There is no shortage of creative hyphenates of the musician-composer variety who would argue that measure of a great soundtrack or score is one that blends so seamlessly into the fabric of the filmmaking, audiences only subconsciously register a film’s musical subtext.
But for legendary musician and film composer, T Bone Burnett — whose work spans the indelible twang-y folk melodies infusing O Brother Where Art Thou to his Oscar-winning work on Crazy Heart to his elegiac compositions pulsing through Finding North — the right combination of film and music can be highly combustible.
“There is an alchemy that occurs when music and film are fused,” says Burnett, who recently lent his talents to a little under-the-radar project known as The Hunger Games. “Music creates a heightened reality any time it is played and film is also capable of creating a heightened reality, so the two together can be explosive.”
Expect a similarly charged alchemy to erupt on stage at the O2 in London, when Burnett and Robert Redford join forces to debate and discuss their favorite music-enhanced moments in film and the nuances involved in making sure a film and its score make beautiful music together. The dialogue, moderated by novelist and diehard pop music aficionado, Nick Hornby, will take place on April 26 at 8pm, kicking off the inaugural Sundance London film and music festival, which runs from April 26-29.
In this revealing Q&A (available in an extended format in the Sundance: London Event Guide), Burnett offers a tantalizing glimpse at his own singular musical sensibility and how it informs his most distinctive film scores. Judging by the bold and eclectic array of films he references below, the meeting of the minds between Burnett and Redford (with a crucial assist from Nick Hornby) is poised to become an entertaining and enlightening mash-up of sound and visionaries.
“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” over the bicycle scene in Butch and Sundance works so brilliantly. Why?
T Bone Burnett: That’s one of the great and mysterious examples of the power of image and music together, and I have no idea why that music worked so powerfully with those pictures. It wasn’t a period piece of music. The singer, BJ Thomas, was from Texas, but his performance was definitely on the modern side of things. The lyrics felt modern.
It wasn’t a piece of music that those characters would have ever heard. But it was about being free and “nothing worrying me,” and it was graceful and somehow evoked or coincided with what the actors were doing and who the characters were and maybe even where they were, but at the same time, it created the sort of heightened reality that music creates in a film. In the end, though, the film tells you what fits and what doesn’t. That film was obviously into that song and that performance of that song.
When people think of independent film, Sundance, and T Bone Burnett, a lot of them will think immediately of The Big Lebowski. Did you have a lot of fun working on the movie? Were there any particular tracks you really wanted in, but that didn’t make the cut?
T Bone Burnett: I seriously have had nothing but fun working with the Coen brothers, and am having fun now with them making a movie called Inside Llewyn Davis about the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961 or 1962, just before Dylan got there. I had proposed “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” for the epic hero, the Dude. It ended up being for the epic hero Ulysses Everett McGill in our next movie together. [Editor’s note: O Brother, Where Art Thou?]