Thursday, January 07, 2010

Harmless Pop Song, Serial Killer

When music is placed correctly in a TV show, film or commercial, it makes the piece that much better. It adds to the storyline. Music can become an additional character in the plot. Gary Calamar, the music supervisor for Dexter, among other shows, said there wasn't a grand story behind choosing Frankie Avalon's Venus for several episodes. A writer producer who wrote the script injected it into the plot.

This seemingly harmless pop song makes two significant appearances over two episodes. Arthur, played flawlessly and with serious conviction by John Lithgow, is a serial killer out to revenge his sister's death. John is so convincing as Arthur that he said that after watching a few episodes of the show with his wife, she repeatedly turned to him and said "Do I know you?". Arthur kidnaps and harbors a young boy who he perceives to be himself at that age. He was innocent then. He hadn't witnessed his sister's murder. Her favorite song was Venus. Arthur plays it on the phonograph in the basement where he keeps the boy. The 45 drops from the magnetic holder and starts to rotate. The arm moves slowly over the record to plop the needle on vinyl and we hear "Hey Venus" with the angelic background vocals ooo ooo ooo's. It's innocence. It's innocence shattered.

The song returns on the season finale. At risk of giving away anything for those who haven't seen this season (you MUST rent or buy it), the placement of the song is chilling, creepy, haunting and it will drill a hole in your brain. Venus will follow you for days, as will the events leading up to the final scene. It's a brilliant choice.

Another recent music placement that was spot on was The End Of The World by Skeeter Davis used during the closing credits on Mad Men. In the case of that show, the songs have to be timeline correct. It's a period show, set in the 60's. You have a finite list of songs to play with. This song summed up the episode and foreshadows future episodes.

I'm sure people think being a music supervisor is easy. Pick a scene from a favorite show and think about what music you would use to drive the story and convey the actions taking place. Sometimes it's knowing that there shouldn't be music. There are many an ill-placed song. This not the case with Gary Calamar's selections, which is why he is one of the best. He's worked in record stores and as a radio host. His depth and knowledge of music is far reaching. Although he didn't pick Venus, his choices are subtle (I'm partial, but his use of Brandi Shearer's Lullabies in the season premier of Dexter Season 3 was perfect) and well thought out. There was a show on ABC that was unwatchable because of the overuse and abundance of ill-informed music choice. Men In Trees was a sonic mess.

Gary's TV Show credits include Six Feet Under (Breathe Me by Sia in the series finale) , Weeds, House, True Blood, and most recently Men Of A Certain Age. The theme song for Men is the Beach Boys' When I Grow Up To Be A Man. Again, on the surface the production and the background vocals proclaiming the aging of a man 22, 23, 24, etc. make it seem like a harmless pop song. A typical Brian Wilson song is never what you think you hear on the surface. The lines "Will I love my wife/The rest of my life" convey the anxiety about growing up, which essentially is the theme of this show. Ray Romano's character is living the song. As an aside, the show's website proclaims "Every memory has a soundtrack" and you can create your own digital scrapbook to share with others. The choices you are given to create that musical scrapbook: Styx, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Whitesnake.

No comments:

Post a Comment