Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Django Unchained—Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Republic). Quentin Tarantino’s sound-track albums are as rich as his movies—with the two Kill Bill discs, more so. This is a swamp where hip-hop, Jim Croce, dialogue going on just long enough, spaghetti western classics, and John Legend all rise to the surface, one head bobbing up as another one sinks out of sight. The album creates its own drama, and as you listen, music that in the theater you only heard in snatches or didn’t register at all reshapes the story. But Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton’s “Freedom” is the fire on the water. It’s ominous, menacing, stirring—so much so that it’s almost corny. And then the music seems to swoon over itself: time is coming to a stop, and every note seems so rich, so full of suggestion, portent, danger, and desire that you are willing time not to move, because you don’t want the moment to get away, even if the song promises that the next moment will hit even harder. The performance is at once a functional piece of movie music and a soul classic that, somewhere back in the ’70s, when Isaac Hayes first recorded with Sojourner Truth, got lost in a time warp.

(2) Girls, “It’s About Time,” directed by Lena Dunham, written by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner (HBO, January 13). Speaking of time warps, or the way that in culture time is a Möbius strip: Dunham’s Hannah and Andrew Rannells’s Elijah are kicking around ideas for a theme party. “OK,” says Hannah, “so it’s like the Manson family before they committed any murders? And Squeaky Fromme was just like the Mary of a Peter, Paul and Mary?”

(3) Christian Marclay, The Clock (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, through June 2). Speaking of Möbius strips, you start out watching this twenty-four-hour compilation of film clips as a game, identifying the movies—you walk into the screening room at 5:15 p.m., whatever’s happening on the screen is happening at 5:15 p.m. You relax into the jokes in the scenes, into the punning cuts. Then you realize, especially as the clocks approach the hour, no matter what the hour is, that all of the pieces are actually going somewhere: toward suspense as a cinematic value that overrides all others. Marclay goes back and forth between shots of a woman waiting in line with mounting anxiety and a spaghetti western, and it’s the shots of the woman where the suspense is at its most intense, even if in the western somebody dies. Ralph Meeker carefully opens a door in Kiss Me Deadly and from another film Ingrid Bergman turns her head in shock.

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Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, and The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, and other books. His column, Real Life Rock Top Ten, runs monthly in the Believer.

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