Film As Music Preservation: Art, Nostalgia And Escapism

The film industry has proven resilient throughout the pandemic in finding responsible ways to continue its work virtually and on-location with safety measures in place. And by show of the many documentaries, biopics, television series and soundtracks on offer and scheduled for future release, the silver screen's love affair with music history and heritage continues with no signs of slowing. It's welcome news that these current and upcoming projects are venturing into uncharted territory and revisiting previously depicted icons with fresh faces and perspectives!

Resources: IMDB Music Movies // IMDB Music Documentaries.

With few films being released last year, I felt all the more fortunate to discover My Darling Vivian, an Official Selection of the (Virtual) SXSW Film Festival. I so admired this documentary about Johnny Cash's first wife that it led to my reaching out to Producer Dustin Tittle, Johnny and Vivian's grandson. Read "My Darling Vivian: Film Review And Q&A" to learn more about this fascinating film. As I mention in my review: "While it's often an intense and tragic telling, Vivian, a woman omitted from the Cash narrative by Nashville and misrepresented in Walk the Line, emerges as a triumphant heroine entirely of her own making."

I've always believed film to be one of the greatest avenues for music preservation. It delivers a vital popular culture assist to maintain excitement, accessibility and relevance. I owe the origins of my passion largely to those first viewings of La Bamba and Amadeus in music class. They encouraged my love for midcentury popular music and the music of Mozart, both of which I've pursued as specializations. I'm an advocate for the inclusion of this filmography in music education curricula!

My middle school self would never imagine that I'd be the North American Theatrical Release Manager for In Search of Mozart, the first feature-length documentary created about the composer's life, or that I'd meet and work with Ritchie Valens' sister Connie. An excerpt from my interview with Bob Hale, emcee of the 1959 Winter Dance Party, was published in the June/July 2021 issue of Vintage Rock magazine commemorating Ritchie's 80th birthday. Read "Bob Hale Interview Spotlights Ritchie Valens At Final Concert In Vintage Rock Special Edition" to watch the interview and discover more about my initiatives relating to the Father of Chicano Rock and the Clear Lake tragedy.

Film has been an important part of my approach to preservation. I've dealt with it mainly in regards to research, communication and audience development, but in 2017 and 2018, I became more directly involved in developing the concept, script and interview content for a new short film, The Everly Brothers' Musical Beginnings in Shenandoah. It was the first film created about Don and Phil Everly's early life and careers as child radio stars in Iowa for The Everly Brothers Childhood Home and Museum. It premiered in January 2019 as part of our Everly Brothers Pop-Up Museum at the Surf Ballroom and Museum's Winter Dance Party alongside never-before-seen artifacts and media.

Watch the trailer here:

I really enjoyed the experience of working with this community to present their unique narrative through film! The museum piece we created is a step towards creating something more substantial in the future. I'd like to do more consulting work like this, particularly with artists and/or their families, from virtual outreach initiatives like watch parties to immersive on-location experiences and screenings with live accompaniment when it's safe to gather again. I have a wish list of prospects and as a fan girl, well, it'd be a dream to be an extra in a major production at least once!

It's also important for me to continue helping filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, reach broader audiences. I'm hoping for a collaboration with Gavin Rapp, son of Janet Vogel Rapp of The Skyliners. We've had quite a few exchanges this year about Since I Don't Have You, a film he directed about his mother's life as he experienced it. There are parallels between this film and My Darling Vivian in that they offer viewpoints from adult children about how the music industry’s price of fame dismantled their family systems during those precious formative years. Gavin's currently working on a documentary about The Skyliners which will bring long overdue credit to Janet as one of the only women in doo-wop in the late 1950s. Her soaring vocals and songwriting were central to the group's success. She wrote "This I Swear" which is one of my favorite songs from the era!

In addition to music history as on-screen subject, I'm also interested in films that call on the vintage catalog to achieve a timeless aural landscape in soundtracks. I can't recall how many times I've heard a song in a trailer or movie and afterwards followed the social media trail to hundreds of interactions from enthusiastic new listeners wanting more. The demand for this music from a single cameo exposure reminds us how important film is for the music and artist.

There are two recent instances where I was surprised (pleasantly!) to hear the sounds of the early 1960s, both with delicious vocal harmonies and affecting placement. In the opening scenes of Godzilla vs. Kong, we witness a calm and peaceful Kong waking in his habitat surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and a beautiful sunrise to Bobby Vinton's 1963 cover of "Over The Mountain, Across the Sea." In the official teaser trailer for Marvel's Eternals, "The End of the World" (1962) by Skeeter Davis bookends the ominous soundtrack with a vulnerable melancholy.

In lieu of a time machine, the beauty of a sweeping score is a splendid tonic. If the music doesn't capture your ear and the human interest story doesn't capture your heart, the nostalgia it invokes certainly will. In an era of unprecedented unrest, escapism is a much sought after friend. And a medium that allows the imagining of a better, more dignified world will always have a place with audiences. But let us never take that for granted. This classic status is a buoy for preservation, but only to the extent to which we meet it with greater effort.



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