With Derek Cianfrance spending the last year picking up critical acclaim and awards recognition for “Blue Valentine” it’s easy to forget that it’s actually his second feature film. His first attempt at filmmaking came in 1998 with the sibling rivalry tale “Brother Tied.” It played the Sundance Film Festival that year and earned strong word of mouth, but never made it to theaters. The years have worn on and recently, Cianfrance said he has a 35mm copy of the film sitting in his father’s basement but that the biggest hurdle facing a proper release for the picture was the $300,000 price tag surrounding the doo-wop music in the film. We recently spoke with Cianfrance about the music in the film and he was more than happy to share details of the songs in the picture and his thoughts on “Brother Tied” with us.
“It’s a doo-wop Christmas soundtrack,” Cianfrance told us. “That became one of the issues with that film. It had this soundtrack I couldn’t license, so I could never sell that film.” He then paused as he went to his computer to pull up a list of songs in the film which he shared with us: “Jingle Jangle” by The Penguins; “White Christmas” by The Drifters; “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” by The Orioles; “Just A Lonely Christmas” by The Moonglows which serves as the title music for the film; “It’s Christmas Time” by The Five Keys and “It’s Christmas Time” by James Brown are the tracks featured in the film. Featuring the heavy hitting list of acts here, it’s no surprise the cost of licensing the songs is staggering.
As for the film itself Cianfrance says, “I’m hoping that maybe ‘Blue Valentine’ is a [big] enough hit to get someone to pony up the money to buy the rights to all those songs….to get that movie out there.” And while he acknowledges the interest in his first feature, he has an uneasy relationship with “Brother Tied” recognizing it as an important stepping stone in his career but wincing at the flaws he now sees in the picture.
“It’s very young, it’s very naive and ambitious,” Cianfrance told us. “That’s the battle of dualities of ‘Brother Tied.’ Naivete and ambition.” But if given the opportunity to give another go at the film, and re-edit it to more to his liking, Cianfrance would likely wouldn’t change a frame citing the importance of youthful mistakes as crucial in growing as a filmmaker. He explains with an anecdote about a famed director he met at a showing of “Blue Valentine.”
“I met with Michael Mann who was at a screening for ‘Blue Valentine.’ We started talking and he said ‘There’s a little piece of sound in ‘Blue Valentine,’ you should go back in there and try and make that word she says [more clear]’ And I was like, ‘Well, you know, it’s done now, it is what it is….you know what Michael, doesn’t there have to be a time when you’re done with your movies and they exist like scars or tattoos?'” said Cianfrance. “I said, ‘Don’t you get sick of these filmmakers who just keep going back to perfect their films and they never stop working on them?’ And he says, ‘I do it every chance I get.’ I said, ‘You haven’t touched ‘Heat‘?’ and he said ‘Oh, I just did. I just recut ‘Heat’ [he’s likely referring to the 2009 BluRay release] and I was like, ‘Oh man, you just gotta leave that stuff alone, just let it be what it is.'”
And it’s in the that spirit of letting the work stand as he created it back then, that Cianfrance can look at “Brother Tied” now and cringe at his unbridled youthful vigor while also embracing the aspects of it that are successful. “So when I watch ‘Brother Tied’ it’s incredibly embarrassing. But also, I admire it greatly for having the belief in itself for doing what it did. A lot of it doesn’t work, but a lot of it works really great,” Cianfrance says. “Would I make ‘Brother Tied’ now? No. Would I have been able to make ‘Blue Valentine’ then? No. In ten years will I look back on ‘Blue Valentine’ and see things [differently]? I don’t know.”
But if there is anything that Cianfrance learned from the experience of making “Brother Tied,” it’s that trying to show off will get into your more trouble than you think and that sometimes, the simple approach is the best approach. “Orson Welles I think makes filmmakers miserable because everyone thinks they have to make “Citizen Kane” by time they’re 26,” Cianfrance mused. “You get all these people like me who come out of the gate maybe before we’re fully cooked. And we come out with a movie that’s so ambitious that we don’t have the grasp of our ambition. And I remember my film teacher Phil Solomon saw ‘Brother Tied’ back in the day and he said it’s like ‘Look ma, no hands!’ — he told me, ‘Just ride the bike.'”
Well, lesson learned on “Blue Valentine.” The film is in theaters now and we’ll have more from our chat with Cianfrance soon. For now, get another taste of Christmas with the songs from “Brother Tied” below and in case you missed it, Cianfrance spilled some exciting details on his forthcoming film with Ryan Gosling, “The Place Beyond The Pines.”
“Jingle Jangle” by The Penguins
“White Christmas” by The Drifters
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” by The Orioles
“Just A Lonely Christmas” by The Moonglows
“It’s Christmas Time” by The Five Keys