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Thursday, January 6, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Philadelphia': Where Audio, Video Are Inextricably Linked

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

The tension has dissipated from the screen. The major dramatic elements have been played out. Then, the piano chords begin - slowly, insistently. The voice of Neil Young enters from a faraway place, mourning loss, enumerating lessons learned, gently pleading for understanding.

"Place that I call home, don't turn your back on me."

This is not another pop song tacked onto the end of a movie by deal-makers trolling for a megahit. It's director Jonathan Demme's masterful orchestration at work - a convergence of drama and aching musical introspection that becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Young's "Philadelphia" provides the coda for "Philadelphia," Jonathan Demme's film about AIDS and its prevailing stereotypes, which opens nationwide Jan. 14. His song is less a stand-alone piece of music than a distillation of the film's emotional landscape. It gathers conflicting shards of pain into a single unifying theme, and is informed by the vulnerability Young brings to his best work. The music starts at the exact moment the film needs some resolution, and though the song itself doesn't resolve anything, it is both harrowing and comforting, shot through with a hurt not explored much anymore, on screen or on record.

"Philadelphia" and Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," which accompanies the film's opening city-streets montage, are both included on "Music From The Motion Picture `Philadelphia,"' out on Epic Soundtrax this week.

Don't buy it unless you plan to see the movie.

Unlike other star-driven soundtracks, Demme's "Philadelphia" - which also features Peter Gabriel, the Indigo Girls, Spin Doctors and Maria Callas - relies on the individual pieces of music to amplify the emotions on the screen. The music is inextricably linked to the visuals.

By themselves, in audio-only form, these two brooding works feel slight: Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," which begins with a generic drum backbeat, rings hollow and incomplete, a home-studio sketch of a song. But in the context of the film, that hollowness is crucial: As his lullabylike wordless vocal chorus slithers through the action, Springsteen defines the tone of what is to follow. His nearly defeated voice captures the urban chill, bristles at the indifference he senses in passersby, and opens the film with an unspoken cautionary note: The journey ahead is going to be rough.

Demme - whose previous movies such as "Something Wild," "The Silence of the Lambs" and even the Talking Heads' plotless "Stop Making Sense" displayed awareness of music as dramatic device - didn't tell the artists what to write, said Glen Brunman, Epic Soundtrax's senior vice president. "He just explains what he's trying to accomplish and they do the rest."

In describing the nature of the film to Young and Springsteen, Demme obviously struck a chord. He conjured the world of Tom Hanks' character, gay attorney Andrew Beckett, and gave these musicians some sense of the film's aura - dark, resolute, with rage bubbling just beneath the surface. Both Young and Springsteen returned with songs that make those feelings stronger, songs that should humanize AIDS without oversimplifying it - songs linked to the film much more intimately than most soundtrack pieces.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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