Thursday, January 18, 2007

Music & Pictures

As mentioned by David Bishop, Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian’s film blog brings up the subject of how a musical moment can deliver a dramatic punch in a non-musical film.

By example Bradshaw cites the training sequence in the original Rocky, accompanied by the Bill Conti-composed theme tune Gonna Fly Now, which probably sparked the idea when he sat down to review the new sequel Rocky Balboa. He makes a fair fist of putting together a list where, in his words:

Great cinema-music moments need not be over a montage, or a straightforward sugar rush like the Rocky sequence. They need not necessarily be songs from a musical, or characters who happen to be singing songs. What they do need to do is deliver compressed drama straight into the vein.

His own top ten begins with the singing of La Marseillaise in Casablanca, and thankfully there is no syrupy Celine Dion warbling from Titanic, nor Vangelis’ theme to Chariots of Fire, which has been so overused it’s now only available for parody, or any of the numerous songs pulled out and played over the de rigueur rom-com montages. But ultimately the list is notable for the glaring omissions.

While Strauss’ The Blue Danube from 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin' Jack Flash, which heralds the arrival of De Niro's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets both get a look in, where are the nods to Cameron Crowe and Michael Mann? Together with Kubrick and Scorsese, Crowe and especially Mann make up the quartet of filmmakers who are masters of melding film with music – in particular music and songs not specifically composed for a specific film – to remarkable effect.

Crowe started out as a reporter for Rolling Stone and has since always made music a key component in his films. The defining moment of Say Anything..., his directorial debut, has to be when John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler lifts a boom box over his head and blasts out Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes to reconcile with his estranged girlfriend, played by Ione Skye. A decade later, in the autobiographical Almost Famous, the growing schisms between the band members of Stillwater are temporary healed by a disarming sing-along to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer as the tour bus carves its way through the countryside towards their next gig.

And then there’s Michael Mann, who has always made music integral to creating specific moods in his films and the television series Miami Vice, Crime Story and Robbery/Homicide Division. With the scripts stripped to the bare essentials, actions speak louder than words. In his first two features – the existential crime drama Thief and the German Expressionism- influenced, wartime horror of The Keep – the talking stops long before the film does, leading to one of Mann’s signature pieces: the dialogue-free climatic showdown between protagonist and antagonists. In Thief James Caan’s safe-cracker Frank brutally severs his misjudged Faustian relationship with crime boss Leo. The Keep climaxes with the dedicated Glaeken Trismegestus destroying the growing evil of Molasar. Both take place against pounding Tangerine Dream soundtracks.

Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans and Heat may have brief dialogue exchanges after the final bloodshed ensues, but the sentiment is still very much the same. In Mann’s adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, Uncas and Chinachgook’s brutal confrontations with Magua on the mountain trail is backed by Trevor Jones’ interpretation of Dougie Maclean’s The Gael. Heat climaxes with a second, less cordial, confrontation between cop Vincent Hanna and criminal Neil McCauley around the runways of LAX. Although in this instance, with only the sounds of airliners punctuating the edgy silence and a brief refrain from Kronos Quartet, it is only when the outcome has been decided that Mann introduces the strains of Moby’s God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters.

And then there is Manhunter. Even before the combined resources of the police and FBI track him down, the unhinged Francis Dollarhyde has Iron Butterfly going mental on the stereo with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vidda to terrify his intended victim, which gets ratcheted up a notch when Will Graham crashes the party and takes down the Tooth Fairy. If that doesn’t deliver “compressed drama straight into the vein” I don’t know what does.


At 6:36 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

Mann oh man...

At 7:58 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Mann's the man!


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