Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Music by Mark Isham
Songs Performed by Charlélie Couture
1988: Virgin 2-90922
This is a true gem in my music collection, all the more cherished because its so little-known by others. WHY its so little known, I cannot imagine: its beautiful music done deftly for a certain mood and setting. Granted, the mood-and-setting combination is not a historically accurate one, but then its not supposed to be: the film The Moderns presented a certain idealized mishmash of Paris impressions that nonchalantly jumbled three or four decades of American/British expatriate legend while stating that the film was set in 1926, resulting in something that vaguely purports to show anything from the 1890s to the 1930s. And in case we missed director Alan Rudolphs somewhat snide suggestion that Art History too repeats itself, he gives us a jarring in-your-face anachronism in the form of early-1980s edgy denizens populating the bar (as boredly and coldly impassive as their preceding counterparts had been) at the end of one last slow pan across the Café Selavy past the same old stories and tired dramas.
I really cant recommend the filmthat I long didnt have a copy of it in my own video library (until 2013) is proof of thatbecause its representation of Paris is so ridiculously cartoony that after Id actually been to Paris I found I couldnt even watch the film through again. Plus which its portrayal of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas really put me off with its pettiness, and if Id been a Hemingway fan Id have railed against its wholesale lampooning of Hemingway, although it must be noted that that was half of the joke of the films deliberate style. Carradine was fine, and Geneviève Bujold was lovely in her understatement; Wallace Shawn was gratuitous, but then that suited his character, Oiseau (Dont call me Wazzy!).
But it does have this delicious soundtrack. And if ever there was a recording for which the word elliptical was almost literally appropriate, its Ishams gorgeous piano/violin duet Madame Valentin the elegantly inequal arpeggios being so lovely that I was forced to transcribe them for my own piano-playing enjoyment upon finding that Isham has never published these pieces.
Track 7 isnt credited as such, but its Lucienne Boyers classic rendition of Parlez-moi damour, and track 4, Really the Blues, is by Sidney Bechet. How graceless to not acknowledge sourceseven if art forgery is the films main theme! Then again, the CD cover has those oddly exclusive statements that this is Music by Mark Isham and Songs Performed by Charlélie Couture when in fact each of them wrote various of these songs (plus there are two by uncredited others) and Isham plays on the album as part of the Orchestre Moderne. Really, the liner notes for this one are an unhelpful mess.
I should add for those who, like me 20 years ago, wondered about the album covers imagery: its a smooth steal from the painting Montparnasse Blues, by Kees van Dongen. Ive only seen a print of that painting, and only once, but it was enough to confirm the connection; in keeping with the films storyline of artistic forgery, the painting and the soundtrack are both simultaneously tributes and imitations (evocations if you prefer to imply less theft and more intentional stylization). Interestingly, the cover painting is credited to Keith Carradine, who plays the forging painter in the film.
Comments © 2009 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.