The Keys To Success With Films Based On The Songs of Legends
In this small article, I'm going to look at a topic that is as niche as it can get: films centred around the music of famous artists. There is a certain staying power that exists -- even if a film is terrible -- around these sorts of pictures. With Yesterday coming out essentially tomorrow, we have every reason to wonder "why?"; not in a bad way, but out of curiosity. Why do the songs by The Beatles matter so much, that their existence warrants a film like this? In fact, this isn't even the first film of its kind: we have Across the Universe (a musical based on reworkings of Beatles classics), and the Cirque du Soleil run of Love (which, as it was filmed for the documentary All Together Now, technically counts).
I think this resonance supersedes fandom. This is the conversation many music heads love having. This is an interpretation of work we've loved before. In a similar fashion, both Mamma Mia films did financially well, because the music of ABBA affects so many people, that any sign of identification with these songs in a narrative form is a home run (even when they aren't). Going back to Julia Taymor’s Across the Universe, we can see the success based on album sales alone (insert number). These aren't the sales of Beatles compilations, but the sales of reworked Beatles covers. That means something to a degree.
There is a fascination with what others get from works we love. It's why this site exists. It's why critics still have work long after the internet has devoured them alive for their differing opinions. We are addicted to finding extra layers in our favourite things once we feel as though we hit rock bottom. It exists in any medium. I have watched Mulholland Drive countless times, and I still get blown away by parts I never got the symbolic meaning of before. It's an extra heartbeat in the life of something that gives you yourself life. You don't live vicariously through your top films, albums, books and the life (not literally, anyway), but you do learn more about yourself and what you are into through them. These passion projects help us rediscover ourselves, in a very loose way.
This works even without featuring the songs of an artist exclusively. One method is having a character be a major fan of someone, enough to instil new purpose in an artist's work, even though the film is not centred around them. An obvious example is how Lilo in Lilo & Stitch has the music of Elvis Presley around her, just enough for us to get an idea about the present obsession. It translates into Stitch, who is absorbing all types of cultural knowledge around him as he hides on Earth. How does that compare to Nicolas Cage's homage to the campy films of Elvis in Wild At Heart, or the impersonation that becomes a reality with Andy Kaufman's famous skit? That's up to you and your own opinions of Elvis: what did you get out of each contestant?
The second variation is having an artist composing new songs for a film, in a way that almost makes the film partially their own. How many of us identify Tim Burton's Batman with the music of Prince (including, and especially, the Batdance)? What about Air's dreamy soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides? Hell, the songs featured in Drive weren't even made for the film, and yet we feel as though these songs make up a large portion of the film's essence. One good example is how Elton John (and Bernie Taupin, of course) wrote original songs for The Lion King, and John is back on board with at least one new original song for the upcoming remake. It's almost as if we needed one, to make this Lion King compare to the original. There's also the Hans Zimmer score (Zimmer is also returning with work on the new film), but that doesn't quite make the same statement as, basically, a mini album from a famous artist attached to a film. Sure, scores make sense to those of us that love then, but these new albums do stand out in their own way to fans of said artists. Idlewild celebrates the music of Outkast, almost to the point that we are thankful it exists due to the fact that it contains the (currently) last Outkast album to go with it.
Whether it's new music or the reimagining of classics, these instances almost always do well at the box office. Who knows if Yesterday will hold up in a similar light, but it at least has millions of Beatles fans that may be behind the concept. Hearing the same songs in a new light adds perspective; who doesn't like falling in love all over again? This is why we had back buttons on disc players, repeat options on media players, and worn out copies of our favourite albums. Even if the end result is a not so good film, it's still worth a try revisiting the music of your life.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.