From and Inspired By: a format long forgotten?
I've recently watched Black Panther in the cinemas, and I can say it's one of my favourite Marvel films alongside Guardians of the Galaxy. There's a lot I really enjoyed about it, from the themes it explores, down to the careful worldbuilding that Marvel seems to have taken for granted in some of their films since the MCU's expansion.
But this post isn't about the film, it's about the pleasant surprise I got the moment the credits rolled in. For the longest time since a superhero film, an end credits song played, originally-composed and performed for the film.
Kendrick Lamar and SZA's "All The Stars", the film's tie-in has so far been receiving positive reviews. It's the lead single into the rest of the soundtrack's stellar 'From and Inspired By' line-up.
Marvel Studios, learning from the lacklustre response to their uninspiring musical tie-in to the otherwise excellent Avengers, has left the 'From and Inspired By' format untouched. That is, up until Black Panther. Guardians of the Galaxy's two "mixtapes" is an exception by definition, since it is more of a playlist compilation of sorts than it is an original 'From and Inspired By' soundtrack. I will elaborate on this further.
And it isn't just Marvel, but films under the DC banner as well, with the exception of Suicide Squad. And even with that, it only has twenty one pilot's "Heathens" to its name that's spawned a Joker and Harley fandom pairing of sorts.
The last time I felt as excited as I did when "All The Stars" started playing was at the end of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) film that surprised me with Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar's "It's On Again". And even that film's soundtrack instead only packaged six performance-songs alongside the rest of Hans Zimmer's film score, as opposed to the 'From and Inspired By' format.
Come to think about it, the thread of connection between these two is Kendrick Lamar.
An art in itself
The 'From and Inspired By' soundtrack format is usually packaged alongside the film's original score. My earliest memory of this format, although not having explicitly been given that format name yet, was Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. Two of Prince's songs, "Partyman" and "Trust" were weaved into the film to represent a character aspect of Nicholson's Joker - in scene-stealing moments. Tim Burton liked Prince's songs so much that he called on Prince to help work on the rest of the soundtrack.
'From and Inspired By' can be appropriately thought of in this perspective: The film Director, Music Supervisor or Music Producer's musical landscape of the film. A sort of mixtape, if you will. We see this in James Gun's approach to crafting Guardians of the Galaxy, and how he carves his repository of 500 existing songs down to a meaningful handful. John Cusack's Rob in High Fidelity said it best. To paraphrase: using someone else's poetry to tell your own.
And as someone who spends his free time curating and crafting mixtapes, I can appreciate the fine art of this craft in navigating other people's music to tell a story. To draw on overarching themes and messages through the abstract language of melody. It isn't just about the lyrics; it's also the genre, tone and how it all ties together.
'From and Inspired By' is essentially the film's mixtape.
Here is where James Gun's Guardian of the Galaxy mixtapes doesn't sit in the same category as the 'From and Inspired By' format. The 70s songs are co-opted to drive along the film's plot and to provide subtle texture to the scenes. On its own, it works as an 'Underrated 70s Compilation' mix we could stumble in our local record store. And maybe that's also why I cannot categorise the Guardians of the Galaxy mixtapes under 'From and Inspired By'. James Gun does, by and large, entirely uses other people's poetry to construct his own.
Another instance of Marvel doing this is with Iron Man 2's lazily-cobbled AC/DC compilation album, which is presumed to be Tony Stark's mixtape, as we are introduced to him as a big AC/DC fan throughout the films. Or DC's Watchmen, while having a good selection of music, follows the same vein and is aptly categorised as 'Music from the Motion Picture'.
'From and Inspired By' soundtracks are a mix of original singles composed and performed for the film, and (usually underrated) songs already existing in studio albums. There is no better example of this than Sam Riami's (2004) Spider-Man 2, which on top of being one of the best superhero films, also has one of the best soundtracks out there. Every time I want to refer to a gold standard in 'From and Inspired By' soundtracks, I always turn to this.
There is no wasted song in Spider-Man 2's soundtrack; each song bears the emotions, trials and tribulations of Peter Parker, who in the film, struggles between his dual identity as hero and everyday-man. Several songs in this soundtrack were also specifically written for the film, which underscores a focus to perceiving of the song and its expression regarding the said character. This is the bedrock of 'From and Inspired By', which is an attempt at texturing the film on a musical level. This format aims at appreciating the film from a different perspective, in ways the score couldn't.
This format has been dropped by superhero films for a long time though. Understandably so, since producing the soundtrack, on top of the actual film production itself can be an expensive venture. It used to be a notable feature of the superhero films of the 90s and early 00s. Think of singles like:
- Hero - Chad Kroeger ft. Josey Scott (Spider-Man)
- Signal Fire - Snow Patrol (Spider-Man 3)
- Broken - Seether ft. Amy Lee (The Punisher)
- Bring Me to Life - Evanescence (Daredevil)
- Come On, Come In - Velvet Revolver (Fantastic 4)
- Everything Burns - Anastacia ft. Ben Moody (Fantastic 4)
- Kiss From A Rose - Seal (Batman Forever)
- The End is the Beginning is the End - Smashing Pumpkins (Batman & Robin)
Most films these days, like Amazing Spider-Man 2 integrate some of this 'From and Inspired By' element into their score soundtrack, packaging it as a whole, as opposed to a standalone. Or in the case of a contemporary film like Wonder Woman, to have a dedicated single accompanying a soundtrack of the film's score like Sia's "To Be Human".
Hopefully, with the passion poured into the Black Panther afro-futuristic soundtrack under Kendrick Lamar's production/curation, as well as its early success, can have us going back on track to producing quality 'From and Inspired By' soundtracks. It's been awhile since we've had a decent mixtape to a superhero film, after all.
Notable mention: A great recent 'From and Inspired By' series outside superhero films is the Hunger Games trilogy, which has amazing singles peppered throughout its four soundtracks. Coldplay's "Atlas" encapsulated a perfect ending to the second instalment's (Catching Fire) devastating ending and is forever burned into my memory.
- From And Inspired By Podcast
- Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 0 Revealed - Den of Geek
- How James Gun Actually Comes Up With His Guardian of the Galaxy Soundtracks - Cinemablend
- The secret art of the film soundtrack - The Guardian
- Quentin Tarantino Explains The Art of the Music in His Films - Open Culture
- 'Black Panther' and the Magic of the 'All Stars' Video - The Atlantic
- Why Black Panther: The Album is a stroke of genius - News@Northeastern