Motion Picture Soundtrack: “Useless”

Written by Motion Picture Soundtrack

I tend to make a lot of allowances for films that translate classic literature into high school settings. If nothing else, I respect the ambition of such an endeavor. And there are plenty of examples where this has been done successfully. Clueless (1995), based on Jane Austen’s Emma, was a delightful bit of fluff. I’m told that Cruel Intentions (1999), based on the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is quite entertaining (I’d seen the John Maklovich version shortly before Cruel Intensions came out, so I skipped the modern version). And Brick (2006), although not based on any specific piece of hard-boiled crime fiction, is one of the most memorable films I’ve seen in years. With a title as specific and intriguing as Crime and Punishment in Suburbia, I was prepared to like this film before I’d even started watching it.

The first I’d heard of this adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic was when I discovered its soundtrack in a discount bin in a record store in Johannesburg. In the liner notes, the filmmakers confess that they were essentially trying to recreate the Modest Mouse album Lonesome Crowded West (1997). I don’t think they have anything to apologize for – this is actually one of the strongest film soundtracks I’ve ever heard. For me, music is such a large part of the film-watching experience that I can be seduced by a good soundtrack, and expecting this film to be based on classic Russian novel just sweetened the bait. And even for someone like me, who had a hard time digesting the complex themes of Crime and Punishment, this film turned out to be a huge disappointment.

The Film: Crime and Punishment in Suburbia

The Song: “Useless”

The Artist: Kruder & Dorfmeister / Depeche Mode

Who’s Who: Monica Keena, an undeniable piece of eye candy who has been seen on Dawson’s Creek and Undeclared, inhabits the role of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the central character of Dostoyevsky’s novel. In what ways is her character similar to Raskolinikov? Well, let’s see…she commits a murder. That’s about it. How is her story different? To begin with, Raskolinkov is poverty-stricken and lonely. Roseanne is wealthy and popular. Raskolnikov’s crime was essentially motiveless. It was conceived in a fit of philosophic pique, ostensibly performed in order to relieve his poverty and rid the world of a parasitic pawnbroker, but mainly it is done to indulge a Leopold-and-Loeb sort of ubermensch mentality. Roseanne’s crime is an action of revenge against her stepfather (Michael Ironside), who has raped her. Raskolnikov’s crime includes the murder of an innocent bystander. Roseanne’s includes only a single deserving victim. Raskolnikov’s psychological breakdown occurs from the feelings of guilt and remorse he suffers, as well his sense of isolation from rational society. Roseanne’s breakdown is driven by the fact that her mother is arrested and prosecuted for the murder, and the frustrations of her accomplice. As an adaptation, this film is an disaster.

Rob Schmidt, the director, was also responsible for the forgettable horror film Wrong Turn (2003). Crime and Punishment in Suburbia was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival in 2000, a suggestion which is almost as laughable as the nomination of Pretty Persuasion in 2005. His films (as well as his casting choices) suggest and affinity for the stories and styles created by Larry Clark and Joss Whedon.

Vincent Kartheiser plays the counterpoint to the novel’s Sonya, who serves as Raskolnikov’s conscience. Vincent (whose shares the same first name as his character) narrates the film with frequent bits of “insight” into Roseanne’s psychological disintegration and views the events of the film through the lens of his camera as he stalks Roseanne from afar, and eventually from up close.

Curiously, the Depeche Mode song “Useless” featured in this scene, which takes place immediately after Roseanne has been raped by her self-pitying stepfather (Michael Ironside) is not included in the official soundtrack. Kruder and Dorfmeister, a pair of German disc jockeys, are responsible for the remix version of the song that is used. It came from their double album The K&D Sessions. I firmly believe that the first four songs on the second disc are the perfect soundtrack to any competent seduction, and are presented here for you and your partner’s enjoyment.

Kruder and Dorfmeister – Seduction Mix

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Why it Works: The emotional lassitude of Keena’s Roseanne is convincing. Her choice of an outfit that covers any bare skin (standing in contrast to a landscape and climate that suggests the movie is set in Arizona) is appropriate and stands in stark contrast to her earlier wardrobe choices, where cleavage is consistently on display.

What Goes Wrong: As someone who has shoved more than one ill-conceived sonnet into the grate of a sophomore’s locker, I consider myself an authority on the inappropriate gestures of affection that high school students are capable of. I can’t for a second believe that someone would rush into a chemistry laboratory bearing a necklace made of garlic buds and thrust it into the unwilling hands of his stalker-crush. It’s just way, way, way too weird.

Other Stuff: I don’t think I’ve ever seen the quality of a movie was so completely opposite to the quality of its soundtrack. The film is awful. Don’t waste your time with it. On the other hand, the soundtrack…

Modest Mouse – “Trailer Trash”

Meat Puppets – “Two Rivers”

Sleater-Kinney – “Burn, Don’t Freeze”

Guided By Voices – “Learning to Hunt”