Committed (Calexico)

Cover

Committed is a 2000 film from indie director Lisa Krueger that charts the misadventures of an optimist who stalks her ex during his attempts to “find himself” in the deserts of Texas. It was the first starring vehicle for Heather Graham after she went mainstream with The Spy Who Shagged Me and Bowfinger the year before, and also featured early turns from Casey Affleck and Luke Wilson. Despite meeting some acclaim at Sundance, including a nomination for the prestigious Grand Jury Prize, Committed was unable to secure wide distribution; the relatively few mainstream critics who saw it were unimpressed, and the film has yet to find its audience on home video or the midnight circuit.

Director Krueger describes her process of scoring the film in the CD’s liner notes: on the way to the Texas shoot, she came across the Arizona-based Calexico musical group. Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Joey Burns and percussionist/keyboardist John Convertino, Calexico was named for a town on the California-Mexico border and took the monicker seriously with a sound that mixed traditional Mexican forms like mariachi with American forms like country. Krueger was so enthusiastic about the duo that they not only gained a fan but landed a scoring job, which they approached just like their stage and studio albums.

The entire score is performed by two men on just a few instruments: drums, vines, percussion, guitar, bass, cello, and organ. It has the feel of more of an extended jam session than anything resembling a traditional film score, with a distinct country lilt to the music befitting the Texas locale. It’s not unpleasant music by any means, tending toward the rather sunny with a touch of the “desert noir” that Calexico has been described as producing.

Instead, the difficulty with the music is that it falls victim to the same problem that bedevils many songwriters-turned-score-composers: the music sounds like it is missing something, as if it’s a set of musical backing tracks for vocals that are not present. Joshua Homme ran into the same problem on The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, as did Elton John in The Muse. It’s difficult to turn the sung through line of a band into an instrumental score, and Calexico isn’t quite able to pull it off. Instead, they offer a haze of easygoing music that starts, proceeds for thirty minutes, and then stops. Sufficient for a dialogue-heavy film, perhaps, but hardly a compelling listen on album for score fans; Calexico fans are also likely to find there’s something missing with the lack of vocals.

Amazingly, despite Committed‘s limited release, it was given a full soundtrack release by the short-lived Chapter III records in 2000, with Calexico’s complete 30-minute score and seven needledropped songs. Despite the low print runs of many of Chapter III’s pressed CDs, which has served to make them mild collector’s items, Committed is an obscure enough film, and Calexico an obscure enough act, to keep their soundtrack extremely affordable. Thus, even though its vague, incomplete atmosphere can’t really be recommended on its own rights, anyone who is curious should be able to locate a copy at a very reasonable price.

Rating: starstar

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