Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jazz Soundtracks — Part 7

The following is an excerpt from the book Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979 (McFarland, 2008) by Kristopher Spencer, founder of

What is the soundtrack for sex and seduction? Is it a sultry Latin dance number, smoky torch song, the bump and grind of funky soul, or the vivacious shake of rock and roll? The short answer is all of these things and more...

from Skin-dependent Films
To see nudity and sexual situations in legitimate Hollywood features one is generally limited to the pre-code and post-code eras of filmmaking. While the Hays Code imposed limits on the big studios, outlaw independent impresarios like Dwain Esper, Kroger Babb and David Friedman road-showed the grindhouse circuit during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s exhibiting their low-budget exploitation flicks for the more daring moviegoer. By selling sin in the guise of seemingly well-intentioned sex hygiene scare films and vice racket exposés, the legendary “Forty Thieves” and their progenitors managed to show audiences a bit of bare thigh, breast or bottom before hastily packing up and high-tailing it to the next town. When the raincoat crowd got their fill of one type of exploitation flick — such as the natives-gone-wild “goona-goona” pictures — the skin-dependent filmmakers produced pasty and g-string burlesque shorts or not-so-naughty nudist camp docudramas.

Needless to say, such skid row cinema was too low profile to warrant legitimate soundtrack releases not to mention an actual score. In fact, most striptease and stag films of the period featured canned recordings of generic jazz, nameless lounge exotica or incognito big band blues. Short of sitting through campy but quaint video reissues like Teaserama (starring Tempest Storm and Bettie Page) or Love Moods (starring Lili St. Cyr), the grind-curious must resort to retro rockin’ strip club compilations like The Las Vegas Grind and Jungle Exotica series or Take It Off: Striptease Classics. These feature long-forgotten groups with cheeky names like the Genteels, the Lushes and the Whips who cut 45s of stroll, jive and slop for seedy joints with names like Louie’s Limbo Lounge and the little films they subsidized...

from Big Budget Seduction
While Hollywood was still under the watchful eye of the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency, filmmakers nudged the envelope of acceptable on-screen sexuality with innuendo (like Lauren Bacall suggesting to Humphrey Bogart that he “put his lips together and blow” in To Have and Have Not, ’44), or with symbolic imagery (like frothy waves splashing over the semi-clothed Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity, ’53).

During the ’50s, certain filmmakers pushed the boundaries of subject matter. Elia Kazan transplanted Tennessee Williams’ melodrama A Streetcar Named Desire (’51) from Broadway, complete with its original cast. The film’s hothouse atmosphere of sexual frustration is made all the more palpable by Alex North’s influential jazz-tinged score.

A few years later, Kazan made a film that was even more brazen in its suggestive sexuality as one of its characters is a “child bride.” Baby Doll (’56) concerns a cotton gin owner married to a Lolita-esque teenager who is holding out on her hubby sexually until she turns 20. Another man attempts to seduce the girl and steal her husband’s business. Kenyon Hopkins’ sultry score, as orchestrated by Ray Heindorf, lends Baby Doll an atmosphere of decadent Southern charm. The lush score is like a jazz symphony, with occasional lapses into small group jazz and blues, featuring soloists on harmonica, saxophone, trumpet and guitar. The only break in musical character comes when Smiley Lewis, the legendary New Orleans R&B artist, is featured on the rollicking “Shame, Shame, Shame.” The Legion of Decency condemned the film, though that hardly hurt its box office...

The most celebrated sex comedy of the ’50s remains Some Like It Hot (’59), which the American Film Institute later named as “the funniest film ever made.” Music is integral to the film’s charm, as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play musicians who have witnessed the Valentine’s Day Massacre, and in an effort to avoid the mob, doll themselves up and join an all-female traveling jazz band featuring Monroe. The movie relies on innuendo, the cheeky kink of its cross-dressing heroes and Monroe’s undeniable sex appeal for much of its illicit kicks. Composer Adolf Deutsch supplies a mix of ’20s hot jazz and pop, including period hits like “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Down Among the Sheltering Palms.” Monroe delivers memorable vocal performances on “Runnin’ Wild,” “I Wanna Be Loved By You” and “I’m Thru With Love.”

No comments:

Post a Comment