Sean Interviews Programmer Caryn Coleman for Nitehawk Cinema’s Angelo Badalamenti Mini-Retrospective

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Starting tomorrow night, with a special screening of David Lynch’s Lost HighwayNitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, New York kicks off the third installment of their series “The Works,” this time in celebration of the career of composer Angelo Badalamenti. Perhaps best known for that eerily catchy Twin Peaks theme, the series will highlight the wide range of Badalamenti’s idiosyncratic oeuvre by screening other films that also feature his music including Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children, Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, and Stephen Shainberg’s Secretary. I had a chance to talk to one of Nitehawk’s film programmers, Caryn Coleman, about the series, Nitehawk, and about Badalementi himself.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you hope to capture with each installment of “The Works”? Do you hope to do more multi-media stuff like the “a place both wonderful and strange” performance that is going along with the Lost Highway screening?

As an ongoing series, The Works is intended to provide a very focused look at an influential person in cinema (writers, directors, actors, editors, composers, etc) in order to contextualize their career in some way. The people we select for these mini retrospectives are all those who are quite significant to us (Nitehawk’s film programmers: myself, John Woods, and Max Cavanaugh) that they warrant being honored.

The multi-media performance with “a place both wonderful and strange” is a perfect collaboration for our Lost Highway event screening that will launch The Works – Angelo Badalamenti. It’s always very important for Nitehawk to offer special experiences such as bands, introducing guests, and Q&As to accompany our programming. Because of this, should other similar performances fit with our upcoming figures in The Works, we’ll definitely be integrating them.

Here’s an easy one, why Angelo Badalamenti? For the first two installments of “The Works” Nitehawk explored a filmmaker with Brian DePalma and an actress with Karen Black. What about Badalamenti and his music made you think that a mini-retrospective of his work was worth putting on?

The three film programmers at Nitehawk tend to gravitate towards an interest in cult personalities and this definitely comes through in The Works. For instance, the retrospective on Karen Black came about not only because she had become someone important to me personally but because she was an incredibly talented actress who had surprisingly never had a retrospective series devoted to her. The diversity of her filmic work meant we could show a real range of movies, from Easy Rider to Burnt Offerings, and that’s the similar appeal to Angelo Badalamenti. He, like Karen, is someone who audiences “know” without knowing that they do. The theme to Twin Peaks is legendary but to realize that he’s scored a real range of films seems to be an incredibly important thing to acknowledge.

I definitely get that Badalamenti hasn’t ever been a widely or overtly celebrated musician, and has always had a bit of an surreptitious allure to him—though now that I think about it he did do the score for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. What do you think makes his music resonate with so many people without becoming an outright mainstream composer?

It’s the same thing that makes him a good composer: his work succeeds because it enhances a film it’s made for without becoming overbearing. Badalamenti’s scores establish a psychological landscape that integrates so seamlessly into what the audience sees on-screen that, while leaving a lasting impression, isn’t separate from the narrative.

As we’ve hinted at, Badalamenti is primarily known for his work in creating the haunting soundscapes of some of the iconic works of David Lynch, and though you’re screening one of Lynch’s unsung gems Lost Highway as a part of the series, why didn’t you go with more obvious choices like Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me? Was it simply a question of print availability? Also, do you prefer to screen films in retrospectives like this in 35mm?

Since Badalamenti is so well known for his collaborations with David Lynch, I only wanted to include one of those films in the series in order to highlight the breadth of his work. It seems to be the perfect time to start looking at Lost Highway again as, you’re right, it often gets overlooked by the tentpole Lynch films. But with it’s non-linear narrative, nightmarish dreamscapes, and parallel worlds, it’s Lynchian through and through. Print availability wasn’t a factor in choosing Lost Highway however, for me as a programmer, I love screening 35mm prints and there are certain films I feel should absolutely be seen that format. That said, it’s as important for the movie to be seen period so available formats are typically part of all of our programming conversations.

Do you think that diversity throughout his work is one of the reasons why Badalamenti is such a renowned figure for cinephiles?

Yes, I do think so. It’s staggering when you look at his body of work that includes Inside the Actor’s Studio, Cabin Fever, The Beach, all the Lynch classics, and then quietly beautiful films like A Late Quartet, The Straight Story, and A Very Long Engagement. And yet they all remain very Badalamenti. It’s like I said before, the scores he creates become the film so, therefore, people who love cinema love Badalamenti.

Most of his scores seem to combine a sort of ethereal mix between kitschy 50s Americana and foreboding dread. That seems like such a contradiction, but he makes it work somehow. Why do you think that is?

Few things go better together than horror and America. Angelo Badalamenti’s music has somehow tapped into the American psyche that reflects our darker side and I think that audiences inherently respond to that.

Though I run the risk of sounding clichéd when I say I personally prefer Badalamenti’s work with Lynch, what is your personal favorite score from his filmography? What is your favorite out of the films screening during the series?

For me, the score to City of Lost Children is stunningly original, but his work with Twin Peaks (the series and Fire Walk with Me) holds a particular place in my heart because I obsessively listened to those soundtracks when they first came out. Badalamenti’s work with Julee Cruise is still one of my favorites. As for my favorite film, I may have to say either Cabin Fever or Secretary—again, two movies that tap into the uncomfortable territory of imperfection in American society.

Who—if anyone—might be a close contemporary of Badalamenti in terms of film composers? Do you see anyone else sort of taking over his mantle or is he a singular artist?

I would put Badalamenti in the same realm as someone like the legendary Ennio Morricone and Carter Burwell. Like Morricone, he’s so unique that I don’t know if anyone will take him over.

Nitehawk is such a unique cinematic experience for New Yorkers. Is there anything else on the horizon you can tell us about that Nitehawk may be putting on in terms of series or events?

Yes, we have some great programming coming up in 2014! First, our next program in “The Works” will be looking at Kurt Russell in June and that’s sure to be a lot of fun. We’ll also have exciting events with talent for our monthly “Music Driven” and “Art Seen” series along with “Live + Sound + Cinema” (upcoming performances include Mad Max and Fantastic Planet with Morricone Youth). Then at midnight we have our sister programs, “Nitehawk Nasties” and “Nitehawk Naughties,” with the 2014 Naughties screening early 1970s porn chic cinema. “The Deuce” also serves up a monthly dose of cult cinema and history while our “Film Feasts” (The Life Aquatic, Anchorman) serve up thematic menus during the movie. This is all in addition to our monthly themed brunches, midnights, and special “One Nite Only” events. There’s always something going on here so I would absolutely recommend checking out our website!


Trailer: THE WORKS – ANGELO BADALAMENTI from Nitehawk Cinema on Vimeo.

Sean Hutchinson

Sean lives in the wilds of Brooklyn, NY. He's got a couple fancy schmancy academic degrees in English literature, he's a huge movie fan, and has way too many opinions about both. Follow Sean on Twitter.