Curating Mood: Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (2013)

Curating Mood is a weekly feature about the art behind movie soundtracks. Without the help of original film scores, movie soundtracks help situate filmgoers in terms of place, time, and feeling. All songs have history and carry certain connotations, not to mention certain price points (hello, anything by The Beatles). So here’s a place to appreciate the work that goes into making a soundtrack.

And there’s no better place to start than with one of my favorite filmmakers, Sofia Coppola and her teen/heist hybrid, The Bling Ring.

Based on a Vanity Fair story about a group of teenagers who successfully broke into the homes of celebrities in the Hollywood Hills. Coppola’s film is part of an early duo of artsy critiques focusing on millennial consumerist culture, the other being Harmony Korine’s bonkers Spring Breakers.

Both films met a large variety of critical reactions, but Coppola’s more subdued work seemed overshadowed by the sheer audacity of Korine’s Disney perversion. There may be evidence of that tide changing, though. Maybe Coppola’s upcoming film The Beguiled is encouraging a second look at her past works.

I, for one, adore this film—maybe more relevant, I adore its soundtrack. It’s a breeze to listen through, filled top to bottom with certified bangers by the likes of M.I.A., Sleigh Bells, Phoenix (whose own Thomas Mars is Coppola’s husband), Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Frank Ocean, and, of course, two songs from Kanye West’s seminal My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

The brilliance of Sofia Coppola is her complete empathy for the characters she puts on screen.

In The Bling Ring Coppola shoots these teenagers as they would want to be shot. From low angles, in slow motion, the light skin glowing in the slightly overexposed LA sun. They are superstars in their own heads and on screen, with a soundtrack to match.

But the trick of Coppola’s film is that, after a while, the illusion fades. The overexposure becomes flat as the movie rolls along. It should be noted too that it’s overexposure within security footage that brings this whole caper to an end.

Even the soundtrack, littered with all these bass heavy tracks talking about taking what’s yours, seems to suffer from too much exposure in the film.

Scene after scene of these kids performing for themselves to this music—and this is the principle music for the film, there is only minimal scoring by Brian Reitzell—makes us wish these songs could just fade into the background a little more.

It’s exactly the type of “ghetto”/“chic” music privileged white children consume so they feel they can be a dangerous part of the cultural zeitgeist they pray to at night.

It’s Eminem for those with good taste.

Here is the youth of today gone wild: raised to fetishize the strife of living under poverty, drug addiction and violence; wanting the “grind” and the “hustle” because that’s where the artistry their idols capitalize off of comes from. These kids are taking it all for themselves, living out the anthem they pirated online.

But that all sounds kind of empty, doesn’t it? The Bling Ring agrees. You can’t guild the hustle in gold and leave it unlocked in the Hollywood Hills. The life these kids chase is not the life they want to live, it’s not what they were born into and it is not what they’re meant for. But the dirty trick of modern cultural capitalism and the tragedy underlying this film is that these kids don’t even know what life they’re meant for.

When they Robin Hood their favorite stars the “poor” they give back to is themselves. Only when everything is truly gone from them—when each has received their sentence and finished the journey towards the criminal lifestyle they only recently wore at parties—do any of them show a hint of understanding who they are, and who they were.

It probably makes sense, then, that after the arrests (set to some high-intensity Deadmau5) the two remaining songs are the reflective “Bankrupt!” by Phoenix, and Frank Ocean’s excellent “Super Rich Kids”. A nice thematic plaque for the disillusioned and fame-obsessed millennial culture that will, in the following years, become the subject of many more media critiques.

Unfortunately, none of those endless critiques seem to understand the subject of their lens quite like Sofia Coppola does. At least she gave us a great mixtape.

Stay tuned for more of the Curating Mood every Friday on The Indie Sound.

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