The Solaris Rule

Last updated 10:01 18/08/2010

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.

Hi Jeff, here's how it is: you pretend to almost be Kris Kristofferson and we'll give you an Oscar. Deal?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 no...sometimes it must be hard, not to feel, as if, you really are, a Cliff!w 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 coSing it with me, Dean Martin-styles, "Solar-is, wo, wo, wo wo...."llection 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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Karlos   #1   10:34 am Aug 18 2010

I normally only get a soundtrack album after I've seen the movie. I don't actually own that many soundtrack albums - and none that were written specifically for the movie. Most of them are just a compilation of random songs.

My favourites would have to be - Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction and From Dusk Till Dawn. (They all seem to be Quentin Tarantino movies or movies he helped write).

Chris Philpott   #2   10:41 am Aug 18 2010

I don't have a rule as such, but I do try to stay clear of soundtrack albums that are a collection of B-sides from a range of the "cool" artists around (ie all the Twilight soundtracks). My favourite soundtracks are always scores - The Princess Bride is a classic, and more recently I've been digging the score to Inception.

(not regular posting) Don   #3   10:46 am Aug 18 2010

Lest threatening your enthusiasm for the soundtrack, I would suggest seeing Soderbergh's Solaris, it's actually better than most of its press suggests. Or failing that, watch Tarkovsky's amazing original, so you can get the mood SS was trying (and kinda half succeeding) in capturing, while being a totally different text.

Of course as a Tarkovsky fan who thinks his movies should be played in multiplexes, I'm a bit biased.

Shane   #4   11:01 am Aug 18 2010

I don't have a rule as such but most of the soundtracks I own I have never seen the movie.

This started when buying vinyl and often the vinyl was easier to get than the movie was to see. As a result I have albums like Tommy, Quadrophenia and That Summer.

Who knows maybe I do have a rule; the trend has continued as Empire Records, Singles and The X Files are all on CD and I've seen none of them either.

Luke   #5   11:05 am Aug 18 2010

Snatch/Lock Stock both have very good soundtracks - especially Lock Stock. The best would have to be Forrest Gump even though some of the best songs didn't make the album.

Simon DC   #6   11:18 am Aug 18 2010

As a young-un I bought the soundtrack to "End of Days" without seeing the film. It was just what my angry 14 year old self wanted. The fact that it contained Limp Bizkit and Creed meant that I never wanted to (and never have) seen the film. I also believe that Arnie should have quit after T2 and I avoid anything he did after that. The G'n'R, Rob Zombie, Prodigy and Powerman 5000 songs on the album are actually quite cool (in an angry 90s teen angst kind of way).

T-Rex   #7   11:29 am Aug 18 2010

I'm not huge on soundtracks. I own all the Tarantino soundtracks. And I've watched all the Tarantino movies. But I don't HAVE to see the movie to know the Tarantino soundtrack will be good because he's just brilliant at picking music for soundtracks/movies.

I used to love the Tank Girl & Mallrats soundtracks and ummm Cruel Intentions. And I have always had The Princess Bride but that's because I love the movie and because I love the movie so much I love the album.

Ummm I have the Ironman 2 soundtrack. And really that movie is not full of AC/DC - and therefore I think it was kind of false advertising. Thinking about it that movie actually kinda sucked.

His Lordship   #8   11:41 am Aug 18 2010

I only get soundtracks for films that I've seen, mainly because I don't tend to buy music that I've not heard before.

But I do have one or two soundtracks which obey an amended Solaris Rule. That is, I own the music, but will never see the film again. The ST to Dark City comes to mind.

I haven't seen Soderburgh's Solaris and despite being a Soderburgh fan I have no intention to, having fallen asleep during Tarkovsky's original.

And I have to protest at Simon's lukewarm reaction to Local Hero. I think it's a top film. But each to their own.

Regan   #9   11:45 am Aug 18 2010

You're missing out because Solaris is actually a pretty good film as is a great example of soundtrack music done in perfect synchronicity with story (I'm referring to Soderberghs version here, I understand the original Soviet work is a couple of hours long). Cliff Martinez's score is everything you describe (beautiful, textural etc...).

My favorite soundtracks would be "The Mission" by Ennio Morricone, "The Untouchables" also by Morricone, "Paris,Texas" by Ry Cooder, "Requiem for a Dream" by Clint Mansell & The Kronos Quartet and "High Fidelity" from the John Cusack film.

Have you done a playlist post of "10 soundtrack songs" yet?

Neil   #10   11:48 am Aug 18 2010

A Clockwork Orange - the moog never sounded better.

Good Morning Vietnam - funny and full of great rock and pop from the day.

The Pink Panther - a pretty good Mancini score byond the oft played title track.

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