Film is a medium that incorporates a great number of other media into its whole. The best directors, of course, understand this and are multi-faceted artists. Whether, in addition to directing, they be painters, sculptors, photographers, poets or drunkards, their intimate experiences with varied art forms aids in presenting a fully-realized on-screen vision. John Carpenter, Mike Figgis and David Lynch are three directors whose work is indelibly stamped with their own unique style and thematic substance. Not surprisingly, all three are artists who create on a variety of canvases, mostly as musicians.
Horrormeister John Carpenter wrote one of the most memorable musical riffs in film history, the haunting theme from Halloween. Carpenter’s synthesizer and keyboard-based themes underscore Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape From New York, Christine, Big Trouble In Little China, Prince Of Darkness, They Live, Body Bags, In the Mouth of Madness, Village Of The Damned, Escape from L.A. and Vampires. As a matter of fact, Carpenter has scored nearly all of his films, dating back to his Academy Award-winning short The Resurrection Of Bronco Billy in 1970, which he collaborated on while a student at USC film school.
At USC, Carpenter began work on Dark Star with fellow student Dan O’Bannon (later responsible for the Alien script, among others). Dark Star was a low budget sci-fi parody that immediately became a cult classic on its release in 1974. The success of Dark Star would soon lead John Carpenter down the path to Halloween, which would become one of the most successful indie films of all time.
In the meantime, Carpenter, a fan of Elvis and Cadillacs, had joined a rock band called The Coupe de Villes, which included fellow filmmakers Tommy Lee Wallace (Stephen King’s It) and Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter). Carpenter, of course, would later direct the outstanding TV movie biopic Elvis, with Kurt Russell’s impressive turn as The King Of Rock And Roll in the lead role.
Mike Figgis, the afroed director of Leaving Las Vegas, began his career making rock videos in the early Eighties. Prior to that, young Mike Figgis grew up in Nairobi, banged around Newcastle, England during his teen years, playing guitar and trumpet with the soul group, Gas Board. Gas Board featured bassist Graham Simpson and vocalist Bryan Ferry, who left in 1970 to form Roxy Music.
Figgis moved to London to study music and began playing with the avant-jazz group “The People Band,” produced by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts on their eponymous album for Transatlantic Records in 1970. A decade later, Figgis left the People Band to focus on writing and directing multi-media music, film and live-action theatre shows. Figgis would later use The People Band, appearing as the Krakow Jazz Ensemble, in Figgis’ 1988 feature film debut, Stormy Monday, a noirish thriller starring fellow musician Sting and actors Melanie Griffith and Tommy Lee Jones.
The stylish Stormy Monday put Figgis on the map. In the seven years between Stormy Monday and Leaving Las Vegas, Figgis’ made half a dozen films, from mainstream fare like Internal Affairs and Mr. Jones to more esoteric works like Liebestraum and the HBO film Mara, adapted from the Henry Miller short story.
Figgis composes the music for most of his films, including the soundtracks for Stormy Monday, Internal Affairs, Liebestraum , Leaving Las Vegas, One Night Stand, Miss Julie, and The Loss Of Sexual Innocence. A possessor of many talents, Figgis is also an independent television producer, a documentarian, a published interviewer (Projections 10 - Hollywood Filmmakers On Filmmaking), and a celebrated photographer.
Not only is David Lynch, the freaky filmmaker of cult favorites Wild At Heart and Lost Highway, a writer, actor, collector of human body parts and, of course, director, Lynch is also a talented musician.
Lynch solely composed the score for his first film Eraserhead back in 1977, but typically, he collaborates with his longtime composer Angelo Badalamenti, the man responsible for the eerie art-rock soundtracks to the Twin Peaks television series and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Lynch wrote several of the pop songs in Twin Peaks (as well as Blue Velvet). Expanding their odd vision from screen to stage, Badalamenti and Lynch assembled the multi-media performance piece Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted, featuring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, in 1990.
Lynch has taken several musical protégés under his wing, not the least of which is Julee Cruise from Twin Peaks, Her song “Falling” from that soundtrack was a minor hit both in the US and abroad. Lynch writes the lyrics on Cruise’s releases and occasionally accompanies her on one of the many musical instruments he plays. Lynch also works with chanteuse Jocelyn Montgomery in presenting the ethereal music of 12th Century nun, Hildegard von Bingen.
Music is an important ingredient in Lynch’s life and art. He supervises the musical direction of all his films, selecting the styles that fit appropriately into the warped worlds of his imagination. From the thrash dirge of Powermad to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Latin tearjerking ballad “Insensatez.” Lynch also casts many rock and pop musicians in his projects: Sting starred in Dune, David Bowie and Chris Isaak in Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, Marilyn Manson and Henry Rollins in Lost Highway. His association with rock stars dates from way back. In college, he roomed with Peter Wolf, lead singer of the J. Geils Band. Lynch apparently kicked Peter Wolf out, however, because he was "too weird." There’s the pot calling the kettle a backward-speaking midget.