.26.11 7 years ago

PARK CITY — I felt about the characters in “The Woods” the same way I do whenever I see posters promoting MTV’s new “Skins” series: In no way do I want to be friends with these people.

Director Matthew Lessner takes a satirical lens to modern, well-meaning hipsters, vaguely aware of international strife and macro-environmentalism, who have thrust themselves into the woods to start their lives all over again. There’s pop culture references and products galore — along with all the riches of American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and the local Goodwill combined.

But the score and soundtrack is less pronounced and more hrrrmed and murmured. Lessner’s cast resonates the ideas and long hair of a post-Woodstock America, which is apt for music selections from Sun Araw, Lucky Dragons, personal fave Indian Jewelry and composer Lydia Ainsworth. It’s heavy on the ’70s psych-rock tip, with plenty of distorted and reverbed electrics. It was like playing trees with e-bows.

It was a joy, too, to hear a contribution from Dirty Projectors, particularly a cut that isn’t from well-worn (but -loved) “Bitte Orca”; “D. Henley’s Dream” came from David Longstreth and Co.’s 2005 set, and those chorus of harmony voices really sent these lost characters deeper into their self-inflicted wilderness.

Hey, here’s a good one if you want a handful of versions of your favorite song, “Lost Highway.” One publisher (Sony/ATV) at least cashed in, with some gruffer, some classic, some tender takes on the same track: Hank Williams, of course, the gravel of Stephen Fretwell and one by somebody named Liam Ó Maonlai, who I assume hails from the same land as the film’s dear Irish fools. The latter is just a breath-taking kind of pretty.

“Knuckle” itself isn’t exactly a classic, but captures a certain rivalry in a certain space and time in Ireland. They compete with each other with in bare-knuckle fist fights and then talk a lot of shit when they get home. It’s sort of like the necessity of ego of burgeoning musicians — very few will arrive safely on the other side with a memorable legacy.

Remind me in the morning: I need to call my mom. Because I saw “How to Die in Oregon.” And now I need to call my mom.

The viewer may develop an early resilience upon viewing an aging man bellow “Old Joe Black” as he breathes his last early in this documentary. But by the fourth quarter — and a family sings “You Are My Sunshine,” followed by a hummed Johnny Cash/traditional — you may reconsider just how cold and dark that heart of yours is. Get sober and see this.

“Life in a Day” — otherwise known as the YouTube movie — is a collection of little thrills. Sweeping horns and strings sometimes help that. The tiny toy voice of Ellie Goulding and the African chutzpah of Baaba Maal will do it too.

I was pleased to see Matthew Herbert’s name behind the motifs “A Day at a Time” and “A Penny at a Time”; the British songwriter has been chugging away at his compositions in excess of a decade. That well-written score/theme is rivaled in the film only by a traditional Angolan song, sung by three women, grinding flour. As your brain tries to pick out the films subject from off the map in your mind, the music pushes the daylong narrative along at a flash-pace.

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