The Solaris Rule

I have this rule - you never own a soundtrack album unless you've seen the movie. I don't have to like a movie to like the music - but I do have to experience it. Makes sense, right? I mean the music was (if score) written for the film and/or (if source) at least chosen to fit the scenes.

And I think this rule started when, as a young Dire Straits fan, I picked up Mark Knopfler's scores to The Princess Bride, Local Hero and Last Exit to Brooklyn. I could take or leave the film version of Local Hero - it was okay but the soundtrack was crucial to me, as a listener engaging with the instrumental score created for a film.

Another early example is Prince's Purple Rain film - it's a must-watch as part of an understanding of the album that doubles as soundtrack. You don't necessarily have to like the film (though I can't see why you wouldn't). My listening to Purple Rain now comes with my own version of key scenes from the film that I carry over in my mind; in fact listening to anything by The Time will make me think of Prince's film/s also.

Anyway, that's always been the rule. Sometimes love of a film will allow you to accept the soundtrack - even when it's not really necessary/vital - sometimes a love of the music in a film will make you check out the soundtrack and then feel underwhelmed, but always, always, see the film if you have the soundtrack album.

Two nights ago I finally watched Crazy Heart. I had wanted to see this on the big screen for a few reasons - I dig Robert Duvall even though he's generally just chewing scenery for 10-20 minutes these days and as someone who attended a screening of Stick It, it does have to be said that I'll watch most things with Jeff Bridges in. Another reason I wanted to see the film is because I had been sent the soundtrack in advance. And I really liked it. Some cool songs, some interesting performances. Both Bridges and Colin Farrell can sing. Well, they're not Pierce Brosnan. Let's at least say that!

So I watched Crazy Heart and couldn't quite see why people had raved about it. I would say that this was basically just The Wrestler with better songs - but then I remembered that The Wrestler soundtrack (which I also own) has got Round and Round by Ratt on it. So...

Jeff Bridges got the kind of Oscar they hand out as a make-do Lifetime Achievement award, a sorry-have-we-not-given-you-one-before/for-a-while; how rude! That kind of Oscar. I mean he was okay. He wasn't bad (well, pardon the pun - some of you that see him as a living embodiment of the method will tell me he was so Bad!).

Anyway, this is not a film-blog and I'll move on before you tell me that - even though I've just reminded you that I know what this blog is not.

Point is - I found Crazy Heart so profoundly average, so stunningly mediocre, so very much a TV-movie I've seen a half-dozen times already (including one where, brilliantly, Dolly Parton plays herself and revisits her childhood home and tries on her old clothes. And they fit. Now tell me that's not - in all senses - a stretch!?).

And I wished I had broken my rule - I wished I had just kept the soundtrack and enjoyed some of the music and ignored the fact that it was a set of songs written for characters, to enhance characters, to be sung by characters and in the case of the piss-weak script of Crazy Heart, to be the sole effort of characterisation. I wish I had flagged the film altogether and just enjoyed the music.

But that wasn't going to happen. I was always going to see it - I like Jeff Bridges, even when he's coasting (which happens). And I like Duvall, even when he's cameo-ing (which is often). And I liked the songs on the soundtrack. Those reasons were enough. And we can mock the Oscars as not meaning anything, but I still like to check in with the major winners of each season - the Best Film, Best Actor/Actress and so on. It's pretty clear that because The Smurfs was in the running that's why Bridges won his statue. It wasn't really that he was the best - it was more a case of being the furthest from the worst.

Anyway - that's the preamble. Stick with me. Please.

I started listening to the Crazy Heart soundtrack last night - and while I'm not even close to writing it off now because of the film, I still felt that - then and there - I couldn't really be bothered with it. The songs had lost some of their, er, shine. Or dust. Or whatever.

So I went to Cliff Martinez's score for Solaris - the Steven Soderbergh remake from 2002.

I have never seen this film. And I never will. It is the one time I have broken my rule. And - listening back to the beautiful, textural sounds that Martinez has created was a lovely late-night reminder to keep this album as it is - to keep it isolated from the pictures it no doubt enhances.

It was given to me as a listening experience. I was even told that the film might not be to my liking - to focus on the music first and foremost. Well, I was captivated from when I first heard it. Here's the opening piece. Maybe you will hear it and think that it's nothing special - nothing without the film to work with, to bounce off. But it's one of my favourite albums of all time. I've been listening to it - a lot - for the past year, or near enough, a constant favourite. A mood album that I find I am pretty much always in the mood for.

So I'm keeping it that way.

I am never going to watch Solaris. And that's from someone who has paid to watch Full Frontal and The Girlfriend Experience - so the lure of Soderbergh could rival the need to see a film-project that involves Jeff Bridges or Robert Duvall.

I can't think of a single film soundtrack I own - apart from Solaris - where a screening of the movie, no matter how uninteresting, was not part of the process.

And then I realised, I don't have one rule when it comes to soundtracks. I have two. I have the standard rule I had followed for years. And I have The Solaris Rule.

I'm going to pledge the Solaris-rule the next time I'm presented with a soundtrack early and I like it. It probably means the film is a turkey.

So - do you have a film/soundtrack rule? Do you have to see the film before you buy the soundtrack? Or even if it's a hip, hit-filled soundtrack that works on its own as a compilation will you still make yourself view the film?

And what film scores or soundtrack compilations do you have in your collection that adhere to The Solaris Rule? That is to say you own the music but will never see the film.


Solaris was not my introduction to Cliff Martinez. I liked his first collaboration with Soderbergh - the music for Sex, Lies, and Videotape. And his scores for The Limey and Traffic. He's also a drummer by trade. He played on Captain Beefheart's Ice Cream for Crow; the final Beefheart album. And he was, briefly, a member of The Red Hot Chili Peppers (though I've never held that against him).

Here's another snippet of music from the Solaris score.

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