Start with Some Like It Hot, and you'll hear echoes of jazz nostalgic even when it was issued in 1954, as well as Monroe's breathy, lost tones. Go to Paris Blues (1961), and the formal beauty of Duke Ellington's compositions imply an unjust America the film had to mask; leap on to In the Heat of the Night (1967), and the racial protest is roaring from Quincy Jones' breathy organs and hard-struck guitars. JJ Johnson and Bobby Womack's Across 110th Street is more explicit still (it's the touchstone for Jackie Brown). Or look to Frank Zappa's fractured, satiric 200 Motels (1970), and the work of country-pop mavericks Jimmy Buffett (on Rancho Deluxe, 1974) and Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings (on Ned Kelly, 1970) to glimpse a time when pop music wasn't exploited by cinema, but allied to it.
There are more conventional pleasures, too, like John Barry's melancholy score for Octopussy, or Pino Donnaggio's haunted, Bernard Herrmann-indebted Carrie. But the series is most striking when it places the soundtrack exactly where it belongs, in the under-used space between vision and sound. Listen to the swelling romance of Elmer Bernstein's The Great Escape, or even the sweet songs of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the music and the core of the film it recalls work together to move you. With the inclusion of dialogue excerpts and CD-Rom trailers, hearing and watching become blurred, indistinct.
All title mentioned are available on Rykodisc/MGM now.