CD Review: Micmacs – Original Soundtrack

By • May 17, 2010

Composers: Raphael Beau and Max Steiner
Label: Milan
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Grade: A

When it comes to artistic expression, perhaps no two creative elements are more universally understandable than pictures and music. Hand them to an inventive French filmmaker who relies on visuals, scoring and sound effects to tell his unique stories, and you’ve got a recipe for wonder that just about anyone with a kindred, imaginative spirit will appreciate- let alone as a listen. And the world-wide fans of Jean-Pierre Jeunet have certainly responded to his taste in music, whether it was Carlos D’Alessio’s post-apocalyptic singing saw for DELICATESSEN, John Frizzell’s crazed brass in ALIEN: RESSURECTION, Yann Tiersen’s tinkertoy accordion for AMELIE, or Angelo Badalamenti’s surreal symphonic dreaming in THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and his poetic orchestral anguish for A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT.

In a relatively short, and highly impressive filmography (its first to entries two co-directed by Marc Caro), Jean-Pierre Jeunet has discovered new composing talent, and brought out fresh magic from an esteemed scoring veteran. Now both directorial inspirations are on display for MICMACS, a return to the joyful neurotic whimsy of AMELIA as subtly mixed with some of the heavier post-traumatic subject matter of ENGAGEMENT. As a slightly disturbed man teams with seven junkyard geniuses to take down the arms dealers whose wares have played havoc on his life (especially with the bullet lodged in his head), Jeunet hits upon the genius of combining rhythmic street sounds that would befit the Blue Man Group (personified here by Raphael Beau) with the overly lush Hollywood music of Max Steiner. And while the two styles couldn’t be further apart, the result is as seamless, tasty and French as jam on a freshly baked brioche as eaten at a sidewalk café in Paris. Just try to escape that weird, accordion-playing street performer in front of the table as you take the bite.

Sure the intent of Jeunet’s music might be universal, but as lovers of those oh-so Gallic instruments in DELICATESSEN and AMELIE can attest, the director’s scores take on a whole other level when the story takes place in the Paris of his skewed imagination. And there’s French-style accordion, harmonica and percussion aplenty in Beau’s ingenious work. But more than playing the locale of the Micmacs’ Rube-Goldberg shenanigans, Beau’s use of bizarrro “instruments” like a typewriter, bullet ricochet and what seems to be the bleating of a goat are superbly attuned to characters who live under a junk heap, overcoming Le Homme with their wacky, cobbled-together creations.

But more than just throwing these kinds of effects on top of more conventionally melodic instruments and seeing what sticks, Beau ties his lollapalooza together with rock-solid themes that never get stale in their repetition. Cues can sound like a garbage truck with a jazz trio playing on its lowering scoop, while others have the delicacy of a piano and violin chamber orchestra. But whether dance hall or classical, much of Beau’s score has a nifty rhythmic drive to it. And at its best, MICMACS’ original score has that Blue Man-cum-Stomp fiesta vibe, its hip percussion taking the place of what a far stupider film would consider “comedy” music. It’s the kind of amazingly fun, and pleasant music that doesn’t have preconceptions- all of which point out the fact that Beau is completely new to this game. Rarely has slipping a director a demo in a restaurant paid off so well.

MICMACS’ other major musical components have been jury-rigged from the likes of THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE and THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. But where most modern scoring tends to use excerpts from the codgers like Max Steiner as a joke as to how floridly quaint that old Hollywood stuff was, the maestro’s inclusion in MICMACS is just as brilliantly obvious as is Beau’s junkyard percussion. For our hero just happens to be watching THE BIG SLEEP when he’s plugged by a weapon baron’s bullet. From that that point, everything has got to seem like high drama to him as the film ducks into his rapid-fire memories. So when Steiner’s gigantic swooning bursts out, the result is so completely unexpected that it only adds to the soundtrack’s creative delight. Whether Steiner’s lushly turbulent tones are playing a human cannonball missing the mark, or a scouting mission on the roofs of Paris, the grand re-performances by William T. Stromberg and The Moscow Symphony Orchestra adds a whole other layer of ironic, hugely humorous suspense- one completely in tune with Jeunet’s surreal style of at once being in our world, while simultaneously seeing it through Looney Tunes lenses. Except in the case, Carl Stalling scored Humphrey Bogart.

Watching Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s trippy flights of fantasy bring out the awestruck, giggling kid in us who wonders just how he came up with such a perfectly crazy, picture-perfect idea. And rarely has a score being in lunatic tandem with his cartoonishly fevered mind like MICMACS. His circus has arrived in style, pounding a typewriter and the Warner Brothers logo at the same time. And Raphael Beau and Max Steiner are a matched made in a heavenly heap of trash-employing payback.

Dive into the MICMACS’ delightful musical junkyard here



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