Friday, April 23, 2010

My Top 5 Most Powerful Movie-Music Moments

As powerful as The Image in cinema can be, sometimes the right song placed at the right time can have the transcending power to turn a given scene into the type of raw, emotional experience that keeps most of us returning back to the movies over and over.

Though I've given this list the not-so-dubious "Top 5" title, I would like it to be known that this is pretty far from comprehensive, and these 5 are basically off the top of my head. Nevertheless, they are 5 moments that completely blew me away (note: there may be spoilers). I've also limited it to songs that are not original to the films, as opposed to original scores, as that opens a whole new area that I would really have to think about. In no order:

Roy Orbison's "Crying" in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

I'll just go ahead and get this one out of the way. The Club Silencio scene from Mulholland Drive is one of my favorite scenes ever, and Rebekah Del Rio's version of "Crying" is an emotional gut punch for the viewer, one that's mirrored by the emotions of the Diane and Rita characters. The whole sequence is just haunting, mysterious and deeply moving, especially when one realizes the significance of the pair's emotional breakdown. I've probably seen it 100 times and it never fails to give me chills.

Corona's "The Rhythm of the Night" in Claire Denis' Beau Travail

I am in awe of this scene, the ending one from Claire Denis' 1999 masterpiece, that manages to take a radio-friendly novelty song like "The Rhythm of the Night" and essentially make it a cathartic canvas for the tortured soul of Denis Levant's Seargent Galoup. The meaning of his wild and uninhibited dance, alone and out of time in the empty dance club, is left up to the viewer. But the raw sense of catharsis present in the scene, along with Levant's force-of-nature performance, makes it one of the most breathtaking endings I've ever seen.

The Velvet Underground's "Candy Says" in Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz

Yes, I am one of those who consider Fassbinder's 15 hour magnum opus to be one of the great achievements in all of cinema. It's a bleak, emotional roller coaster matched by few, and it's most heartbreaking moment comes in the wild and surrealist two-hour Epilogue. The moment involves our tortured protagonist Franz Biberkopf, in odd makeup that gives him the appearance of a sad clown, begging his enemy (for lack of a better word) Reinhold to release him from his suffering. Franz, who has been through the ringer over and over again, proclaims with tears in his eyes "I don't know anyone who's suffered like me, so pitifully, so wretchedly." while the haunting chorus to the Underground's "Candy Says" hums in the background. It's a moment of overwhelming power and honesty that's stayed with me ever since I first viewed this masterpiece.

The Commodores' "Nightshift" in Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum

For my money, no one uses music better in movies these days than Denis, and another example is her wonderful 35 Shots of Rum. In a diner late at night, a father dances with his daughter, and as the opening notes to The Commodores' ode to lost loved ones begins, the father steps aside to let her boyfriend have the next dance. He then watches the portrait of young love in front of him with sad, resigned eyes as inevitability strikes him. While the father's loss is of a different sort than that in the song, the connection is not lost, and never has such an epochal life epiphany been played so subtly and tenderly.

The Cranberries' "Dreams" in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express

Though the song (Faye Wong's version of course) plays multiple times throughout this movie - my favorite from Wong Kar-wai by the way - the greatest is the part where it plays over the montage of Faye cleaning and redecorating the apartment of cop 663 (which she has broken into) with feverish glee. There is a pure joy and exhilaration to this scene that never fails to put a smile on my face, no matter how down and out I am. It also helps that Wong's version of the song is killer - and perhaps even catchier than the original. It's a movie I cherish and a scene I have watched countless times. Pure cinematic exuberance.

Feel free to leave any of your favorites in the comments.


Ed Howard said...

These are some great choices. It goes without saying that the whole Club Silencio sequence is one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema, and Rebekah Del Rio's performance is a big part of that. She's amazing. And no matter how many times I've seen the film, I still get chills at the moment when she faints and the song continues on the soundtrack anyway, her haunting voice now separated from her body.

The end of Beau travail is another stunner, totally mysterious, so unlike anything else in the film, and yet somehow a perfect capstone to a beautiful film.

In a similar vein, the music in the epilogue to Berlin Alexanderplatz largely works so well because it's such an unexpected shift from the music in the preceding episodes. The sudden use of pop and rock songs to score Franz's internal landscape further sets this extended fantasy off from the rest of the series.

One of my favorites that you didn't mention is the use of several Leonard Cohen songs in Herzog's Fata Morgana, somehow a perfect accompaniment to the near-abstraction of the imagery, these indescribably sad songs set off against the empty desolation of the desert as Herzog's camera tracks across the wasteland from a moving truck.

Stephen said...

One I can think of now is "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in THREE TIMES. Very beautiful.

Generally I don't like songs whose messages just reiterate the images but it works.

J.D. said...

Good call on both MULHOLLAND DRIVE and CHUNGKING EXPRESS. Those would be on my list as well.

Another one of my faves comes from GOODFELLAS, there is a scene where Robert De Niro's character is sitting at the counter in a bar. The camera slowly moves in on him as the opening strains of “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream plays over the soundtrack. Coupled with the cold, amoral look on De Niro’s face, the audience instinctively knows that he is going to kill someone very soon. It is a brilliant bit of foreshadowing done with music.

Also, in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, the scene that takes place in the Canadian roadhouse with Laura Palmer, her friend Donna and their dates is an audio-visual assault on the senses. The entire frame is saturated by a hellish red color scheme, punctuated by a pulsating white strobe light. Over the soundtrack is a deafening bass-heavy song with a rockabilly guitar twang cranked up so loud that the characters have to yell over top of it. This powerful audio-visual combination fully immerses the viewer in an unpredictable setting.

Letsee... oh yeah, the use of “Everybody Wants to the Rule the World” by Tears for Fears in REAL GENIUS, which plays over the blissfully carefree ending of the film as kids jump gleefully in piles and piles of popcorn that exploded out of a house filled with the stuff.

Ennio Morricone's music that plays over the final climactic showdown between Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach... amazing!

Doniphon said...

Agree 100% that Denis uses music better than almost anyone. If you read interviews with her, whenever she talks about the guy from the Tindersticks she collaborates with, it's clear they have this innate, almost psychic connection, and that his contributions to her films are absolutely integral. She often mentions that he knows how her movies are going to come together before she does. And of course the two examples (of non-Tindersticks music) you mentioned are just as incredible.

One of my favorite moments involving pop music is in Two-Lane Blacktop when Dennis Wilson and James Taylor and Laurie Bird and Warren Oates all finally meet in that gas station. Oates has a Kristofferson tape, and Bird puts it on, and "Ballad Of Bobby McGee" plays through the rest of the scene. And as all these characters are talking in all these directions, talking past everyone else, Kristofferson sings "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" and it just reveals itself. Nothing is forced's just one of those things, you know? Its an incredibly candid moment in a sad and beautiful movie (and one of my personal favorites).

Drew said...

Wow, awesome comments guys!

Ed - I think you have just single-handedly launched Fata Morgana to the top of my viewing priorities. I love both Cohen and Herzog, and though this one has been on my radar for quite some time, for whatever reason I haven't gotten around to it yet. Your description sounds absolutely wonderful, and I officially can't wait to see this now.

Stephen - Good call on Three Times. It's not my favorite Hou, but I remember that scene quite well and it's excellent. You bring up an great point about music whose sole purpose is to reiterate the images, it's something I typically don't fall for either (I think maybe the only thing I've posted here that might fall into that category is 35 Shots of Rum?), but sometimes it works so well you just have to give it up.

J.D. - Great calls! I love both the scenes from Goodfellas and Twin Peaks: FWWM very much. Two excellent examples of the music giving the images an additional layer of poignancy and mystery. I've not seen Real Genius, but what you posted sounds pretty great and I'll have to check that out. And obviously Morricone's score in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is as seminal as it gets. Wonderful choices!

Doniphon - Glad to hear someone else is on the same page as me when it comes to Denis and her music. The two I posted are my favorites, but I also really love her collaborations with Tindersticks, and the Trouble Every Day soundtrack actually gets regular play from me on the good ole iPod, normally when I am in a...less than chipper mood. Great stuff though.

I have to admit, I've only seen Two-Lane Blacktop once awhile ago, but I remember really liking it. I think I vaguely recall the scene you posted, but it sounds really wonderful and makes me want to revisit this classic. Perhaps Barnes & Noble will have another Criterion sale soon and I can grab it on the cheap? heh.

Again, awesome comments guys!

Simon said...

Great choices, especially Mulholland Drive.

Drew said...

Thanks Simon, there is just something so resoundingly intimate and captivating about that scene that draws in so many.

My favorite thing I've read about it lately is a comment from MovieMan0283 in the comments section for Dave's writeup for the film at his Goodfella's blog:

"to me, the movie's aura was cause for pure elation, as if Lynch had made in Godard's words "the movie we all really wanted to see", the ideal movie, pure experience."

To me that epitomizes my feelings towards it

free movies online said...

Awesome choices. I must admit that the list that you have is absolutely powerful and amazing too.I don't like music too much but these are my favorites.