September 29, 2005

Various Artists: Broken Flowers Soundtrack

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Broken Flowers is a small, unassuming film that deals with time past, memories and loves forgotten. In it, an aging Romeo (played to perfection by an emotionally barren Bill Murray) struggles to comprehend his past mistakes while reconciling his present state of ennui. The soundtrack of this nuanced character portrayal skillfully mirrors the tension between past and present, drawing from both ’60s music and contemporary rock. With indie director Jim Jarmusch at the helm as the executive album producer, what would normally be a jumbled disaster of wildly disparate artists is transformed into a complex reflection of one person’s life and past histories. Jarmusch seamlessly connects film and music to shape a deeply memorable and eccentric soundtrack.

The tracks by Ethiopian jazz musician Mulatu Astatke serve as the principal theme for Broken Flowers. Astatke’s lush and ethereal compositions become Murray’s compass and guiding point as he drives from ex-lover to ex-lover. Recorded in the late ’60s, Astatke’s music serves as a melancholic and nostalgic reminder of his past, when times were better and love came easier.

“There Is An End,” performed by ’60s garage-rock revivalists The Greenhornes, provides a second, but equally important theme to Broken Flowers. Guest vocalist Holly Golightly’s sultry Nancy Sinatra-esque vocals are reminiscent of ’60s-era lounge singers and smoky bars. Golightly is enchanting as the film’s omniscient narrator (“every season has an end”) and languidly croons the story of Murray’s fading glory. Played during the opening credits, the title “There Is An End” becomes bittersweet and ironic as it immediately reminds the viewer of the inevitable ending.

As a result of the huge variety of artists on display, some of the tracks don’t quite work. Stoner-rock legends Sleep contribute a slice of their opus “Dopesmoker,” but its droning vibe and crunching guitars don’t fit into the movie’s prevailing mood of nostalgia. Although intriguing, the song ultimately seems out of place and would be more appreciated in all of its 63-minute-long glory. Brian Jonestown Massacre provides an unnecessary dose of ’90s hipster credibility but the muddled production, whiny vocals and half-rate aping of ’60s rock is only a disservice to a soundtrack built on originality.

The most intriguing contribution might be the “Requiem, Op. 48 (Pie Jesu)” by Gabriel Faure, performed by Oxford Camerata. Achingly beautiful, yet precise in delivery (much like Murray’s very own performance), the requiem arrives at a particularly poignant moment in the film. This classical operatic contribution is an unexpected but self-consciously deliberate shift in genre; the diverse selection of music is as varied as the old flames Murray encounters.

Although at first glance, Broken Flowers resembles a random assortment of no-names, the soundtrack is a lovely expression of director Jarmusch’s unique vision. Jarmusch has been celebrated in the past for his varied soundtracks (including the Neil Young-driven Dead Man), and Broken Flowers is certainly no exception.

Archived article by Natasha Pickowicz
Sun Contributor