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Director Coppola blends punk rock, 18th century

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, January 23, 2007

With her 2006 release “Marie Antoinette,” director Sofia Coppola took a unique approach to creating a soundtrack for the project. Unlike most modern period films, the majority of the music featured in the movie is not a recently composed mishmash of strings and generic orchestration. In an approach not uncharacteristic of the film’s quirky director, the music of “Marie Antoinette” derives not from an orchestra pit, but more likely from a garage or dingy nightclub.

Coppola has filled the film with New Wave, post-punk and modern rock songs, creating a surprisingly fresh and youthful atmosphere for such a history-based film. The soundtrack itself comes with two discs, the first highlighting more well known songs and the second featuring most of the film’s instrumental tracks.

The first disc thunders open with “Hong Kong Garden,” a fervent post-punk track by eighties underground hipsters Siouxsie and the Banshees. Showcased during a daring masked ball in the film, “Hong Kong Garden” creates an aura of clashing sound and exotic lyrics that seems fitting given the film’s storyline.

Marie Antoinette, an Austrian by blood, was herself something of a misfit in the ornate and regimented world of Versailles, and her enclosure within and figurative escape from that strange world ties in closely with the colorful atmosphere that “Hong Kong Garden” describes.

The subsequent tracks on the first disk are each well chosen and unique. One standout song is “Melody of a Fallen Tree” by Texas band Windsor for the Derby. One of the lengthier songs included, the “Melody” has a quiet, peaceful feel to it, contrasting sharply with the guitar-heavy tracks that make up the majority of the album. Strong vocals and a pulsating rhythm characterize “Kings of the Wild Frontier” by Adam and the Ants, a New Wave band whose powerful drums help anchor the song’s place on the album.

Other highlights include the addition of more modern bands, such as “What Even Happened” by the Strokes; the appearances of both the now-ubiquitous “I Want Candy” and the lesser known “Aphrodisiac” by Bow Wow Wow; and the bass-heavy vintage New Order hit “Ceremony.”

The choice to highlight key moments in a period film with relatively contemporary music would normally seem curious to the average listener. With “Marie Antoinette,” however, the choice makes thematic sense. To Coppola, Marie Antoinette is essentially a lost young girl searching for meaning as she is increasingly overwhelmed by pressures beyond her control. The struggle for individuality and personal happiness are well-worn ideas to any teenage listener of the music Coppola has chosen. The connection between the two time periods, then, is intriguingly obvious.

The second disc features instrumental tracks by both modern and more classical artists. Both the techno-influenced Aphex Twin and eighties alternative icons the Cure make appearances, with the Cure closing off the album with the disc’s final track, “All Cat’s Are Grey.” The disc’s most energetic track is Bow Wow Wow’s joyous “Fools Rush In,” heard in the film after the young queen meets her future lover, Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan).

Seeing the film further enriches the experience of listening to this fantastic compilation, but unlike most movie soundtracks, the album stands very well on its own. Any eighties rock aficionado or French Revolution scholar can appreciate the diversity and strength of the songs included, vindicating Coppola’s off-kilter and ultimately fascinating collection of music for “Marie Antoinette.”