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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jon Brion/Punch-Drunk Love

By James

No movie in my DVD collection owes as great a percentage of its success (in my opinion) to its score as Punch-Drunk Love. I'm always a sucker for Jon Brion's minimalist ditties, they have a way of keeping any story upbeat and afloat. Because Brion frequently doesn't use conventional "instruments" or crowd his score with more than one or two sounds at a time, he is able to blur the line between the diegetic and the nondiegetic. Heavy, "traditional" scores can distance me from a story, they reinforce the feeling "this is a movie." But Brion's scores have a feeling of spontaneity and awe, as if he's uncertain of of the sounds he's making even as they are coming out. While most scores feel structured and crafted to elicit a certain feeling, Brion's piece together scattered elements and then almost reluctantly declare, "This is music." Not coincidentally, movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind dwell on the intimate, piecing together disparate moments and concluding, "This is life."

Punch-Drunk Love is a movie I was pretty sure I didn't like the first time I saw it, but it's grown to be one of my most frequently watched movies. I guess that means I like it, at least a little. My one hard and fast rule for all my years of movie watching has been not to dwell on whether I like individual "elements" of a movie: score, cinematography, etc. are all irrelevant if you're not wondering what'll happen next (i.e. engaged in the story). And yet, Punch-Drunk Love has such a brilliant score, and cinematography, and staging, that the story's obvious (too obvious?) holes drown in the exquisiteness. I'm never engaged in Punch-Drunk Love's story, but I'm always overwhelmed with feeling, the movie seems to be an experiment in what happens when story "doesn't matter" (relatively, or "conventionally"). The fact that Punch-Drunk Love succeeds for me at this feat is a testament to the overwhelming charm of the score, there are new pleasures and ideas to be uncovered in Brion's scatter every time.

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