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Winter Soundtracks (01/14/2000) Write to CD Shakedown
Man on the MoonSoundtrack to Man on the Moon (Warner 1999) - "Man on the Moon" is the long-awaited film biography of Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Academy Award winner Milos Forman.

The soundtrack is terrific. The movie blows chunks. Sure, there are a few good moments, such as the funeral scene and the touching Carnegie Hall performance.

Jim CarreyBut overall, it is like another critic said: Andy Kaufman wasn't funny when he was alive, and he's not funny now. The film ranks as a big disappointment for Jim Carrey fans.

Nevertheless, the soundtrack stands on its own. Opening with the "Mighty Mouse" theme (as used by Andy Kaufman on his appearance on the debut episode of Saturday Night Live), the soundtrack also includes two songs by R.E.M.: "The Great Beyond" and the classic "Man on the Moon," taken from their 1992 album, Automatic for the People.

The trio known as R.E.M.Says R.E.M.'s Mike Mills, "It was interesting to work on a project where music was not the final result. Our goal was not to please ourselves or make beautiful songs. It was to create an element that would fit into the whole."

And on that level, Man on the Moon works in spades. Viewed as a 40-minute soundtrack to the life of Andy Kaufman, the album is a great success.

Tony CliftonYet as a memento of the film, the soundtrack is an odd lot, as the last song ("One More Song for You"), as performed by Andy Kaufman, does not appear until deep into the ending credits, long after most of the audience has left the theater.

In addition, the soundtrack version of "This Friendly World" is performed by R.E.M. vocalist Michael Stipe, Kaufman and his alter ego, the foul Tony Clifton. Yet in the film, "This Friendly World" is a performance by Kaufman alone, recorded for use on a Saturday Night Live segment.

Andy KaufmannYet I really like the soundtrack. Says Michael Stipe, "We were in on it from the beginning. We were in the studio watching scenes from the movie and trying to come up with music that would be appropriate, to help move the story along and provide background."

And on that level, Man on the Moon is a brilliant success. Andy Kaufman remains an enigmatic performer (listen to the story that Laurie Anderson tells about his escapades at a New York amusement park for a glimpse of his warped version of "theater of the living"). Yet the soundtrack ties together his life in a moving fashion. Skip the movie, buy Man on the Moon.

MagnoliaAimee Mann, Soundtrack to Magnolia (Reprise 1999) - "Magnolia" is the new film from director Paul Thomas Anderson (director of the unsettling, "Boogie Nights").

The new film has a large cast, including Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Williams H. Macy, and Julianne Moore, blending a set of chances, coincidences and simple twists of fate.

The soundtrack is a tremendous return to form by Aimee Mann, best known as the lead singer for the 80s Boston band, Til Tuesday (listen for her great 1988 album about her breakup with Jules Shear called Everything's Different Now). Aimee, who is now married to singer and composer Michael Penn, had drifted on her last albums, including I'm With Stupid (1995).

Aimee Mann and Paul Thomas AndersonYet with the soundtrack to Magnolia, Aimee finds herself again writing the emotionally complex songs that mark her best work. The soundtrack includes eight original songs from Aimee and Aimee's cover of "One" (the sappy song by Harry Nillsson).

Also on the soundtrack are two Supertramp classics from 1979 ("Goodbye Stranger" and "Logical Song"), and selections from the film's score composed by Jon Brion.

Says director Anderson, "In my screenplay, the character Claudia says, 'Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me again?' I did not write that line. Aimee Mann wrote that line as the opening for her song, 'Deathly,' and I wrote backwards from that line."

Melinda Dillon and Phillip Baker HallFor the first 2½ hours, the film is a gripping piece of human drama, with great performances from Philip Baker Hall as Jimmy Gator, the dying talk show host, and Melinda Dillon as his distraught wife. Yet director Paul Thomas Anderson couldn't figure out how to resolve the tension, so he wrecked the film with a stupid plot device.

And I'll give it away here, because it's so dumb: When the pot is ready to boil, frogs (big ones!) start to rain from the sky. According to director Anderson, "It could happen." Sorry Paul: frog rain is preposterous, and destroys the film's credibility.

Julianne Moore and Aimee MannContrast "Magnolia" to "Interiors," another tight human drama. The difference is that Woody Allen never lets up in "Interiors" - there's no punchline, no jabs: Just the straight-on noir of life.

Another gripe: Because the film clocks in at more than three hours, Aimee Mann's songs (as reflected on the soundtrack) appear during only portions of the movie (a disappointment). Further, the two Supertramp songs are spoiled by their use in a swarmy gay bar.

A scene from the filmWith songs like "Build That Wall" (a terrific single) and "Save Me," Aimee Mann shows flair in the territory occupied by Natalie Merchant. With a down-tempo folk style and use of minor keys, Mann paints on a rich canvas.

A welcome return from a wayward voice, Magnolia should be found by fans of smart pop.

Fantasia 2000Disney Studios, Fantasia 2000 (Disney Records 1999) - Originally released in theaters in 1941, the film "Fantasia" did not turn a profit for nearly 30 years. With such segments as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," the film is now considered a classic, headlined on the original soundtrack by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Now set for release on the Imax big screen, Fantasia 2000 is an all new original motion picture soundtrack, based around seven new animated segments.

FantasiaThe music that inspires Fantasia 2000 includes Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" (Just the Introduction), a selection from "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin, and a selection from "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Shostakovich.

The soundtrack was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as conducted by James Lavine. Yeffin Bronfman is the soloist on the Shostakovich concerto, and soprano Kathleen Battle is heard in the new arrangement of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance Marches." Pianist Gail Niwa and Phillip L. Sabransky perform in the finale to Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals."

FantasiaPianist Ralph Grierson, (soloist with the Philharmonia Orchestra) is featured in the Gershwin segment, while Leopard Stokowski conducted the returning classic, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Dukas. Also included is the "Firebird Suite - 1999 Version" by Stravinsky.

According to lore, Walt Disney intended Fantasia to be a work in progress. Enjoy the world-renowned music on Fantasia 2000.

- Randy Krbechek © 2000

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