Zack Snyder is the acclaimed director of “300″ and “Dawn of the Dead.” His forthcoming “Watchmen” project, adapted from the long-worshipped graphic novel, is one of the most highly anticipated superhero projects in years. Snyder is also an occasional guest columnist for MTV.com.
“The Irony of Cheese”
I just realized that quite a bit of time had gone by since I last ranted about anything on MTVNews.com, so I thought I better get to it.
At the moment, I’m in the final weeks of shooting “Watchmen,” in Vancouver, British Columbia. Since “Watchmen” is a dissection of the superhero genre and forces it to take a long, hard look into the pop-culture mirror, it only makes sense that it’s where my head is at these days. With that in mind, I started thinking about music and whether there were any parallels that could be drawn. Enter Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine. Although tonally they are vastly different in many ways, the film and the Cheese-y music share an in-your-face look at the world, calling bullsh– on pop culture in an unapologetic way.
For the unfamiliar, Richard Cheese (also known as Dick Cheese) is a Los Angeles singer and comedian. He and his cover band, Lounge Against the Machine — which features Gordon Brie, Frank Feta and Bobby Ricotta — have spent the last 10 years satirizing the pop songs that assault our ears day in and day out, every time we turn on our radios. Don’t get me wrong, I have my own musical guilty pleasures (don’t think for a second I’m going to divulge them here), but it never ceases to amaze me the range of songs that can race to the top of the charts and stay there indefinitely, some offering almost nothing of substance, while others are bound to be future classics. Richard Cheese seems to have a similar fascination with both the good and the bad that fill the airwaves. He refuses to lie down and accept the pageantry, attitude, emotion, chords, alliteration and sometimes sheer absurdity of today’s music at face value. Covering everything from Nirvana’s “Rape Me” to 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” to the “Three’s Company” theme song, he chooses to engage songs by recording hilarious and, in my opinion, genius lounge-style renditions.
I’ve been a fan of Richard Cheese for a long time, so naturally he’s in my mental Rolodex when I started thinking about music for my movies. When I was looking for tracks for the “Dawn of the Dead” soundtrack, it was important to me that the music reinforce the film’s underlying desire to break conventions and not be limited by the expectations placed on the film because of its roots in the genre world. Too often I think studios and filmmakers have a preconceived notion of what audiences’ expectations will be based on a film’s genre. I believe this approach often sets a course that funnels many projects down a familiar pathway with comfortable choices and safe decisions. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes this actually works, creating cinematic “comfort food” that delivers and satisfies. But more often than not, it leaves me as a viewer dissatisfied, wanting more and wishing I didn’t know what was waiting for me around every corner. That is why I like creating projects that are self-aware. In my opinion, the trick is being self-aware without becoming self-conscious, having an awareness of a project’s roots, but not being stifled by the typical genre pre-conceptions. I always say it was important to me while making “Dawn of the Dead” to “have fun with,” but not “make fun of,” the zombie and horror genres.
Which brings me back to Richard Cheese. When I was cutting the scene in “Dawn of the Dead” where we find our survivors passing the time while trapped in the mall together, I immediately thought of Richard Cheese and his cover of the Disturbed song “Down With the Sickness.” Don’t get me wrong; I knew the typical song choice for that moment could have easily been the original version of the song. Ripe with all its testosterone-driven badass attitude and pounding drums, the original would have suited a montage of our characters that portrayed them as defiantly shrugging off the surrounding dangers. But, in this particular instance, I think it would have been the wrong message. There is an obvious symbolic lyrical “illness” tie-in, but more importantly, I was depending on the irony found in the lounge rendition of the song to play through. So, I dropped it into the cut, stepped back and let it play. There was something ironic as I watched the characters, in the dire situation they were, passing the time ever so casually in the face of a zombie apocalypse. Exposing these very alive people as strangely similar to the mindless creatures surrounding the mall, the song helped to reinforce the tone of the moment. It was the perfect fit. Even in the face of a potentially world-ending plague, they are still drawn to the mundane.
In many ways, this is what Richard Cheese is all about: Peeling away the tough, polished exterior of a song dressed in its most aggressive riff or eardrum-rattling bass and exposing it to its core. He has the ability to look in the pop-culture mirror and see both the good and the bad and, without discriminating, have fun dissecting both. After all, what’s not to like about a swanky lounge version of Slayer’s “War Ensemble”?
Then again, that’s just my opinion. Check him out yourself …
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