I’m not necessarily talking musicals, but rather films made on the subject of music. Of course, these will always have music in them, so they inevitably end up becoming musicals of a sort, but not really in the conventional sense. Some of the more notable examples of these include This Is Spın̈al Tap, High Fidelity, The Blues Brothers, Almost Famous, and The Commitments.
What has yet to be seen is an explicitly electro swing movie. It’s certainly quite possible that we’ll eventually get this with time, but no filmmaker has chosen to do it just yet, at least not in an obvious way. However, there are a few films that I think approach the subject matter in more subtle ways. I’ll present here five that I believe would make enjoyable viewing for the electro swing audience – no particular order, I’ve simply listed them chronologically.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2019-05-26
So I have a bit of a theory about this, in that I reckon that the majority of musicians producing electro swing today will have had their very first experiences of jazz and swing through the medium of Disney films. Another good example could have been The Jungle Book (which unsurprisingly was the Disney production made prior to this one), and there’s a whole host of other instances of swing in their films; but I think that The Aristocats demonstrates the jazz influence more so than any other, due largely to the fact that this music forms an essential part of the plot. Resulting from this Disney exposure, there’s a significant amount of Disney covers and remixes within electro swing; a perfect demonstration of this would be the Electric Swing Circus’s cover of ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’:
This film very much did for early American folk what electro swing is doing for the music of the jazz age. Featuring a great soundtrack with instances of the genre throughout, a large part of the film centres around the protagonists forming a bluegrass group called the Soggy Bottom Boys. Indeed, author Robert Loss has said of the film that:
“O Brother and the new millennial folk revival it stimulated implied the return of something good, some “original newness” worth saving from the remainder bin of history”
There’s some obvious parallels with electro swing here; much of the music of this particular genre can certainly be said to be returning jazz and swing to a level of contemporary relevance. One may also note the brilliant Skeewiff Remix of ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’:
In terms of the type of esteem often given to the jazz age, I feel that no film exemplifies this better than Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Whilst holidaying in Paris, the protagonist – played by Owen Wilson – discovers a time vortex that leads him directly to this era, and he proceeds to spend every night exploring the past and becoming more and more involved in the lives of various historic figures. The idea of recreating the past being so central to certain elements of electro swing – this film sums up to a great degree the mindset of many of the fans of this genre. Those figures whom Wilson interacts with throughout include Josephine Baker, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. And speaking of F. Scott Fitzgerald…
If there were a single example of a genuine electro swing film, this would be it. This is the only example I’m aware of, of a film with an electro swing soundtrack (albeit a rather unimpressive one), and much of the imagery of contemporary electro swing has come directly from this film. Speaking of his soundtrack, director Baz Luhrmann would state that:
“When [Fitzgerald] wrote that book, he was a modernist, he was in the moment, and the music of the moment was African-American street music called Jazz, and when he put Jazz music in Gatsby, everyone was like ‘What are you crazy? It’s a fad.’ […] If Fitzgerald coined the phrase ‘The Jazz Age,’ then I think we’re living in ‘The Hip Hop Age.’”
Thus, Luhrmann elected to include a soundtrack which both pays homage to the original jazz of The Great Gatsby, whilst staying relevant for a modern audience more inclined to styles such as hip hop. Sound familiar? As stated however, the choice of music was quite unremarkable, including pieces by contemporary pop artists such will.i.am and Fergie, where the more established electro swing artists would likely have performed much better:
The last entry I’ll include is La La Land, which famously narrowly missed out on the Best Picture award at the 2017 Oscars – although it did win six others, including both Best Original Score and Best Original Song. With a plot entirely centred around contemporary performances of jazz, the most poignant line for me is when John Legend’s character argues:
“How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You’re holding on to the past, but jazz is about the future”
This line sums up the entire philosophy of electro swing to me; this music is taking the original music of jazz, but pushing it in a completely new direction. Arguably, this is precisely what jazz is supposed to be about. Whilst the Messengers – the band that features in the movie – aren’t specifically an electro swing act, their music is certainly heading in that direction, most clearly so in this rehearsal scene:
There’s possibly several more, but I think these five films would make a nice viewing experience for the electro swing enthusiast. The collective runtime would be just over nine hours, so it’s definitely possible that one could devote a long evening to it if they wanted a bit of a movie-marathon. Maybe I’ll do it someday. I’d love to hear if anyone has any suggestions that they think I should add to this list, so please comment below if you can think of any more. And perhaps one day we will have an all-out, fully electro swing movie that’s a complete celebration of everything we all love about this genre.
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