Judd Apatow is the writer/director of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the upcoming summer comedy “Knocked Up,” and producer/writer of the acclaimed television series “Freaks and Geeks.” The following is the latest in a series of guest columns by Apatow for MTV News.
Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to movie musicals because myself and Jake Kasdan recently wrote a film called “Walk Hard” that is kind of a goof on music biopics. It is based on movies like “Ray,” “Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Selena.” To prepare to write it we watched a ton of those films — and we realized they are all the same movie. So we decided to create our own music-industry giant, Dewey Cox, and tell the world his story. Let’s just say he goes to rehab a lot. He has a very addictive personality.
The next assignment is to write all of the hits that spanned his 40-year career. That is a hard assignment, because now we need songs that are both funny and good enough to kind of sound like they could be hits. We enlisted a bunch of songwriters to help with this process; it is going on as we speak. Right now someone is sitting in a room working on a Dewey Cox guitar part.
Dewey will be played by John C. Reilly, who I worked with previously on “Talladega Nights.” He has an amazing voice, sort of Roy Orbison-like, which makes the songs funny. The fact that this incredible voice comes out of John is shocking and thus humorous.
What are my favorite musicals? “Hair,” starring Treat Williams — who also has an amazing voice — and a guy who joined the band Chicago soon after making the film [Donnie Dacus]. Also John Savage, who is awesome as usual. Milos Forman directed it. I don’t know if people consider this a good movie or not, but I love it. I sing it. My family gets annoyed as I sing it. So I stop singing it.
I also love “Harold and Maude” which is filled with songs by Cat Stevens. I guess it isn’t a musical — it is more of a black comedy — but I believe the director Hal Ashby saw it as a bit of an operetto. Is that a word? [Editor’s note: Nope. An operetta is a romantic-comic opera that includes songs and dancing, but that’s not ‘Harold and Maude’ either.] It is a really funny movie and it makes you cry: My favorite kind of movie.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” had a big effect on me. I sang it at a talent show in a negligee at summer camp. There was a period when I did wear women’s clothes a little too often for a child entering puberty.
The movie I just made, “Knocked Up,” has a score written by singer/songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Joe Henry. We went about it in an odd way. They wrote a bunch of songs with lyrics, then we took the melodies of those songs and made them recurring themes [without lyrics] in the film. Two of those songs play over the final credits. And now we have a soundtrack album coming out which will contain all of those songs with their lyrics. Playing on many of those tunes is the great guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson, who scored the film “Grizzly Man.”
Loudon is someone I have been inspired by for a long time. He is a folk musician whose songs are both funny and biting, and also deeply personal and emotional. I saw him on David Letterman’s old morning talk show in 1980. He sang a song called “Unrequited to the Nth Degree,” which is basically about trying to make your ex-girlfriend feel bad about your impending suicide. It is really funny, and really dark. In a way all of my work is going for the same honesty and humor that he puts into his music.
The one thing I have learned from trying to make a film about musical icons is that it is really hard to create music, so maybe it is wrong to make fun of them.
What the hell — we’re gonna do it anyway.
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