by Niles Schwartz
The Niles Files montages began appearing in February of 2011, and are attempts to sonically explore the themes of film genres and influential filmmakers. They are a collaboration between Niles and his “personal Walter Murch” Marshall Bolin, with whom he worked as a teenage barista, and bonded with over a mutual love for the work of David Lynch and “Twin Peaks.” Marshall is a musician and performer, whose bands include Run at the Dog, Case Murphy, A Series of Clicks and Beeps, and the Abba tribute band, “Abbasolutely.” He is currently on the road, lost in America and pursuing new adventures, in addition to working on a solo hip-hop album. He and Niles are collaborating on a screenplay involving process servers, murder, infidelity, and fearsome scutigera house centipedes. Originally published at mischkemadness.com.
The 2011 Oscars Montage (February 2011) For the Academy Awards show, I wanted to do something a little special, so I called up Marshall, a musician who had mixed the albums of his various bands (Run at the Dog, Case Murphy, A Series of Clicks and Beeps) and shared my taste in movies, to see if it was possible if we could cut together something.
The idea was ambitious, and the result is probably a little hard to accurately interpret and, at six minutes, pretty self-indulgent, but I’m proud of it. I was reading Mark Harris’ book Pictures of a Revolution, about how the films vying for Best Picture of 1967 – The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – related to what was happening in American culture, and signaled a change in Hollywood as the mantle was being passed to a more riotous and rebellious generation. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated days before the Oscars, and there was Vietnam.
The two big movies of 2010 were The King’s Speech and The Social Network, which were about technology affecting culture and how human beings communicated; in January and February, leading up to the Oscars, we had the Arab Spring, where the term “social networking” was being thrown around in the media. Individuals like Mark Zuckerberg and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange were like neuromancers of sci-fi cyberpunk novels, changing the world.
There was also debates on gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which played to themes in The Kids Are All Right; the forgotten lower class seemed applicable to Winter’s Bone; 127 Hours is about a kid – and a world – saturated in recorded images; while The Fighter has a protagonist who disdains performing for cameras, mirroring an entertainment infrastructure built on reality TV.
The two years – 1967 and 2010 – are sort of intertwined with Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ Social Network score and Simon and Garfunkel forThe Graduate, both of which work well. The theme might not be too clear in places, and it was hell spending hours trying to get the right clips from a dozen movies and news stories (while a snow-storm was transpiring outside), but for a first run I think it’s all right. Anyway, this is what started things off.
Music Show Montage (Part 1) (March 2011) Another trilogy of pieces. The first is built around Amadeus and features iconic selections from Psycho, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Titanic, City Lights, Vertigo, The Pink Panther, Rocky, The Mission, The Godfather Part II, The Magnificent Seven, Star Wars, Patton, Chariots of Fire, Terms of Endearment, The Sting, The Exorcist, Beetlejuice, The Shawshank Redemption, Brazil, Shaft, 2001: A Space Odyssey, There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, and Silence of the Lambs.
Music Show Montage (Part 2) (March 2011) The second details specific directors and their methods: Stanley Kubrick, Thelma Schoonmaker on Martin Scorsese, Moby on Michael Mann, and Hans Zimmer on Terrence Malick.
Music Show Montage (Part 3) (March 2011) The third is a more comedic collection of filmmakers using music: the Coens (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man), Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), Altman (Nashville), Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park, Team America), and Monty Python (Life of Brian).
Billy Bob and Jolene go to Schindler’s List (March 2011) A Minnesota-based Academy member told me that he voted for The King’s Speech over The Social Network because it made him cry. It’s the same reason why, 20 years earlier, he committed a similar sin in voting for Dancing With Wolves over GoodFellas. As a result, Mischke and I decided to do a show on tearjerkers.
Billy Bob and Jolene go to Gladiator (March 2011) Marshall and I tried something a little different here in trying out a little radio drama. With his girlfriend Elizabeth McAllister, we all created the All-American couple “Billy Bob and Jolene,” and improvised three scenarios wherein Jolene drags her Fuseball-lovin’ husband to the movies for some war and carnage. Instead, he encounters his feminine side. Accompanying each clip is some tearjerker tidbits, clips and interviews.
Billy Bob and Jolene go to The King’s Speech (March 2011) We intended to bring Billy Bob and Jolene back, but, for better or worse, never got around to it. One scenario for the summer was to have Billy Bob frustrated by viewing The Tree of Life, which he had seen only because he had heard Mischke talk about it on The Niles Files. In retaliation, Billy Bob assassinates Mischke and kidnaps Niles, forcing him to watch Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy repeatedly until he loses his mind. Suffice to say, this adventure never happened, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Sex on Film Montage (April 2011) Maybe my favorite clip. The gods were aligned against us on this though, as the much anticipated “Sex Show” was delayed for over a month because of illness (for both Mischke and myself), hockey games, and vacations. It was as if there was a divine dictate from heaven stating that this was a subject we couldn’t touch. So for weeks I had the Sex Montage floating around, waiting for air. It still amuses me. Films used: The Big Lebowski, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, Love and Death, M*A*S*H, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Eyes Wide Shut, When Harry Met Sally, Basic Instinct, The Naked Gun, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask, Young Frankenstein, South Park, and The Crying Game.
Psycho Killers Montage (Part 1) (April 2011) Madness in the movies, with a lot of bodies to spare. The first montage (set to Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”) mainly dwells with the killers in their own private and twisted worlds. Films used: Taxi Driver, Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, No Country for Old Men, Manhunter, Insomnia, Seven, The Dark Knight, The Shining, The King of Comedy, and Cape Fear.
Psycho Killers Montage (Part 2) (April 2011) The second (set to Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” from Zodiac) follows the investigators pursuing them. Films used: Manhunter, The Dark Knight, Taxi Driver, Seven, Insomnia, No Country for Old Men, and Zodiac.
War Movies Montage (May 2011) For our Memorial Day show, the obvious choice for a background songwas Guns N Roses’ “Civil War,” which has a perfect momentum. Here you have a couple cases of luck in the arrangement. Usually, I script out a general order of clips before we hit the editing. But it just kind of worked out that Private Joker’s “war cry” from Full Metal Jacket would happen just before Slash’s guitar would explode, and more interestingly, the dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian from Munich happens just before Axl Rose sings, “When everybody’s fightin’ for his promised land!” All in all, not bad. Films used: Patton, Full Metal Jacket, Black Hawk Down, Platoon, Green Zone, Salvador, Munich, Paths of Glory, The Thin Red Line, and Apocalypse Now.
Tim Burton Montage (June 2011) The Trylon Microcinema was doing a Burton retrospective over the summer. This is a rather sub-par effort. Actually, it kind of sucks. Marshall didn’t have a hand in it, the mixing is bad, and I put it together in about an hour, shortly before showtime. A lot of Burton movies are absent (nothing from the Batman series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Big Fish, Sleepy Hollow, or Mars Attacks!). Films used: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Ed Wood.
Terrence Malick Montage (June 2011) The problem with doing a Malick montage, Marshall and I found out, is that he specializes in a film language of silences and music, so plucking dialogue moments and mashing them up is nearly impossible. It’s also hard to approach him, because Malick creates the most beautiful moving images, and anything without those images – e.g., a radio montage – is going to necessarily be inadequate. Our approach was pretty linear. We begin with The Tree of Life trailer, setting up the philosophical binary of Nature and Grace, and then go back to the past: Sissy Spacek’s existential wanderings over Carl Orff in Badlands, Sam Shepherd expressing his naked longing for Brooke Adams with Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” in Days of Heaven, Private Witt’s “One Big Soul” exhortation from The Thin Red Line; and Pocahontas’ prayer, with Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” from The New World. The message is the largeness and wonder of life.
Citizen Kane Montage (September 2011) Originally I assembled some Kane cuts on top of Bernard Herrmann’s classic score, but it was too lumbering and dark. To me, especially without the benefit of images, it just didn’t play and would inevitably bore a radio listener. I wanted a Kane to which you could tap your feet. At the time, I was repeatedly listening to Arcade Fire’s Suburbs album, and the songs were connecting not only to what I was feeling at the time as a person, but to the nostalgia for a lost youth, which is what Citizen Kane is for me. Hours before showtime, I rearranged the cuts onto the song “Deep Blue.” For me, the fire in the song, for the most part, equals the fire in Charles Foster Kane’s soul.
David Lynch Montage (October 2011) Marshall and I co-hosted a David Lynch show in October, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Blue Velvet and the 10th anniversary of Mulholland Drive (which both top my list of all-time favorite films). As teenage baristas at the Barnes & Noble cafe in Edina, Marshall and I first connected as David Lynch and Twin Peaks fans. He even has a knack for impersonating the bizarre reverse-playback speaking one hears in the Black Lodge Red Room from Peaks, and I sense a lot of the wonderment and fascination with life you can see in Special Agent Dale Cooper. Together we’ve spent hours discussing the spirituality in Lynch’s work, attended midnight screenings of Twin Peaks at the legendary Oak Street Cinema, Blue Velvet, and then INLAND EMPIRE. Making this was a long time coming, though it was difficult given how both of us were having net and computer problems. Lynch is exploring the abstract worlds of Darkness and Love, the coexistence of Evil and Good, and the strange terrain of Dream where those powers move in uncanny shapes. Of course, Angelo Badalamenti, Julee Cruise, and Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” provide the soundtrack. Films used: Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks (various episodes), Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and The Elephant Man. On the cutting room floor were cuts from INLAND EMPIRE, Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, and The Straight Story.
Twin Peaks Montage (October 2011) For the Lynch show, Marshall and I concentrated our Twin Peaks love on this, a serial television drama at a time when such shows weren’t fashionable (while they’re all the rage right now). We begin by introducing Dale Cooper and his delight with Douglas Firs, and head into the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder, with some of the program’s popular phrases (“wrapped in plastic,” “the owls are not what they seem,” Sarah Palmer’s hair-raising cries, etc). The Log Lady cuts in to voice Lynch and Mark Frost’s dissatisfaction with solving the murder: “It was almost better not knowing.” We conclude with the haunting finale of the series, as the once heroic Cooper stares into the mirror, demon possessed, and cackles “How’s Annie?”
Dracula Montage (October 2011) A short collection of stuff associated with my favorite movie monster. Marshall surprised me by finding Count Van Count, who neatly gives it closure. The Draculas on hand: Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, Coppola’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, Bela Lugosi, Shadow of the Vampire with Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck, Christopher Lee, George Hamilton in Love at First Bite, and Count Van Count, set to Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as covered by Nine Inch Nails and TV on the Radio.
Halloween Montage (October 2011) From the same show, a tiny piece of bumper music with Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” alongside Army of Darkness, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and Robert Blake’s Mystery Man laugh from Lost Highway.
God Montage (Part 1) (November 2011) There was enough ground and material to cover on the subject of religion in film that I requested we do a two-hour show, and Marshall and I had ammunition for three separate tracks. You could argue one of the debits is that, for 12-minutes of mashing up, the bits are concentrated on a small group of directors: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and the Coen brothers. But those guys more than anyone else – at least in English – capture religious and existential conflict best.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted Peter Gabriel’s “Rhythm of the Heat,” a song about C.G. Jung’s spiritual experiences in Africa, and which inspired Martin Scorsese to select Gabriel as his composer for The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. From that, and most especially “Last Temptation,” the theme we developed for the first montage was the struggle, or irreconcilable differences between the spirit and the flesh: the agony and absurd ecstasy of religion vs. day-to-day life. Films used: Love and Death, Mean Streets, Hannah & Her Sisters, Wise Blood, The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man, The Ten Commandments, History of the World Part I, The Ladykillers, Coming to America, The Last Temptation of Christ, There Will Be Blood, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Pulp Fiction.
God Montage (Part 2) (November 2011) The second one followed a theme of doubt leading to an affirmation of hope and faith. I think it’s a love letter to religious belief from an atheist. We used Philip Glass’ music from Scorsese’s Dali Lama biopic, Kundun, and the rhythm sort of evolves like that film’s magnificent and expressive sand-painting montage. Films used: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Kundun, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Star Wars, Mean Streets, No Country for Old Men, The Last Temptation of Christ, Hannah & Her Sisters, Ten Commandments, There Will Be Blood, and Pulp Fiction.
God Montage (Part 3) (November 2011) A favorite movie for both Marshall and me is A Serious Man, which may also hold a special place because it’s a Minnesota movie, and its Minneapolis setting (one of the most anti-Semitic cities in the nation up until the 1950s) kind of carries a subtextual weight when interpreting it. Behind everything is that film’s pop theme, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” We also put in some Woody Allen cuts here, where the theme is basically how God can sometimes be a jerk. Our only given option is, “Please, accept the mystery.” Films used: Ten Commandments, Love and Death, A Serious Man, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
David Fincher Montage (December 2011) With Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo looming, I sent the Trent Reznor/Karen O “Immigrant Song” cover to Marshall with some film clips, and he emailed back the result, which is short, satisfying, dark, and basically gets at the heart of the director. Films used: Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and Panic Room. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a hold of anything from The Game, and nothing from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button fit into the energy of the track.
Martin Scorsese Montage (Part 1) (December 2011) Scorsese is probably the most-discussed filmmaker on The Files, his work being central to the discussions on music in film, psycho-killers, and gangsters. In December 2010, we did a show highlighting Raging Bull and GoodFellas. A director with such a broad body of work, and so much music iconically aligned with those images, poses a lot of dilemmas in the decision making for creating a montage at an appropriate length. (Mischke hates it when things go more than three and a half minutes.) Just a couple weeks before this, Marshall and I used a lot of Scorsese for our trilogy of God montages, and there was still a hell of lot to work from. We split it in two. Part 1 kicks off with Scorsese addressing his love for movies, as J.R. (Harvey Keitel) talks about “The Searchers” in Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1968), the director’s feature debut. The familiar chords of “Gimme Shelter” kick in, and the track draws from an assortment of characters longing for transcendence, or something to elevate them above the earth: being a singer, an artist, the son of God, a gangster, or the richest man in the world. It ends with a triptych of Scorsesean heroes talking to themselves in the mirror – Travis Bickle, Howard Hughes, and Jake LaMotta. Films used: Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Life Lessons, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Aviator, GoodFellas, The Departed, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The King of Comedy, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, Raging Bull, After Hours, Shutter Island, and Casino.
Martin Scorsese Montage (Part 2) (December 2011) Part 2 takes the romantic strides of a Rolling Stones tune, with Newland Archer expressing his love to the Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence, continues the intensely heated spiritual battles of various protagonists, and concludes with a clip from the new release, Hugo. Films used: The Age of Innocence, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, After Hours, New York, New York, The Color of Money, The Aviator, Casino, Bringing Out the Dead, The Departed, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, Shutter Island, and Hugo.
David Cronenberg Montage (January 2012) Cronenberg was difficult because we were dealing with a cult director who I love, but with whom most of the listening audience is probably unfamiliar. The carnal and deeply disturbing subjects of his work are also hard to put into words, but the repetitions of “flesh,” juicy sounds, and technology’s relationship to the human body keeps the message fairly consistent, if however disconcerting. The new Cronenberg film, A Dangerous Method, is about Freud and Jung, and mines the theme of how even the wisest of people are not in control of themselves: the body dictates everything, and the unconscious “secret” world is governing. These cuts are set to a cover of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” performed by Nine Inch Nails and Peter Murphy, a song inspired by J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash, which Cronenberg made into a film in 1996. Films used: Videodrome, Crash, Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ, Shivers, The Fly, Scanners, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, Spider, and A Dangerous Method.
Roman Polanski Montage (Part 1 – Sinnerman) (January 2012) Admiring the work of Polanski will not win you many friends. It’s understandably hard to try and evaluate the art when someone despises the man, and any discussion on Polanski only results in someone’s blood beginning to boil – kind of like his new film, Carnage (based on Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage), which was the focus on this show. But I grew up with his films, and he was one of the very first directors I studied. The key themes of his work are equivalent to the themes of his life: guilt, sex, paranoia, absurd bureaucracy, voyeurism, obsession, dehumanization, revenge, and survival. The director himself, playing the lead role in The Tenant, starts things off with a contemplation of his capability for foul deeds, and “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone is all too perfect for being a fugitive’s backdrop. Films used: The Tenant, Chinatown, Macbeth, Cul de Sac, Bitter Moon, Repulsion, Death and the Maiden, Tess, Rosemary’s Baby, Frantic, The Pianist, The Ghost Writer, and Oliver Twist.
Roman Polanski Montage (Part 2 – This Bitter Earth) (January 2012) The second is set to Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” with Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” vocals, as Polanski’s life and work both bespeak the hell and insoluble despair of existence. Unfortunately, I don’t think either piece would really communicate the theme to someone with a passive understanding of his work. Films used: Tess, The Pianist, Chinatown, Oliver Twist, and Macbeth.
The Godfather Triology Montage (March 2012) Maybe everything in me is six degrees of The Godfather. Before it, my favorite movies were of the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure ilk (which is not to say I don’t still love those). Every year, I set aside a ten-hour slab and watch Francis Ford Coppola’s and Mario Puzo’s saga from start-to-finish, and never fail to feel enriched afterwards. The Godfather isn’t about gangsters; for me, it’s a hall of mirrors, where different times, places, and faces are reflected against each other, always in flux. That’s what I wanted this montage to reflect: a thriving empire falling into decay, and them whimpering, concluding with the golden moment when the transfer of power between father and son occurs: “Wasn’t enough time, Michael, wasn’t enough time.” “We’ll get there, pop. We’ll get there.” But they never did. With the 40th anniversary of the first film, we finally got around to doing a two-hour show on The Godfather and gangster movies in general, the first hour featuring author Tom Santopietro, discussing his recently published book The Godfather Effect. I was moved that Santopietro emailed WCCO the next day to say how much he enjoyed both the interview and the opening montage. This was also a transfer of power in another respect. Marshall and Liz were leaving town, going out on the road to pursue adventures, without any clue as to when they would come back (or if they would come back). So my own personal Walter Murch was giving me sole responsibility. He gave me a few tips on editing this, but otherwise this was a solo effort. Regardless, I’m certain any future montages will more brazenly wear their flaws of mixing and rhythm loudly and in abundance.
Gangster Montage (March 2012) Part 2 of the “Mafia Show” draws from several pictures and is set to “House of the Rising Sun,” used so memorably in Casino. Yes, there are many omissions, and you could get drunk in no time if you took a shot every time either Pacino or De Niro talks, but at least I got the bleeping of profanities down. Films used: Scarface (1983); Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Bonnie and Clyde, Miller’s Crossing, Bugsy, Pulp Fiction, Donnie Brasco, Heat, Thief, The Untouchables, Public Enemies, Casino, Reservoir Dogs, Carlito’s Way, GoodFellas, Gangs of New York, and The Wire.
Wes Anderson Montage (June 2012) Moonrise Kingdom gave us the opportunity to do an hour on Wes Anderson, and with a director who is so thematically consistent and musical, and with some of my all-time favorite movie characters (Dignan, Max Fischer, Herman Blume, Royal Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou, and in time, I’m sure Suzy and Sam from Moonrise Kingdom will join the ranks), a montage was hard to pass up. The original version was an overlong five minutes, tying the animal imagery (birds and Benjamin Britten’s “Cuckoo” song) to Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s wild creatures who come to terms with their nature. A “director’s cut” is here, along with the condensed version that aired, which begins with Bottle Rocket‘s Dignan declaring his “innocence,” passing through conflict, fighting, grudges, and “cussing” to reconciliation and forgiveness between generations, youth and age. The Faces’ “Oo La La” (from Rushmore) is the song. Films used: Moonrise Kingdom, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.