Filmmaker Finn Taylor will make special appearance at Shattuck Theater
Nowhere is the heart more turbulent and fickle than in the 3-minute pop song. The catchy radio-friendly ditties can swoon and then sob to the drop of a minor key. When Gloria Jones sang "Tainted Love” as a 1964 soul-diva anthem, she and her loyal backup singers pointed the finger in accusation,”Once I ran from you, Now I run from you. This tainted love you given, I gave you all a girl could give you…”
In the wildly popular 1981 Soft Cell remake using all the synthesized beats 80’s technology could muster, the electronic sheen gives the song a wimpier drive and a creeping insidiousness missing from the 1964 version. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but obsession is all ear.
The soundtrack to the new film “Cherish” navigates the thrill of infatuation and the quagmire of love gone wrong with the relentlessly unforgettable songs of the 80’s, including hits you’d love to remove from your memory by Daryl Hall and John Oates, and The Human League.
“There are songs which make you laugh when you hear them of the radio, but you also laugh at yourself because you don’t change the channel,” said the film’s Berkeley-based writer and director Finn Taylor, who admits some of the songs are guilty pleasures. “I wanted to shoot the film to reflect that pop music sensibility.”
Both the movie and its music draw a very narrow line between infatuation and mania. The story is that of a socially awkward woman Zoe, played by Robin Tunney, with an office crush on a coworker played by Jason Priestly. She often lapses into daydream fantasies of Priestly shaking water out of his wet hair, or cuddling a puppy, or sailing a yacht to a tune by 10CC (“I’m not in love, so don’t forget it, it’s just a silly phase I’m going through…”). She in turn is the object of fantasy by a violently dangerous stalker with a penchant for Hall and Oates (“Private eyes are watching you, they see your every move…”).
After the stalker frames Zoe for the vehicular manslaughter of a bicycle cop (while “Tainted Love” plays fittingly on the car radio), she is placed in an electronic bracelet program under house arrest enforced by an anklet which will alarm if she strays more than 50 feet from a designated modem. Bored and restless and hopeless to find the real killer, she spends a lot of time listening to the radio and flirting with the anal retentive deputy (Timothy Blake Nelson) who periodically checks up on the bracelet.
When the short-sleeve-dress-shirt-with-tie deputy starts feeling warmly toward his caged bird the story closes around the triangle of obsession: the killer sends Hall and Oates songs over the cell phone, Zoe cranks up her Noe Venable on the boom box, and the tuneless deputy contents himself with sneaking a look into her police file. The soundtrack gives him the curiously ominous beat of “Happy Together” by the Turtles: “Imagine me and you, I do, I think about you day and night, it’s only right, To think about the girl you love, and hold her tight, So happy together…”
“I’m always trying to walk the line between laughing at the juxtaposition of the song and having fun with the overblown-ness of it,” said Taylor. “The counterpoint is not as dark as what Quentin Tarantino [“Pulp Fiction”] would do, but not as head-on as what John Hughes [“The Breakfast Club”] would do.”
“Cherish” juggles a few genres in the doomed romance of the prisoner and her keeper, in the thriller-pacing when Zoe races to find her stalker against a clock ticking toward an unforgivable deadline, and it’s also a straight-up comedy (heck, there’s even a crippled, gay midget living in the flat below). The soundtrack throws the sunny, fluffy songs into a contextual jumble, exposing their seedier undersides.
Like the title track by The Association, singing, “…I don’t know how many times I wish that I could mold into someone that would cherish me as much as I cherish you…” The song hangs suspended between innocuous, top-forty Oldies fodder and an admission of ignoble intentions.
“For me, when I hear in films pop songs being used in a totally earnest way without realizing of referencing the place it plays in our culture, I get bored,” said Taylor. “Film is so steeped in history, that to merely re-create another straight drama or straight thriller is not that interesting to me as a filmmaker. I want to acknowledge all the TV and film references that we’ve got in our minds when I’m making a scene that’s falling into a genre.”
East Bay moviegoers might recognize the exterior of Zoe’s condo as one of the Lego-like condos across the parking lot from Home Depot in Emeryville. What moviegoers might not recognize is the interior to Zoe’s loft-space home prison which is a warehouse space on Shattuck avenue a few doors down from the Fine Arts Cinema. The 6,000 square foot space with 20-foot ceilings served as a mini movie studio, wherein an amazing 20 shooting sets were constructed.
Although Taylor never bothered to get a permit to shoot in Berkeley, he said he feels strongly about using the Bay Area to shoot films. The Berkeley native has done the “L.A. thing” as a screenwriter but has returned, amidst the kicking and screaming of his producers down south. He said the Bay Area film crew community is a passionate lot, and “even the grips want to read the script before taking the work.”
Local talent even turns up among the familiar tunes on the “Cherish” soundtrack. San Francisco singer-songwriter Noe Venable contributes two tracks, and the film’s original score was composed by former Soul Coughing keyboardist and Berkeley resident Mark De Gli Antoni.
“This is going to sound extremely Berkeley-esque, so excuse me, but it’s the whole Ghandi concept of Swadeshi where you make things locally,” said Taylor. “My mom taught at Cal and when she couldn’t get a babysitter she’s let me wander the campus at five years old and the beatnik women would take care of me. So shooting and producing the film in Berkeley feels right.”