On the last day of the year, I thought I’d post about my favourite release of 2019. I don’t tend to buy much in the way of new music – I’m so out of touch, the list of food-trucks at Auckland’s Laneways festival always catches me out as they could be band names for all I know – but I do buy lots of soundtracks, for films both old and new.
For me, 2019 was a year punctuated by two huge let-downs. First we had Ari Aster’s follow-up to his wonderful 2018 debut Hereditary (or should that be Her-head-hit-a-tree?). Midsommar should have been a sure-fire hit. Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter star as a group of American college students who take a trip to the northern Swedish countryside with their Scandinavian college friend. Aster then follows the script of The Wicker Man with unapologetic audacity, closely following the major plot-points in everything but location.
It looked great, and sounded even greater with a wonderful score by Bobby Krlic, but the film’s unoriginality is just unforgivable. I guess it must be okay to steal so shamelessly from a 46-year old film as most of your target millennial audience won’t have seen it, and any older viewers might not remember it?
The other let-down was Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino’s ninth and his weakest offering since Death Proof. I’ve already written about that disappointment, and I’m sorry to say that a second viewing made me dislike it even more.
Instead, I found greater enjoyment in two documentaries: Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 and Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona. Both films offer a fresh, new perspective on their subjects and both demand repeat viewings. I’m hoping Antônio Pinto’s score to the Maradona film will eventually see the light of day on vinyl, it’s a genuinely beautiful accompaniment that works as a piece on its own (I’ve been thrashing it on Spotify ever since I saw the film). The strength of the film can be demonstrated by the fact that it almost made me feel sorry for Maradona. Almost.
The score to Apollo 11 is similarly fantastic. Miller’s film eschews the standard talking head interviews that slow down most documentaries, and ditches the concept of a narration track of any kind. Aside from Matt Morton’s score, all sound contained within the picture is real-life diegetic sound. All that is left is just chatter on the mission’s microphones, and background sound.
About 30 seconds into the film, I had to check on IMDb what we were watching. Was this a documentary with computer-generated effects shots to bolster the launch and space sequences? No, but it looked like it. The images were just too good. The opening shots of the film, showing the rocket on the launch-pad at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral look uncannily like CGI but they’re not. It’s in fact footage shot by NASA on huge 70mm film-stock (essentially the size format IMAX screens were built for), and mostly unreleased by the space administration until now.
My only regret is not seeing it on an IMAX screen as that would have been superb. I’m hoping it will continue to play on an occasional basis, given the film’s timelessness.
As iconic as the events of the film are – spoiler alert: they land on the moon, Michael Collins goes for a ride around the moon, picks up Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and they fly safely back home – the film’s real power for me is in its soundtrack. Composer Matt Morton went to great lengths to only use period-era analogue synthesisers (the liner notes state: ‘All instruments and effects existed at the time of the Apollo 11 mission’), and so the music sounds just as ‘1969’ as the action on screen. It’s a wonderful score, building and building in tension as the three-man crew pass each milestone in their journey.
2019 was a tough year for me in both health and work, and also for our country with two international-scale tragedies and a shocking murder-trial. And so it isn’t hard to understand why I’ve taken so much joy from two films focusing on former glories. Here’s to a better 2020, hopefully without that idiot in the White House.
Hidden Gem: Liftoff And Staging