Friday, January 13, 2012

All Time Best Uses of a Musical Cue on Film

I don't mean the best uses of music, because if I did then the top three would be the Siren scene from Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, the tour bus rendition of Tiny Dancer from Almost Famous, and John Cusack holding his boom box aloft to Ione Skye in Say Anything.  I'd probably throw in a good shower sing-along, too, maybe Ferris Bueller or Family Man...  

But not any old song use will do.  I mean those moments when traditional scoring could be used to increase the emotional impact of the action, but the creators decided to go with actual songs instead.

And before we begin, HERE THAR BE SPOILERS.  If you haven't seen these movies, then proceed at your own risk.  Most of them don't affect plot that much, so I'll start with the one to really skip.

4 - Gary Jule's version of Tears for Fears' Mad World, as used in Donnie Darko

I loved this movie so much that I made the mistake of buying the director's cut.  I enjoyed the director's cut, but it was so detailed I couldn't help but wonder - if I was seeing the movie for the first time, would I enjoy this particular version?  Further viewings will be required to see if the director's cut self-indulgent or just added layers of awesome.

I'm not going to put my head up my ass and interpret Donnie Darko's ending.  Alternate universes and times, what happens in Donnie's head and what happens with the rest of the world, none of that matters.  At this moment, Donnie is dead.  Gary Jules's plaintive, haunting voice, the lyrics, people we've met over the past two hours reacting to their brush with... something.  The result is one of the most moving music cues in the history of film.

But what always kills me is Donnie's father, played by Holmes Osborne.  The paramedics wheel Donnie's body past his family and we see them react (starting with Jake Gyllenhaal's real-life sister, Maggie).  Donnie's father is blubbering, devastated, but he still rocks his youngest to comfort her.

There's little point in watching this if you haven't seen the movie, but here t'is.

Speaking of Maggie Gyllenhaal...

3 - Wreckless Eric's Whole Wide World, as used in Stranger Than Fiction

This is one of my favorite movies.  In real life, who knows why Maggie Gyllenhaal would want anything more than the time of day from Will Ferrell.  In movie life, these two characters need each-other.

After a nice dinner, the taxman and the righteous baker he's auditing are both wondering what the evening might hold.  He spots her guitar.  She asks him to play.  He's shy, reserved, and just beginning to learn guitar, so he begs off.

While she's in the kitchen washing the dishes, he begins to play in the living room.  His tremulous voice fills the quiet apartment.   You might wonder if Maggie Gyllenhaal's Ana Pascal is unfamiliar with Whole Wide World (as I was when I first saw this movie), if she's touched by his ability to be vulnerable and nothing more.  But Gyllenhaal is a professional; she mouths a few of the lyrics while she's watching him play and even manages to make it look natural.

I can't believe he picked this song, her face says, the one song he knows on guitar and it's this.  In her sad eyes, there's the realization that if she opens herself to his desire, then he might have something to offer, too.  Her silent appreciation mirrors the audience's support of Howard Crick's blossoming during the course of the movie.

Then there's the great moment when she moves to the couch, watching Will Ferrell's Howard Crick play.   You're about to get kissed, her grin says, and you don't even know it.

When Ana climbs over her guitar to kiss Howard and Wreckless Eric takes the song over, it's perfect.  Watch the whole scene for the build.

2 - Van Halen's rendition of Ice Cream Man, as used in episode #4 of Freaks and Geeks (Kim Kelly is My Friend)

Whatever feelings you struggle with now when Van Halen comes up, in 1978 they could do no wrong.  Van Halen was running with the devil while Jamie cried, and they got us so we didn't even know what we were doing.

Bless Paul Fieg for taking so damned long to release the Freaks and Geeks boxed set.  Unlike, say, the Beavis and Butthead boxed sets, which did not get the rights to a whole bunch of music that aired in the original series, FnG waited until they could do it right.  The look back on this tragically under-watched series is the better for it.

It starts off quietly, David Lee Roth murmuring over Eddie Van Halen's acoustic guitar as Busy Philipps's Kim Kelly stops her Gremlin at the park in hopes of meeting up with her boyfriend, James Franco's Daniel Desario.

She spots him obviously flirting with her sometime best friend, Karen Scarfolli (a pre-US Office Rashida Jones).

"Thefuckisthis?" Kim's face says, "My boyfriend-?  My best friend?"  At this point it's still flirting.  Not innocent flirting - this is Daniel Desario, after all - but she's waiting to see what develops.

Pictured: what develops.
As David Lee Roth says, "All right boys," Kim's best friend breaks out the move which says, "let's go somewhere private so I can suck something else."  Acoustic gives way to electric with a crash of drums and a trademark Roth howl just as Kim Killy goes ballistic.

Pictured: Hell Hath No Fury

Skip the first 8 seconds and enjoy.

1 - Faith Hill's This Kiss, as used in Practical Magic

Mark Feuerstein, who is not Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, was once in a movie with Helen Hunt.  Hunt wanted to play a game where they named their guilty pleasure movies, movies which are "so bad that they're good."  To illustrate, she started off with her favorite bad-good movie, Practical Magic.

"Really..." Feuerstein said.  "I was in Practical Magic."

I'm going to focus on the good part of the bad/good equation and forge on like those groans of protest are all in my head.

One day, Sandra Bullock's Sally Owens is tending her garden.  She stops, looks up, and realizes she's supposed to be somewhere.
"Did I leave the oven on?"
Meanwhile, Feuerstein's Michael pauses at his fruit stand, realizing he's expecting someone.
"Is that guy from Smucker's ever going to come?  I'm sick of this nickel-and-dime shit."
But no, it's not imminent fire and the hope of a corporate buyout that has these two distracted, it's love, motherfucker.  L-O-V-E.  Sure, it took a little push from the Owens' aunts (in the form of a spell) to get Sally to run to her destiny, but when two genetically gifted individuals smile at each-other, do we really care why?

Watching as their secretive grins widen into blissful smiles, while Faith Hill's optimism bubbles in the background, it's impossible not to smile with them.

Okay, that's not true.  It's possible, but why make the effort?  Do you want to be miserable your whole life?  C'mon, let the director manipulate you a little.  You'll be glad you did.

Sally and Michael reach each-other and she closes the distance by leaping into his arms.  Where, guess what?  They kiss.  Hard.

At this point in the movie, they haven't exchanged one word.  But they know- it's magic.

It's also the point where you either give up and go with the movie, or decide you hate fun.

Open your heart to schmaltz and enjoy.

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