Love is the Devil Soundtrack
Reviewed by Charlie Bertsch
Saturday, August 14 1999, 6:29 PM
I think this is a wonderful soundtrack, the operative word being "soundtrack." No matter how good the record sounds, it always seems to be reminding the listener that it is meant to accompany a film. Even if you have no idea of the content of Love is the Devil, you could conjure up a pretty good idea of the picture's feel merely by taking in Sakamoto's score, which is, I suppose, the highest praise that one can lavish on a soundtrack. But what interests me most about this record is not its praise-worthiness so much as the harsh light it reflects on what passes for film scores in most contemporary movies.
There's a lot to blame for the mediocrity of mainstream American film, but one frequently overlooked factor its the revolution in movie soundtracks inaugurated by such 1970s blockbusters as American Graffiti, Saturday Night Fever, and, of course, Star Wars. During the heyday of the studio system, talented and not-so-talented composers scored countless soundtracks designed to complement the images on screen. No matter how compelling the music that resulted from their efforts, it was clearly subordinate to the film for which it was composed. With the exception of musicals, most of which had a long history prior to their translation into movie form, it was rare for a soundtrack to become a commodity with a life of its own, independent of the film for which it was produced. These days, of course, it's common for the soundtrack to a box-office disappointment to be the source of several hit singles or, less frequently, to become a hit itself. In many cases, it is on the strength of its soundtrack that a movie overcomes its bad reviews. Wild Wild West is only the latest example. Had I not been for the infectious chorus to Will Smith's title song, the film would have had far less chance of making an impact during its all-important first week.
This is not to say that the hit-laden soundtracks of the blockbuster era -- and their doubles in the realms of independent and foreign film -- are in and of themselves a bad thing. Nor is it even to imply that they necessarily detract from the pictures that ostensibly provide their reason for existence. In the case of movies like Pulp Fiction or even American Graffiti for that matter, the fact that many scenes in the film are made to conform with the soundtrack -- and not the other way around as they would have been during the studio era -- makes for powerful filmmaking. But not many pictures sport as strong a concept as those two. And more than a few seem to lack one completely, unless the concept is to construct a bad film around good songs or, even worse, around songs that were pretty bad to begin with (see Detroit Rock City). I suppose it's no surprise that a film about Francis Bacon would shy away from Kiss covers, but these days you never know.
Love is the Devil is an Asphodel Records release