Continuing my thoughts from February regarding the use of song in film, “needle dropped” tunes are not officially considered part of a film score — those orchestral, choral, or instrumental pieces some consider background music. I believe wholeheartedly both are utilized as cues by filmmakers for a specific purpose or to elicit certain reactions by the audience. I’m fascinated by this in general, and movie soundtracks have long intrigued me. A convergence of the music and film arts I’ve allocated much time toward. Some movie soundtracks (many my favorites) have incorporated those songs the director or music programmer have showcased in their movie along with the film’s score.
A few have made it part of their filmography to incorporate popular song as a regular element in their work. A good number of them do this very well. I think the use of music remains very much a part of the movie experience and related to its composition. I continue to watch out and listen for it in my movie viewing. Giving credit where it is due, I never would have started anything like this series if not for my blogging colleague over at Fog’s Movie Review. It was his excellent, Tossin’ It Out There: What’s YOUR Favorite Song From a Movie?, that kicked it all off:
“… there’s a deep connection between the two arts, and sometimes that winds up creating an inseparable bond between the two in the viewer’s mind.”
For this, I’ve selected a song that really became popular during the ‘Me Decade’, one used prominently in two films and eras. Originally a folk song, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was written in the late-50s Britain by Ewan MacColl. Covered numerous times by folk singers throughout the 60s, it became a major international hit for Roberta Flack in the early 70s. MacColl, it was said, hated all of the cover versions to his song (he reportedly wrote it for Peggy Seeger, his lover and future third wife). He still accepted the Grammy for Song of the Year, though, while Flack received Record of the Year. The tune remains a stellar, heartfelt love song that was situated in a pair of quietly passionate sequences, in films almost fifteen years apart. Though, textured differently, both used the tune to underscore the emotional sentiment of their characters.
Play Misty For Me (1971)
Clint Eastwood’s first foray as director occurred around the same time Roberta Flack’s cover began to crest the charts with the underrated, psychological thriller of its day: Play Misty For Me. This marked the popular film star’s first steps at the helm of a Hollywood studio-backed motion picture and offered the audience a glimpse of Eastwood’s budding director penchants that would later become a template for his style of cinema. A prominent one being the use of music (original score was supplied by Dee Barton). And he was very much the auteur in putting together the unexpected montage, seen below, backed by this song as a love motif. Clint, by going out of the way to acquire the rights to that sensual rendition of the tune, would help herald the practice of needle-dropping popular song in movies for future filmmakers. The scene stands out for its distinctly tender tenor. One antithetical to the sexual revolution highlighted in the story, and repercussions coming to roost for the protagonist. It really was an instance of a love song used as a visual and musical painting. A last grasp by the lead persona at something most dear.
The Best of Times (1986)
What I believe was the tucked away element to director Roger Spottiswoode’s (the Ron Shelton-scripted) underrated comedy-themed sports film are the pair of love stories within, The Best of Times. For the protagonists, the road to gridiron redemption was closely intoned to their personal lives and the women they’re married to. The spouses who’ve stuck by them through their travails. While Arthur B. Rubinstein provided the original score, the clear, heartfelt sentiment of the film occurred as Flack’s exquisitely slow rendition played as the backdrop. Fittingly at the school dance, the night before their trial-by-fire to come. It nailed it all together. The mid-80s film could not have selected a more appropriate and meaningful song for the 1972 high school graduates up there on the screen. As much as the replay game meant to them, against their especially hated rival, the song brought back for both the star-quarterback and the third-string receiver what exactly their trip-down-memory-lane really recalled. That moment of import, one masked by their earlier football defeat, when each of their lives changed for the better: the point in time they fell in love with their wives. The scene and song highlight their rediscovery.
The entire series can be found here.