My Thoughts on: Stuffed (2019)

On the heels of listening to the beautiful soundtrack for the 2019 documentary Stuffed, I subsequently got to watch the film itself. Having almost no knowledge of taxidermy going into the experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect, though the unusually bright soundtrack had alerted me to expect the unexpected.

 

What I saw…was something beautiful.

I had no idea there was no much I didn’t know about taxidermy! Anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the process is featured in this documentary. While profiling various taxidermists around the world, Stuffed takes the time to explain all the steps that go into the taxidermy process. If you’re like me and you love learning how certain things work, you will love this part as they don’t spare any of the details (including one or two minor “ewwww” moments when a carcass is skinned). And along the way we’re treated to some gorgeous shots of stuffed animals posed in all kinds of ways, from natural poses in a museum to…what I can only describe as “practically-living art.” I had no idea taxidermy could look so beautiful.

The people you meet in Stuffed are quite interesting in their own right as well. As with many subcultures, these people come from all walks of life from all over the world. But the one thing that binds them is their love of taxidermy and it shows throughout. Everyone owns their love of taxidermy and they do not care if this makes them “odd” or “black sheep.” It’s inspiring to see people who are so content with who they are that they will happily pursue their interest no matter what.

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You know what else was really awesome? Hearing Ben Lovett’s soundtrack in context with the documentary. Now I can see that a lot of that music was meant to highlight the various taxidermy displays that we’re treated to and make them more amazing then they already were. Lovett’s music really is perfect for this feature because it blends in so seamlessly with the various displays that you don’t really notice it (which is the idea, you’re not supposed to).

Another thing I learned after watching Stuffed is that the art of taxidermy is alive and well among the younger (relatively speaking) millennial generation. You have to understand that going in I assumed taxidermy was a slowly dying art, but this documentary proves the opposite. If anything, Stuffed appears to indicate that taxidermy is heading for something of a renaissance, which sounds very exciting, as I never want to see any skill go extinct. Furthermore, everyone interviewed makes it clear that taxidermy does have its practical uses, so its a skill that deserves to survive well into the future.

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The point I’m trying to make is that Stuffed opens a window into a fascinating world that up until this evening I had no idea even existed. The next time I visit a museum with a taxidermy display I will definitely spend a bit more time admiring the work that I now know went in to making them possible. Stuffed also proves that you should never judge a documentary by its subject material, because this is one of the most interesting things I’ve watched all year and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to check it out.

Stuffed is currently available on Vudu, Amazon Prime, and iTunes and I highly recommend checking it out at the earliest opportunity.

Let me know what you think about Stuffed in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Stuffed (2019)

Film Reviews

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Soundtrack Review: Stuffed (2019)

Lakeshore Records has made available Ben Lovett’s original motion picture soundtrack for Stuffed, a film directed by Erin Derham. Stuffed is a documentary feature film about the surprising and unique world of taxidermy.  Told through the eyes and hands of a passionate and diverse group of renowned artists from around the world, the film explores the lives and perspectives of an extraordinary subculture that exists at the intersection of art and science.  With a keen eye on conservation and the natural world, Stuffed also explores the important and unexpected relationship that exists between taxidermy and the human effort to preserve the beauty of nature.

Ben Lovett is an American songwriter and composer best known for crafting unconventional scores to a diverse range of films and documentaries including the Netflix cult favorite The Ritual, Amy Seimetz’s award-winning noir Sun Don’t ShineIndependent Spirit Award nominee The Signal, the Duplass Brothers’ survival thriller Black Rock, Emma Tammi’s avant-garde western The Wind, and the time travel sci-fi noir Synchronicity which earned Ben a nomination for “Discovery of the Year” at the prestigious World Soundtrack Awards. Lovett’s most recent work debuted at Sundance 2020, a reunion with director and longtime collaborator David Bruckner for the upcoming Searchlight thriller The Night House.

Speaking on their close collaboration throughout the making of the film, Derham explained:

“The process was very unique in that Ben started writing and recording the score while I was filming. I knew I wanted Stuffed to feel beautiful and romantic like a Jane Austen novel but giving it that distinct Lovett edge. I’m Ben’s biggest fan. All of his movie scores blow me away, but when I first heard the ‘Stuffed Waltz’ suite it felt like he’d written a song about my heart. It represented the humbling journey that took place as I filmed wildly different people around the world for nearly three years and had all my preconceived judgements about taxidermy challenged.”

Lovett described his score as a collection of “musical dioramas” that aim to capture a glimpse into the minds and hearts of a variety of uncommon personalities. Lovett explained:

“I was inspired by the characters in the film who all come from very different political, social, and economic backgrounds and often disagree on most things, but ultimately populate a distinct subculture that’s bound by a deep and genuine love for nature. I wanted to capture that unmistakable childlike wonder they all have when they talk about animals. For taxidermists the work they do is not at all about Death, it’s about Life.”

The soundtrack for Stuffed was nothing like what I expected, though honestly I’m not sure what I should expect for a documentary about taxidermy. The music is beautiful and delightfully quirky in many places, especially in the opening tracks like “Encyclopedia” and “Life.” If the music is meant to reflect the personalities of the people working on these creations and the creations themselves, then Lovett definitely succeeded.

The instruments come together to create something bright and vibrant, and now that I think about it that could be what surprised me. When *I* think about taxidermy the big thing I remember is that these animals are dead, but Stuffed appears to be taking the opposite approach (and Lovett says as much above): don’t think about them as dead, think about how they simulate Life! And that’s why the music is so vibrant and alive, because that’s the work these taxidermists are doing.

If you listen to nothing else on this soundtrack, you need to listen to “Stuffed Waltz No. 2” and “Stuffed Waltz No. 3.” These are two beautiful pieces that take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the regular soundtrack and seem to be created to give you time to think about what you’ve seen thus far. And for the record, they are in fact true waltzes, I can hear the 3/4 time clear as a bell (I wasn’t sure at first if the “waltz” in the cue title was literal or figurative).

Listening to soundtracks like this is giving me a renewed appreciation for documentaries and everything that goes into making them. Sometimes, I hate to admit it, these works can get overlooked because they’re all factual and can be mistakenly perceived as “boring.” But works like Stuffed are actually working really hard to tell a good story and the music has to work just as hard as any action film score to help tell the audience what they need to know.

I really liked the soundtrack to Stuffed and you should definitely check it out if you get the chance. Let me know what you think about Stuffed in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” (1999)

Star Wars is known for many things, but one of my favorites is the many great musical moments that define each of the films in their own way. In the prequel trilogy, one of my favorite moments comes at the very end of The Phantom Menace when everyone gathers in The (capital of Naboo) to celebrate their victory over the Trade Federation and the new alliance between the Gungans and the people of Naboo.

 

During “Augie’s Great Municipal Band”, the Gungans march up the main boulevard of Theed to the steps of the palace, celebrating all the way, while Queen Amidala waits for them along with a host of important characters (the Jedi council and the newly-elected Chancellor Palpatine among them). “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” has a bouncing melody that appears to perfectly reflect the excitement of the moment. But there’s a secret here, courtesy of John Williams.

Listen to this melody in the video above, listen to it very carefully. Do you hear it? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, I didn’t know this existed until I was told about it. Pay attention to the children’s choir, does it sound at all familiar? In a way it should, they’re actually singing the Emperor’s theme in a major key (it’s usually minor) and at least double the speed. That’s right, John Williams hid the Emperor’s theme in a scene of celebration as an extremely subtle bit of foreshadowing that Palpatine is literally controlling all of this. It’s downright spooky once you make the connection, not to mention it makes you view this “celebration” in a completely different light. Everything is going according to Palpatine’s plan, and the Jedi are already doomed, even though they appear to be stronger than ever.

 

Of all the musical foreshadowing John Williams has done in the Skywalker Saga, this is among the most subtle. Be sure to think about this the next time you watch the conclusion of The Phantom Menace, you’ll never look at that scene in the same way ever again.

Let me know what you think about “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

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Soundrack News: Atli Örvarsson to score ‘Defending Jacob’ for Apple TV+

Thankfully the coronavirus hasn’t stopped all television from being made. In fact, Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Rams) will compose the upcoming thriller “Defending Jacob,” which is set to premiere globally on Apple TV+ on April 24th, 2020.

 

“Defending Jacob” will premiere its first three episodes exclusively on Apple TV+ starting Friday, April 24th, and new episodes will premiere weekly thereafter Friday.

The new character-driven thriller starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell, Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber, Betty Gabriel and Sakina Jaffrey is based on the 2012 New York Times best-selling novel of the same name by William Landay. “Defending Jacob” unfolds around a shocking crime that rocks a small Massachusetts town, and follows an assistant district attorney who finds himself torn between his sworn duty to uphold justice and his unconditional love for his son.

Örvarsson recorded the score at The Village in Los Angeles with a 24-piece orchestra. Atli on the sound of “Defending Jacob”:

It was music from my upcoming album which sparked the interest of the filmmakers and as a result, composing the music for the series has felt almost like a continuation of that. The instrumentation and general feel is cut from the same cloth and there’s a definite Nordic Noir feel to the show, which has made the whole process feel even more natural. The vision of Morten Tyldum (director) and Mark Bomback (writer/producer) has been very compatible with my own, which has made the whole process a real joy!

Raised in the small town of Akureyri in the north of Iceland, Atli Örvarsson relocated to Los Angeles early on to pursue a career in composition. There, Atli worked extensively alongside prolific TV veteran Mike Post and Hollywood legend Hans Zimmer, which launched his career leading him to score over 40 films and countless TV shows.

Atli’s accolades include winning the HARPA Nordic Film Composer Award for his acclaimed score to Rams, several ASCAP & BMI Film & TV Music Awards, a “Breakthrough of the Year” nomination with the IFMCA Awards in 2009, plus he was nominated for the prestigious World Soundtrack Academy’s “Discovery of the Year Award” for his score for Babylon A.D in 2009 and his score for Ploey: You Never Fly Alone was nominated for a “Public Choice Award” in 2018.

Defending Jacob premieres on Apple TV+ on April 24, 2020.

See also:

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Music for Camping in Space, an Interview with Andrew Prahlow about ‘Outer Wilds’

Just the other day I had the privilege of interviewing composer Andrew Prahlow about his work on the Outer Wilds video game that released to great acclaim in 2019. This was the first time I’d ever interviewed a video game composer and I was very excited to talk with him and learn about how the score for this game came together.

Andrew Prahlow’s music focuses on emotive soundscapes with a core of chamber-ensemble minimalism, creating a sense of familiar nostalgia for the listener. He recently scored the captivating music for Mobius Digital / Annapurna Interactive’s video game ‘Outer Wilds’ (2019), which has received numerous Video Game Music of the Year accolades, as well as writing for ‘Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree’ (2019) and ‘Eclipse: Edge of Light’ (2017 Mobile Game of the Year). 

He began his career in music as an intern at John Powell’s studio while completing his studies at the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) Graduate Program at USC. From 2011-2014, he assisted on the music of ‘The Legend of Korra’ for Jeremy Zuckerman and also on ‘Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness’ for Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (Deru). 

How did you get started with being a composer?

I moved to L.A. in 2010 to attend USC’ grad program. My first job after that was being an assistant for Jeremy Zuckerman and also Benjamin Wynn on The Legend of Korra and the Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness shows on Nickelodeon. I worked with them until those shows ended and then I started working on my own. I was composing a lot with my friend Mark Petrie and we did a lot of trailer music, and things really escalated from there over the next five years.

Was this your first video game score? How did you get connected with Outer Wilds?

Yes and no. It was such a strange development cycle with funding that the project really started in 2012 [but didn’t release until 2019]. It was one of the first games I worked on since I had just finished up at USC. My friend Alex [Beachum] brought me onboard with the game. It was really a student prototype that turned into a full-fledged title. In between those times, though, I was working on other games that were shipped and completed before Outer Wilds was finished.

How is scoring a video game different from working on a film or TV series? Do you get to see the game when you record the score to give you an idea of what it will all look like?

There’s a lot of similarities that overlap of course, but I’d say one difference is, with several of the games I’ve worked on, that I’m brought in early on before any real artwork is done. So it’s really just talking about concepts and slowly trying to develop the music. Just like what some film composers do, I’ll write a suite of music beforehand to try and get some of the themes together. I’ll do that for the game at first to try and get some of the overall musical qualities and emotions that we’re looking for. Once we hone in on the sound of the game’s score, I’ll start to take the material from the suite and turn it into loops and figure out ways to make it interactive.

I’m paying more attention the ways music can be re-used, unlike film which is more linear. There will be times where you won’t want to write completely new music, you want it to all tie together so it doesn’t feel abrupt when you reach a new area of the game. In games you want the music to loop in and fade in and out and feel proper. That way you can make it as cinematic as possible.

One thing I focused on to make the music not turn into wallpaper was to create music that would give “clues” to the player. There’s no music playing for most of the game so when the music enters it’s really important.

How long did it take to put the score together? Because it sounds like it took a long time.

It did, it did. About halfway through production, about five years, I took it upon myself to go back and re-record the score. I had developed better recording techniques, figured out how to make more interesting textures and mix it better. I subsequently went back and revamped the score. From there they were still formulating the story and gameplay at the same time, so I would be writing new cues or rearranging old cues to fit how the game was slowly evolving over time. That part to me was very fun, where you’re having things change and sometimes music written for one area of the game turns out to work better in another area entirely.

How did the banjo come to be the center of the Outer Wilds score? It isn’t an instrument one typically thinks of for a story set on an alien planet with lots of space exploration.

Way, way back when Alex [Beachum] was prototyping, the idea of camping in space had always been a fundamental part of the game. Over time, it just became more and more influential on the storyline. The main title of the game was probably the second thing I ever wrote as a demo for this. From there, it really stuck and became the centerpiece of the entire score. We thought it would be cool because it’s sci-fi and I wanted to do something different, to combine this woodsy Americana sound with more sci-fi textures. Combining those took some time to figure out, but it turned out very unique and quirky in some ways, and really heartfelt in other ways.

We also approached it as, the game is difficult enough, I wanted to keep the music relaxing. We wanted to take at least some of the frustration off of the gamer.

Do you have a favorite part of the score? A favorite theme?

I’m really proud of “14.3 Billion Years” because that’s the end credits of the game and the final cue that plays. Also it’s this suite of music going through the Nomai theme, the other music and the Traveler’s tunes, and all of that happening at once. I was also able to bring strings in on that. I’m also really proud of the main theme, that one has really taken off and people have done covers of it or asked me for tips on how to play it. It’s really fun to be a part of the community and help people learn an instrument.

I want to give a big thank you to Andrew Prahlow for taking the time to talk with me about his score for Outer Wilds. The game is currently available for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One and Playstation 4. It will also be available on Steam starting June 18.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Outer Wilds (2019)

Composer Interviews

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Star Wars: A New Hope “The Throne Room” (1977)

Given the enormous amount of music that John Williams has composed for Star Wars over the decades, it stands to reason that some pieces will be remembered more than others. One piece that might not be remembered as much as it should is “The Throne Room”, the fanfare that concludes Episode IV before the credits begin to roll. To put it in context, the Death Star has been blown up, the surviving heroes have returned in triumph, and now it’s time for our heroes to receive their reward from Princess Leia:

 

It’s a stirring fanfare to be sure. As the heroes stride down the aisle to where Princess Leia and the other Rebel Alliance leaders are waiting, you hear a heroic version of “The Force” theme backed up primarily by the brass (and supported by the strings underneath). This music has all the makings of a climactic ending, and originally that’s what it was supposed to be. Remember, at the time the score was composed, there was no guarantee that there would be any sequel to Star Wars, let along a decades-spanning franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. With that in mind, it’s my understanding that the decision was made to give Star Wars as “final” sounding of an end as possible, just in case this was all she wrote and the film bombed at the box office (an idea that sounds laughable now but was a distinct possibility at the time).

“The Throne Room” is designed to bring the story of Star Wars to a close without the aid of dialogue. It tells us all we need to know: the heroes have done what they needed to do, now they can take a breath and celebrate their victory. And if this had been all there was, anyone could say this piece of music brings Star Wars to a thrilling conclusion. But of course, history tells us this was only the beginning for Star Wars. That being said, it doesn’t change the fact that “The Throne Room” is a beautiful piece of music, one that all fans of film music should take a few minutes and listen to.

Let me know what you think of “The Throne Room” in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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My Thoughts on: Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea (2006)

I skipped ahead slightly in my exploration of Pokémon films and next went to Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea, the ninth Pokémon film. Notably, this is the first film in the series to feature an all-new voice cast (no Veronica Taylor, no Eric Stuart, etc.) and boy does it show. After listening to six straight films with the same general voice actors it was jarring beyond belief to hear these different voices. But I digress, on to the story!

Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea follows Ash, May, Max and Brock as they find themselves teaming up with Pokémon Ranger Jack Walker as the latter seeks to return the mythical Pokémon Manaphy to the legendary Temple of the Sea all while attempting to prevent a dastardly pirate from claiming the equally legendary Sea Crown. (On a side note, I couldn’t help but think about how much Misty would’ve loved Manaphy and the Sea Temple given her affinity with Water-type Pokémon).

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Jarring voice cast aside, I really like this story. Water-type Pokémon have been among my favorites and this film is full of them. Plus, there’s some fantastic CGI animation of coral reefs and various sea life that is really well done. And of course I have to mention the Temple of the Sea is beautifully rendered as well. This is a place that I wish existed in real life and as crazy as it sounds, it was kind of giving me Castle in the Sky vibes with the architecture (that’s a good thing).

At last, after several films of wanting more Team Rocket, I finally got my wish!! Naturally Jessie, James and Meowth are after Manaphy once they learn of its existence, being the implacable treasure hunters that they are. They briefly manage to get their hands on the creature but the consequences are hysterical. I love Team Rocket so much, they always make me laugh.

And then there’s Phantom the Pirate, the big antagonist of the story. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not (I have a hard time gauging humor sometimes) but this guy made me laugh so many times. The way he talks, the way he acts, I just could not be scared of him because he’s so over the top. To be honest, the first time I saw him, I was reminded of One Piece (you know, cause he’s a pirate?). He also has the shortsightedness typical of most Pokémon movie villains, in that he’s so focused on acquiring the Sea Crown he’s completely ignorant of the consequences that come with seizing it (either that or he doesn’t care). On the flip side, maybe it was Jack Walker’s English voice actor but he kept coming across as super gung-ho from time to time (mostly when he called in to headquarters to give status reports). Let’s just say he had his own over the top moments that had me rolling my eyes (it’s a kids movie though so I’m not going to nitpick that much).

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I will say also that the Sea Crown is probably not what you’re expecting it to be. I know I was taken aback by what it actually was (how IS one supposed to “wear” it??). That being said, I can’t really say anything bad about the story, it was fun, it was tear-jerking (yet another Pokémon film that made me cry), and if you’re looking for a good time you’ll definitely find it with this story.

Let me know what you think about Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Pokemon-The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998)

My Thoughts on: Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (1999)

My Thoughts on: Pokémon 3: The Movie: Entei – Spell of the Unown (2000)

My Thoughts on: Pokémon 4Ever- Celebi – Voice of the Forest (2001)

My Thoughts on: Pokémon Heroes: Latios and Latias (2002)

My Thoughts on: Pokémon: Jirachi—Wish Maker (2003)

My Thoughts on: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Animated Film Reviews

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