The Perfect Soundtrack for a Terrifying Romance Film
Hrishikesh Hirway is the Los Angeles composer and musician behind the podcast Song Exploder (which can also be found at WIRED). In a new series, Imaginary Soundtracks, he’ll speak to notable creators—writers, filmmakers, and artists—about the music that, in their minds, goes along with their work.
It’s been a good year for the short film Pink Grapefruit. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015, the story of a young married couple and a matchmaking trip gone awry won the Jury Prize for Best Short at SXSW; then, this fall, it premiered online via The New Yorker. The director, Michael Mohan—who also wrote the short, along with Chris Levitus—chose not to use any music in the film; we asked him about that decision, and got his take on which songs would have best accompanied the world of this dread-suffused relationship film.
How did you come to the decision of not having any music in the short?
I was trying to do utilize the cinematic tools of horror and suspense movies—if I were thrust into that situation, it would be incredibly terrifying to me. So, to make the viewing experience a little more subjective, utilizing those tools from those other genres was sort of a conscious choice. And to me, the scariest parts of horror movies are when there’s no music, or when there’s silence; that’s when I’m on the edge of my seat. And so in order to treat this not like your typical comedy-drama that you’ve seen a billion times, I wanted to put the audience in the shoes of the character and make you kind of scared, make you not trust what’s happening in front of you. It was an experiment that we didn’t know would work, but we wanted to try.
So there’s no place for music in this film. There also aren’t any closing credits, but that’s sometimes a place where you can add to, or comment on, or take a break from the world you’ve just created. So if there were closing credits and music to accompany them, could you give me the five different song choices you would have made?
“Magic Arrow” by Timber Timbre. Whenever I go to Palm Springs, I want to listen to the first record by Timber Timbre. There’s something very sultry and sweaty about it, and the lyrics are so unobtrusively obscure. If I had to incorporate music into Pink Grapefruit, this is the one. A great song that just slides right into the vibe of our film.
“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers. At the end of the film, the older couple has found themselves at a bit of a crossroads as to what the future of their relationship might entail. So the choice of a more obvious song would make it absolutely clear as to what that final moment means.
“Ice on the Windowsill” by Teen Daze. I listened to this song a lot while writing Pink Grapefruit. The idea of ending such a hot movie with such a cold-sounding song would perhaps underscore the subtext. Even [Teen Daze frontman] Jamison’s breathy lyrics—“Winter comes…”—just makes sense to me, not only capturing the final moment of the film, but the mixture of emotions from both sets of characters.
“Let There Be Love” by Nat King Cole. Another angle would be to use music with an exact opposite emotional palette than the ones the characters are feeling. Something light and frothy would be far more at home at the end of a romantic Nora Ephron movie, which allows us to wink at the audience a bit.
“First Lesson” by Fall On Your Sword. I saw this fantastic film called Aardvark at AFI Fest a few years ago, and absolutely fell in love with the score. I could see myself using something like this, the plucked strings representing the cracks on the surface of the relationship, and the violin melody sounding beautiful and yearning.
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