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'Martha Marcy May Marlene': The secret of the soundtrack

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In one particularly striking scene in Martha Marcy May Marlene, John Hawkes’ enigmatic cult leader serenades Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) with the haunting ”Marcy’s Song” — using the name she goes by in her new ”family.” Hawkes’ version is on the soundtrack, along with the equally melancholy ”Marlene.” But both songs were written more than 40 years ago by singer-songwriter Jackson C. Frank — whose work writer-director Sean Durkin stumbled upon only after he’d titled his film. After spotting the tune ”Marlene,” Durkin recalls, ”then I got the album, and ‘Marcy’s Song’ was next, and it blew my mind.”

Frank’s life could be its own movie: As a child, he was burned in a school fire in upstate New York. He moved to London and found some success in music (Paul Simon produced his eponymous 1965 album). But then he fell into a dreadful downward spiral that included the death of a child, mental illness, homelessness, and blindness after he was hit in the eye by an indiscriminate pellet-gun shot. He died in virtual obscurity in 1999 at age 56. Could Martha Marcy revive interest in Frank’s music? ”I hope so,” says Durkin. ”It’s really special.”

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