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A Minute With: Director David O. Russell on music in film

David O. Russel, nominated for best director for the film "Silver Linings Playbook", arrives at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Califo
David O. Russel, nominated for best director for the film "Silver Linings Playbook", arrives at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Califo

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Frank Sinatra's baritone slowly fades into a tango, which eventually makes way to the soul music of Stevie Wonder, the frenetic rock of The White Stripes and finally into Dave Brubeck's cool jazz version of the "West Side Story" song "Maria."

That is just part of the dozen songs weaved together in the climactic dance scene in director David O. Russell's Oscar-nominated film "Silver Linings Playbook."

Russell, 55, whose latest film, "American Hustle," is set to be released in December, says he incorporates popular music into his films as "chemical reactions" to bring about a desired emotion in the audience or highlight an actor's performance.

Russell and "Silver Linings" music supervisor Sue Jacobs spoke with Reuters at the Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music Conference in Los Angeles in October about writing a script with music in mind, and how he was able to change Bob Dylan's opinion about one of his own songs.

Q: Does a certain song ever affect how you script a scene?

Russell: Sometimes I think of music when I'm writing a screenplay, and I write quite a bit of it in the screenplay. I think some of it was in the screenplay, and sometimes that changes because you try (it) against picture and you realize that the movie changed or you need something better or different.

Sue and I play the music that we love. ... I don't like it to be a shellac layer. You can play music so that it becomes like a music video, but that's not my wish. ... We wish to go below the surface where you're almost coming from inside. The music is almost more an interior, emotional experience.

Q: How do you take into account the audience?

Russell: You have a chance to envelope them emotionally. I think songs are like magic potions. ... You have to use them properly, but they can be very enchanting if used in the right way at the right time. When combined with a performance by an actor and the turn of a narrative, that's like the trifecta as the story and the emotion and the character and the music are all hitting, it can really be something. It can really build your effect - the impact of what's happening.

Q: Do you use music to make your film more memorable? To make a scene stick, like a catchy song on the radio?

Russell: When people walk out (of the theater) they have a feeling ...

Jacobs: Or they discover music. We had so many phone calls as did Bob Dylan about "Girl from the North Country" in "Silver Linings" because that version of the song is very unknown.

Russell: He did it with Johnny Cash.

Jacobs: Bob never liked that version of the song. He never liked that song until he saw it in the movie, and then he was like, "Wow!"

Russell: You wouldn't expect it (the song) because it was the first time they (the main characters) danced together. It's just an emotional Johnny Cash-Bob Dylan ballad; it's not a song you would dance to.

Jacobs: It almost had its own little bipolar thing going on in there because that other voice. ... Jeff Rosen (Dylan's manager) came and met us and looked at it and he was like, "God, we never liked that song before." It just made that scene.

Q: Is there a song you wanted to use, but it didn't work?

Russell: It's a chemical process because you then put it on the film and you go, "Oh!" And you see the chemical reaction that you didn't expect until you put it on the film. Suddenly that song seems superficial to me, where when I was listening to it in my car it didn't feel that way. ... But the film will tell you what it wants.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy)

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