by Chris Davis
It should come as no surprise that Lovely by Surprise, Kirt Gunn's film about a fictional creation that leaps from the page to minimize a child's tragedy, is as lovely to listen to as it is to watch. In his 42 years on earth Gunn has worn many hats, many wigs, some housecoats, and at least one pair of support hose. While living in Memphis in the 1990's the musically gifted filmmaker, who's blown his harmonica alongside Memphis legends like The Fieldstones and B.B. King, fronted The Delta Queens, a blues-rock quartet known for dressing up like little old ladies and tearing down the house. Although none of the Delta Queens' songs made it onto the soundtrack Gunn is deeply connected to his hometown's music scene, which is represented in the film by Shelby Bryant, formerly of the Clears.
“I wanted to have these kind of jarring musical transitions,” Gunn says, explaining how each artist is used in very specific ways to move viewers back and forth between his film's the three distinct storylines. Here's a quick rundown of the Memphis, California, New York, and New Orleans musicians that create Lovely by Surprise's distinctive soundscape. (More after the jump)
Shelby Bryant: The title Lovely by Surprise is lifted from the song “Hello So Fine” from Cloud Wow Music, Bryant's first full length solo recording.“When I was writing the script I'd listen to Cloud Wow Music a lot. Shelby, as an artist, has this character he plays that delivers these intricate themes via nursery rhymes. These childlike conventions make painful, confusing, and difficult things accessible.”
Although Gunn credits Bryant's lyric as the inspiration for the title there's more to the story. The filmmaker had a college professor who, in spite of being underwhelmed by his student's work, came to see his first play All Skate Slowly in One Direction. “I was a lazy student,” Gunn confesses. But it his teacher was impressed enough to leave a note that read, “Wonderful. Lovely by Surprise.”
Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields: Just as gun Gunn uses Bryant's music as a bridge between the real and fictional worlds he uses The Magnetic Fields to transition out of the fictional realm and into the more complex and murky world of human relationships. “The word irony's been ruined by ten years of 'irony,'" Gunn snarks ironically, looking for a way to describe how Merritt's sophisticated interplay of lyrics and rhythm functions in his film. “Magical cynicism,” is the expression he eventually chooses to describe what The Magnetic Fields bring to his film.
Robert Wagner: Gunn wanted an instrumentalist who could express the intelligence of Coltrane “in a blues sense.” He found that intelligence in New Orleans saxophone player Robert Wagner who moved to New York after hurricane Katrina.
Kelly De Martino: “For the spookier moments” Gunn chose music by Kelly De Martino, an artist whose dreamy atmospheric pop is gothic by design but occasionally flirts with a chug and boom aesthetic that calls to mind artists like P.J. Harvey and Tom Waits. “I wanted something that sounded like a wind up music box,” Gunn says.
Tom Waits: From the beginning Gunn wanted to close his film with “Come On Up to the House” the grand weeper of a ballad closing Tom Waits' 1999 CD Mule Variations. “But Tom can be particular about who he'll let use his songs and we never thought he'd let us use it,” he says. After sending Waits a DVD permission was granted.
Screenings are at 6:30 and 9:30 PM on Thursday, Oct. 15 at Studio on the Square