The Virgin Suicides
One of the better films from the turn of millennium was The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola, and released in 1999. Set in the 1970s, it was the story of five sisters who, well, commit suicide. No reason is ever given, and the film—narrated by one of the smitten neighbor-boys—is captivating in the telling of a story that has no real resolution or explanation for what happened. It was an impressive directorial debut for a young woman who seemed destined to forever be in the shadow of her famous father, and that she followed up the film with a handful of equally successful films proved that the success of The Virgin Suicides was no fluke.
Impressive, too, was the soundtrack. While the Lisbon parents are anti-Rock music, the soundtrack featured tons of classic rock hits of the era, featuring everyone from Heart, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and Todd Rundgren, to Styx, The Hollies, and The Bee Gees. Interspersed between the classic pop and rock of the era were wispy moments of gentle electronica, provided by French duo AIR. Though the soundtrack album contained many of the hits featured in the film, AIR’s score was released individually, and to celebrate, the duo have released a deluxe edition of the record, expanded with live performances from the time of its release.
Surprisingly, AIR’s score does not attempt to recreate or imitate the sounds of that decade. Instead, AIR simply does what they do—make cool, easy-on-the-ears instrumental music that blends electronica, progressive rock, and pop together in one very lovely mix. Perhaps it is because their style has always been to mix both retro and modern sounds that their score doesn’t sound period. Sure, “Clouds Up” and “Empty House” have that sort of element one heard in the productions of Conny Plank or Tangerine Dream, but it never sounds forced or imitative. The haunting theme song, “Playground Love,” features Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars on vocals, a song that evokes melancholy with a bit of dread.
It is the second disc, however, that impresses. If the songs are the score are light and fluffy, meant as they were to be floating in and out of scenes while not calling attention to themselves unless necessary, performed live, they grow into something else. Case in point: “Cemetery Party.” The studio version’s heartbeat sounds warm, inviting, and innocent, interspersed as it is with angelic vocalization and a gently-strummed guitar. Live, however, the beat is ominous; the vocals gone, and the guitar awkwardly struggling with the ever-growing thump-thump of the drum beat. The rest of the offerings on the second disc follow suit; a little rawer than the studio versions, but never to the point of warping the beauty of the originals.
The Virgin Suicides is engaging on all levels—the book is excellent, the film is beautiful, the soundtracks sublime, and it is that beauty and originality that earned its acclaim and its success. AIR’s score is a beautiful, cool listen, and time has not changed that one iota. A truly timeless score, this.