Saturday, February 13, 2016

'Anchorman 2' vs. 'American Hustle,' a battle of the bands

Neil Diamond or Donna Summer? Chris Cross or ELO? Captain & Tennille or Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes? Adam McKay's Ron Burgundy sequel and David O. Russell's Abscam ensemble piece are both set on the cusp of the 1980s, and the filmmakers had to duke it out for song rights.

'Anchorman 2' vs. 'American Hustle,' a battle of the bands

Brian Fantana, Ron Burgundy, Champ Kind and Brick Tamland strut their stuff in "Anchorman 2."
Brian Fantana, Ron Burgundy, Champ Kind and Brick Tamland strut their stuff in "Anchorman 2."

Nothing establishes a time and place and mood like the right song, and when you’re trying to recreate those halcyon, polyester days of yore – like the cusp of 1980, when disco was king – the music is everything. In David O. Russell’s American Hustle, the rollicking free-for-all  starring Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the soundtrack is full of  ‘70s hits that say something about the respective characters and their mindsets, like  Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, The Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and Paul McCartney & Wings’ 007 theme song, “Live and Let Die,” which J-Law belts out in one particularly impassioned scene.

In Anchroman 2: The Legend Continues, Ron Burgundy and crew relocate to New York to go to work for the first 24 hour news channel. It’s 1980, and the songs in the Will Ferrell farce include Kenny Loggins’ “This Is It,” John Waite’s “Change” and Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner.”

American Hustle’s Russell and Anchorman 2’s director and co-writer, Adam McKay, are good friends, and knew they’d be vying for the same, or similar tunes. But they also knew that a lot of the great songs were already gone.

“The music from that era is really hard to find, because Paul Thomas Anderson used it all in Boogie Nights,” McKay, the Malvern native, said on a recent trip back home. “So, I was like, `David, would you trade music with me?’ I was having a hard time. He’s lucky, though. David’s film is more drama, so he gets to go with the harder-edged stuff, whereas ours still has to be more poppy.

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“It took us forever — we literally had 300, 400 songs in a file, and the criteria was if this song came on the radio, would you be excited to hear it? ... Or, the song has to be a joke, like `Xanadu,’ or `Muskrat Love.’  It was hard, man.”

But there were rewards, too. McKay got to use Christopher Cross’ “’80 hit, “ Ride Like the Wind”

“That was the real discovery. That’s an awesome song -- I didn’t know that!"

Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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About this blog

Steven Rea has been an Inquirer movie critic since 1992. He was born in London, raised in New York City, and has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Iowa City, Iowa. His column, "On Movies," appears Sundays in Arts & Entertainment, his reviews appear in the Weekend section on Fridays. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Read his most recent columns and reviews, here. He is the author of the book “Hollywood Rides a Bike,” and also curates the movie stars and bicycling photo blog, Rides A Bike.

Reach Steven at

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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