Broken Social Scene and It's Kind of a Funny Story
Scott Macaulay profiles Canadian indie heroes Broken Social Scene, the band who scored Focus Features’ It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Craig (Keir Gilchrist), a troubled 16-year-old impulsively, and with an adolescent’s flair for drama, seeks escape from his woes by checking into a psychiatric hospital. Of course, he’s got nothing on some of its truly troubled residents, but as the film demonstrates with real warmth and humor, the oddball community he submerges himself within is a healing one. In the end, Craig gets by with a little help from his friends.
To score the film, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden turned to the Canadian rock group Broken Social Scene, and their collaboration was a fitting one. Of course, Fleck and Boden had long been fans of the band, using their songs to score their debut feature, Half Nelson. But, also, Broken Social Scene’s entire operation is built around free-spirited collaboration, male-female interplay and the rejuvenating powers of community — the very themes that emerge throughout It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
Co-founded in 1999 by Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, Broken Social Scene’s albums and performances feature giant rosters of collaborators, redrawing Toronto’s alternative music scene as a giant house party. In a 2003 interview with the website Pitchfork, Drew says of the band’s relationship to the Toronto community, “It's a ‘we.’ There are filmmakers, photographers, musicians, and we're trying to take our 32-block radius and really go at it together.” Broken Social Scene releases can range from rosters of three or four up to 14, and the additional members hail from such bands as Stars and Metric and also include the singer-songwriter Feist. In addition to two “Broken Social Scene presents” side-project records, the group has released five albums, including this 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record, a rollicking, dreamy, unabashedly eclectic collection of songs that finds the band grappling with big adult issues (heartbreak, betrayal, and world politics in addition to the equally necessary and simple need to be good to your friends) while retaining the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation and impulsive genre-hopping of their most memorable work.
Or, as member Charles Spearin summarized in a 2010 Pitchfork interview, “The cover of the record really summarizes it nicely. There are all these people gathered around this mysterious thing blasting out of the ground, which to me is forgiveness. It's not a religious kind of forgiveness, it's just that thing everybody needs. During some shows Kevin gets everybody to yell, ‘I'm sorry,’ because everyone has something to be sorry for. It's about that sense of release and not holding in all the tension. The world needs to exhale right now.”
Speaking of his initial attraction to Broken Social Scene in a 2006 Filmmaker Magazine interview, Fleck commented, “We wanted [Half Nelson] to be very naturalistic, but I also like movies that have moments that don’t necessarily take you out of the film but add another dimension, another color. Broken Social Scene is a favorite band. Anna and I listened to some of their music when we were writing, and we wrote some of their music into the scenes. We played some of their music on-set when we were shooting to set a vibe, and we used it as temp when we were cutting it. Then we flew up to Toronto and showed the band the movie, and we were fortunate enough that they liked it and let us use a lot of their music.”
Among the songs included in Half Nelson’s soundtrack was fan favorite “Shampoo Suicide” from the band’s second album, You Forgot It In People, that added warmth and conflicting emotions to one of the most shocking scenes in the film. Other songs included in Half Nelson were from the albums Feel Good Lost and Beehives. Remembers Canning in an interview conducted as the band was finishing the Funny Story soundtrack, “I got a VHS copy of the movie and heard all these Broken Social Scene songs in the film, and I was like, “Who are these people?” I was very flattered. We loved the movie Half Nelson so much.”