Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Greatest Music Moments in Film; Part One

Almost Famous - Tiny Dancer (Elton John)

For my money, Cameron Crowe is the king of the soundtrack.  He was a passionate music fan and rock journalist long before he became a filmmaker, and all of his films seem to have the perfect song selections to accentuate their on-screen happenings.  Nowhere is that on better display than in his semi-autobiographical love letter to rock and roll, Almost Famous.  

The scene in question occurs when Russell Hammond, the guitar player of upstart band Stillwater, is reluctantly retrieved by the band's manager while in a post-acid stupor at a rural house party after unofficially quitting the band the night before.  Back on the bus, the eyes of his bandmates burn holes through a broken-down Russell as he sits quietly by himself.  The band's fate is in question until Tiny Dancer comes on over the radio, inspiring a cathartic group singalong.  By the time Russell finally joins in for the chorus, all has been forgiven and forgotten without any words needed to be said.  

Nowhere is a rock band better depicted as a family, although not always entirely functional, bound together by the music.  In the words of Miss Penny Lane- "Shhh, you are home". 

*Please excuse Spanish dialougue...shameless copyright loophole

The Deer Hunter - Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons)

The Deer Hunter is my favorite Vietnam War movie (if not war movie in general) because it doesn't focus on the war itself, but the effects it has on the young men involved and their lives going forward.  My favorite scene however, is one that paints a picture of their lives before being torn to shreds.  

Bookended by their normal lives as Pittsburgh steel mill workers and their experience with the abomination of war is this scene.  For this moment, we see these buddies; one of which soon-to-be married, cut loose as they cast the future aside to down some beers, shoot some pool, and drunkenly sing along to Frankie Valli.  The impact of this scene is undoubtedly magnified by the inevitability of the horrors to come, but seeing the characters laughing and shooting the shit together provides a great moment of "calm before the storm" surreality.  This is just an everyday bunch of blue collar guys doing their best to embrace life in the best way that they know how to in the face of impending devastation.  

Goodfellas - Layla (Eric Clapton ft. Duane Allman)

Mr. DeNiro must have a knack for musical moments, because he makes an equally effective yet entirely different appearance with this scene.  If the aforementioned Deer Hunter scene is the calm before the storm, the Layla scene in Goodfellas is the underlying calm DURING the storm.  After his perfectly executed Luthansa Heist, the paranoid ringleader Jimmy Conway begins to, in true mobster fashion, cut off all of his ties to the crime.  For "months after the robbery" the bodies of gangsters are found in such places as abandoned cars, dumpsters, and frozen solid in meat trucks.  Meanwhile Jimmy is ecstatic as the careers of him and his understudies skyrocket; one of which about to become an honorable 'made man'.    The piano coda of Layla amplifies the controlled mayhem of Jimmy and underling Henry Hill, while simultaneously foreshadowing the helpless despair of their inevitable downfall.  

Fight Club - Where is My Mind (Pixies)

"You met me at a very strange time in my life".  The matter-of-fact sentiment that closes the film resonates as an absurdly simple way to sum up the strange journey of the unnamed narrator.  As explosions light the sky and buildings crumble in the background our hero stands hand in hand with his lover/nemesis, and we are left as an audience unable to be sure just how much of it is real.  What we do know is that we're watching a man as he emerges from a major existential awakening and blissfully faces an unknown (at best) future.  The confusion and destruction of the final scene is brilliantly contrasted by the soothingly manic absurdism of The Pixies.  As our narrator and Marla stand watching the mayhem like fireworks we know that he no longer gives a damn where his mind is, and neither do we. 

Trainspotting - Perfect Day (Lou Reed)

With all due respect to Pulp Fiction, there is no better overdose scene than the one set to Perfect Day in Trainspotting.  After shooting up, Renton sinks (quite literally as far as he's concerned) straight down into the red carpet.  This initially seems to accentuate the euphoric sedation of the initial heroin rush, but as the shot lingers on it looks more and more like the view from the bottom of the grave.  Furthermore, it very effectively illustrates Renton's increasing detachment from the terrible reality.  He is completely oblivious as his all-too-experienced buddy drags him down the stars and leaves him in a taxi cab to be dropped in the parking lot of a hospital.  All the while Lou Reed drags about his 'Perfect Day'; with the vague sarcasm and disturbingly contradictory nature of the song taken to a whole new level as we watch the frightening events taking place as a direct result of Renton's tragic addiction.  

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