SXSW is barely 24 hours away from starting (catch up with part one and part two of our preview pieces here), and at this point, it’s important to be reminded that one of the things that makes the festival unique is a particular focus on the crossover between music and film, something that’s been a special interest of ours since the very earliest days of The Playlist. SXSW doesn’t just have a whole sidebar dedicated to music documentaries (with this year’s batch including films centered on LCD Soundsystem, Paul Simon and Big Star), and a music festival that runs alongside, but the films screened seem to attract a disproportionate number of scores by indie and rock musicians.
And with more and more names who broke out from the pop and rock world — from veteran composers like Danny Elfman and Clint Mansell to newbies like Trent Reznor and The Chemical Brothers — moving into composition, this year seems like it’ll be no different. So below, we’ve highlighted ten films that promise to have the most intriguing soundtracks of the festival.
“Beauty Is Embarrassing” – music by Tim Rutili
A documentary from filmmaker Neil Berkeley, this focuses on artist and cartoonist Wayne White, who came to fame by designing the puppets and sets (as well as lending the voices to many of the characters) for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” before working on the legendary video for The Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Tonight Tonight,” among others. A counter-culture hero, it’s appropriate that Berkeley’s film will feature original music from Red Red Meat and Califone frontman Tim Rutili, who’s also lent his compositions to a short at the festival, “Tumbleweed!”
“Blue Like Jazz” – music by Danny Seim
Based on a best-selling novel, and already acquired by Roadside Attractions, “Blue Like Jazz” has a greater pedigree than some of its competition. The film, which involves a 19-year-old from an insular religious community, is directed by successful, divisive Christian musician Steve Taylor. But he’s left the soundtrack alone, giving it over to Danny Seim, who records under his solo guise of Lackthereof, but is better known as one of the members of Portland band Menomena, whose song “Muscle’n Flo” appears in the film’s trailer.
“Dreams Of A Life” – music by Barry Adamson
Since premiering in London last year, artist Carol Morley‘s documentary/drama hybrid “Dreams Of A Life” has won all kinds of acclaim, with many calling the film — which tells the story of the tragic death of a young Londoner found in a bedsit three years after she died — one of the best of the year. If that wasn’t enough to lure SXSW-goers, the movie also features the first full score in a decade from Barry Adamson, the Mercury-nominated solo artist best known for being a member of Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Adamson’s always had a cinematic feel, and he’s contributed music in the past to “Natural Born Killers,” “Lost Highway” and “The Beach” among others, so this should be a pretty fascinating listen.
“Fat Kid Rules The World” – music by Mike McCready
Fresh off his comeback role in “The Descendants,” “Scream” and “Scooby Doo,” star Matthew Lillard makes his directorial debut at the festival with this coming-of-age tale about a suicidal, overweight teenage boy enlisted by a high school drop-out to join his band. The movie stars “Terri” lead Jake Wysocki and Matt O’Leary (“Brick“), but perhaps the biggest name involved is on the music side: the film features the first score from Mike McCready, the founding member and guitarist from Pearl Jam. The musician cut his teeth by writing scores for episodes of “Fringe” and “Hawaii Five-O,” and has surfing documentary “The Westsiders” also on the way, but it’ll be interesting to see what he’s come up with here.
“Lovely Molly” – music by Tortoise
Having your debut film be one of the most profitable of all time is a tough act to follow, which is perhaps why we’ve not heard that much from “Blair Witch Project” co-director Eduardo Sanchez: belated follow-ups “Altered” and “Seventh Moon” weren’t met with terribly positive reviews. But “Lovely Molly” promises a return to the found-footage style of his debut, was well-received when it premiered in Toronto last fall, and it’s got one major trick up its sleeve: the score comes from legendary post-rock band Tortoise, in their first major venture into the film world. How will their instrumental, jazz-inflected style take to the horror genre? We’ll find out shortly.
“Pavilion” – music by Sam Prekop
Speaking of Tortoise, John McEntire of that band doubles up as the drummer of The Sea And Cake, and that band’s leader, Sam Prekop, is also getting in on the soundtrack act, as he’s scored another SXSW entry, “Pavilion.” The feature debut of director Tim Sutton, it’s a coming-of-age tale about young Max, who moves with his father to a suburban Arizona town — we debuted the poster earlier today, in case you missed it. Described as “both fever dream and quiet trip,” that’s a combination we can see Prekop’s music working nicely with. He’s contributed several tracks, including the lovely “Arizona” and “The Eve,” which have been streaming recently.
“Small Apartments” – music by Per Gessle
As we’ve discussed already, “Small Apartments,” the latest from “Spun” director Jonas Akerlund, seems like one of the odder films of the festival, thanks to a cast including Matt Lucas, Johnny Knoxville, Billy Crystal, Rosie Perez and Dolph Lundgren. And adding to the curious mix is Per Gessle, founding member of 1990s Swedish sensations Roxette (behind No. 1 hits “The Look” and “It Must Have Been Love” among others). Gessle’s been working as a solo artist to some success in Sweden, but this marks his first film score, and it’s certainly a curveball choice, and one that will add to the film either being a real surprise or a fascinating train-wreck.
“Somebody Up There Likes Me” – music by Chris Baio
Last year saw Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij making his scoring debut, on his brother Zal Batmanglij’s Brit Marling-starring feature “The Sound of My Voice,” which Fox Searchlight are releasing shortly. Not to be left out, one of his bandmates is getting in on the action, with Chris Baio, the bass player in the popular band, penning the music for indie comedy “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” The latest from director Bob Byington (“Registered Sex Offender,” “Harmony and Me“), stars Keith Poulson and Nick Offerman as two friends both in love with the same woman (“Teeth” star Jess Weixler), and we’re very intrigued to see what Baio’s come up with here.
“Starlet” – music by Manual
The return of “Prince of Broadway” director Sean Baker, this drama stars model/actress Dree Hemingway as a 21-year-old stoner/would-be actress who forms an unlikely friendship with an elderly widow, Sadie (Besedka Johnson) in the San Fernando Valley. We genuinely don’t know what to expect from this one, something that’s added to by the film marking the scoring debut of Manual, the alter ego of shoe-gaze indebted Danish ambient electronica artist Jonas Munk (also of the stoner rock band Causa Sui). However, it could be a perfect fit with what Baker’s been cooking up.
“Wonder Women! The Untold Story Of American Superheroines” – music by Jimmy LaValle
Exploring the recent history of feminism through action heroes, and in particular DC superhero Wonder Woman, is a neat little peg for a documentary in this comic-book obsessed age, and director Kirsty Guevera-Flanagan (“Going On 13“) seems to have found an imaginative way to tell her story. And to help her along is a score by The Album Leaf, the main alter ego of San Diego musician Jimmy LaValle (Tristeza, among other bands). Something of a soundtrack favorite, thanks to cuts being used on “The O.C.” and “Remember Me” among others, this is the band’s first full score, but they did perform a live accompaniment to a screening of F.W. Murnau‘s “Sunrise,” although we imagine this’ll turn out very differently.
Other scores to look out for:
“Eden” by singer-songwriter Joshua Morrison, with Jeramy Koepping and Emerson Brown of Grand Hallway and Trespassers William.
“Pilgrim Song” from singer-songwriter Andrew Iafrate.
“Bay Of All Saints” from ex-Czars member Jeff Linsenmaier, in collaboration with composer Koven Smith.
“Beware Of Mr. Baker” from veteran musician and producer Bill Laswell, best known for his work with Herbie Hancock and Iggy Pop.
“The Central Park Effect” by Paul Damian Hogan The Third
Lena Dunham‘s “Girls,” scored by ’90s one-hit wonder, Sean Penn‘s brother and “Boogie Nights” composer Michael Penn.
“Hunky Dory,” with a score by former “Divine Comedy” member Joby Talbot (“Son of Rambow“).
“Scarlet Road” from David McCormack of Australian band Custard and “Animal Kingdom” composer Antony Partos.
“Dollhouse,” from Howie B, DJ/artist/producer for the likes of Bjork and U2.
“Eating Alabama,” from Austin band The Archibalds.
“King Kelly” from Jon Ollsin (of S.T.R.E.E.T.S and Children) and Kim Krans, who play together in Family Band.
“Girls Against Boys” from Shudder To Think member Nathan Larson (now a well-established composer on films like “Margin Call“).