Lots of films screen at South by Southwest; which ones should you keep an eye out for in theaters?
“Baby Driver”: Edgar Wright’s ode to car chases and 1990s music is, as critic Joe Gross puts it, “an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time, and a cinematic high-five to the movies that made Wright the absurdly talented music-n-film dork he is today.” It stars Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx and will be in theaters in August.
Movies. Music. They’re at the core of the South by Southwest Conference and festivals, and music plays a big part in several movies that screened this year. Or, in one case, music is supposed to play a big part…
“Song to Song”: The SXSW opening night movie is out of tune with the Live Music Capital of the World. The Terrence Malick film was billed as “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene,” but as critic Joe Gross puts it, “It is a movie about the real world of popular music the way ‘Star Wars’ is a samurai flick or a Western — a thematic and visual influence, perhaps, but that’s about it.” But hey, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and the rest of the cast look great.
“T2 Trainspotting”: Music was integral to 1996’s “Trainspotting”; the sequel, which was this year’s SXSW secret screening, features “a moment from a song from the original here, a remix there. This one has an actual score, which the original did not — it was all needle-drop pop song cues. This fits: We are older, they are older, our relationship to that music is different.”
“Baby Driver”: Edgar Wright’s latest film stars Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver obsessed with music. “From Beck and Young MC to Carla Thomas and T-Rex … ‘Baby Driver’ is an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time.”
Edgar Wright sat down for a chat on the second floor of Freedmen’s restaurant to discuss his new movie “Baby Driver,” his heist thriller starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Lily James and a whole mess of great songs.
Though there are some funny moments, it is not a comedy. “If Blockbuster still existed, I think it would probably be in the action section,” Wright said. “There are elements of my other movies, but most of the movie was borne out of scenes I have done in other movies choreographed to music.”
The music in the movie is diagetic. “It’s heavily sound- and music-centric,” Wright said. “But it’s not like score that’s kind of laid on. The main character is listening to all of the tracks in the movie and we are essentially seeing it through the main character’s ears. He is living in a slightly different kind of audio existence.”
Wright wanted a genuine young person to play Baby. Elgort was 20 and turned 21 while the movie was shooting. He is right on the cusp of deciding if he wants this life. “He is working within a gang but doesn’t necessarily see himself as part of the gang. The question is, can you be in a gang without being a criminal?”
Why does Baby listen to so many old records? The implication is that he is stealing other people’s iPods, so he is constantly listening to other people’s record collections. Hence the scene of Baby tapping his fingers along to Dave Brubeck.
Jon Hamm is the only cast member who Wright wrote specifically for. And he is the only actor from the initial read-through who kept his role. But the star-studded cast were not shooting cameos. “Kevin and Jamie and Jon were there for the entire shoot,” Wright said. “Kevin is so magnetic that I had a bit of an out-of-body experience watching him on the first day. I had to take a moment and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I wrote this.'”
The car chases are old school. In many contemporary action films, Wright said, the main cast might be nowhere near the actual chase and are green-screened in later. This was not true in “Baby Driver.” “It’s incredibly arduous to do it the way we did it because you shoot the main stunts, then you get the actors in the appropriate continuity cars and do it all again,” Wright said. “We closed down I-25 like twice on a Sunday morning. It’s thrilling to be out on the freeway with your actors. I think action tends to get bigger and bigger to fulfill this need to top the last thing, but there are real, visceral pleasures to seeing a somewhat realistic car chase on residential streets during the day.”
Yes, the song that inspired the movie was by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Wright said he first got the idea for a movie about a driver who only drove to certain songs back in 1995 when he was listening to “Bellbottoms” off the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s 1994 album “Orange.” For which everyone who remembers college radio in the 1990s thanks him.
Acknowledging Jon Hamm’s looks does not get old. Wright said he would routinely burst out laughing as Foxx made remarks while looking at dailies and rushes. “Jaime would look at the footage and every time Jon would come on-screen, Jaime would turn to me and say, ‘Man, he’s handsome.’ Made me laugh every single time.”