News Column

Pairing Bands and Movies a Tricky Task

July 4, 2013

YellowBrix

MUSIC

WHAT: "Music & Movies Under the Stars."

WHEN: 7 p.m. (screenings begin at 8:30 p.m.) Saturday, weekly through Sept. 7.

WHERE: Jack Alter Fort Lee Community Center, outdoor green (indoors on second floor if it rains). Seating limited; bring blanket or lawn chair. 201-693-2763 or fortleefilm.org.

HOW MUCH: Free admission.

A sommelier is the guy in the restaurant who helps you determine what wine goes with what fish.

A filmmelier is what you might call Tom Meyers, who is doing something similar for the Fort Lee Film Commission's "Movies & Music Under the Stars" outdoor summer program, launching Saturday.

He's the guy who is pairing certain films with certain bands - based on his expert knowledge of what goes with what.

"Some are easier than others," says Meyers, executive director of the film commission. "We wanted music that somewhat plays off the film, or a film that plays off the music. We started out with a potential list of 50 to 100 films, and then we started looking at bands."

Some of the pairings are no-brainers. No question that the 1965 Annette Funicello musical "Beach Blanket Bingo" (July 13) pairs perfectly with the retro girl group The Party Dolls, harmonizing in their farewell performance. And what could be more appropriate to 2011's "The Artist" (Aug. 10), the Oscar-winning quasi-silent film about 1920s Hollywood, than 1920s jazz by the Red Hook Ramblers? Nor is it hard to connect the dots between 2012's "ParaNorman" (Aug. 24), the animated film about a psychic misfit, and The Nerds, the popular Jersey party band where all the players wear thick glasses. "ParaNorman is kind of nerdy," Meyers says.

The biggest coup of all, though, may be this Saturday's double bill. "West Side Story," the landmark 1961 "Romeo and Juliet" musical featuring battling American and Puerto Rican street gangs, is being paired with Latin soul musician Joe Bataan, who actually did front a Puerto Rican street gang - The Dragons - in the early 1960s, reinvented himself as a genre-bending musician who merged Latin and doo-wop ("Gypsy Woman"), helped coin the phrase "salsoul," and has more lately been active in hip-hop.

"It's one of my all-time favorite movies," Bataan says. "It wasn't authentic, but it was very romantic, and it's definitely a classic."

As you'll recall, in "West Side Story," the Jets and Sharks are fighting a turf war. To that extent, the Leonard Bernstein musical is an accurate reflection of what Bataan remembers from 1960, when the Dragons, aka The Young Dragons (96th to 106th streets), were fighting the Viceroys (108th to 116th streets). One difference between movie and reality, though: Both the Viceroys and the Dragons were Puerto Rican.

"It gave you a sense of belonging, at that time," Bataan says. "A lot of youngsters were looking for identity, and it sort of gave you control and power. You were able to forget the street and not be fearful, because you owned the streets. There was a sense of power."

The ranks of the Dragons ranged from as many as 125 in flush years, to as few as three, recalls Bataan, who headed up the gang circa 1960-1961. But they lasted a long time -- from the 1940s to the 1980s - and were known uptown for their flashy, faux-1920s hats and shiny shoes.

The reality of 1960s street life was "a little more raw" than the balletic gang warfare of the musical, concedes Bataan, who will play Saturday with a nine-piece band. Yet those lyrics about being a Jet "from your first cigarette to your last dying day" do ring true.

"Even if you hadn't been in the neighborhood for a while, if you were a Dragon then, you were a Dragon always," he says.

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