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. Both are equally 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 (not all) movie soundtracks 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 well-known or popular song as a regular element in their work. 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. I give credit to my blogging colleague over at Fog’s Movie Review for helping to ignite this series care of his excellent post, Tossin’ It Out There: What’s YOUR Favorite Song From a Movie?, that lit 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 entry, a return to the world of opera and another aria, one written by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The duet (actually, a duettino or short duet) from The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), Canzonetta Sull’aria was composed for the third act of this comic opera in 1786. The Marriage of Figaro is a sequel, of all things, to the earlier The Barber of Seville, and recounts a single “day of madness” (“la folle giornata” or “folle journée”) in the palace of the philandering Count Almaviva by his valet. The character known as Figaro (now no longer a barber). It was surprisingly used in two films where imprisonment was the common theme.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
One of the stellar movie adaptations of a literary work for the 90s occurred with Frank Darabont’s first feature film. Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” rounded up as The Shawshank Redemption. Its mix of the cold gray and bleak existence within prison walls buoyed by the light of hope resounded like few before. The adaptation accomplished another rare feat. The director/screenwriter created and added a new segment (which didn’t exist in the source novella) to an already redemptive story. Complimenting the original work (one with a solid score by Thomas Newman), it simultaneously brought about a sweet-sounding and singular sequence that could only be part of the cinematic experience. The unexpected use of the aria (which was sung by Edith Mathis and Gundula Janowitz from the 1968 Berlin Opera recording) for that extraordinary scene with Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) remains one of my all-time favorites. It gets me every time I watch it, no less so for Red’s (Morgan Freeman) voiceover:
“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”
The Great Raid (2005)
It is that “… no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about” that’s key here. Like Red, unless you were fluent in Italian, or opera, most weren’t aware of what’s being sung. Mozart’s opera was a witty yet profound tale of love, betrayal, and forgiveness set in Spain. And the song itself covers the Countess Almaviva dictating to her maid Suzanne an invitation to a tryst, addressed to her husband, in a plot to expose his infidelity. What does that have to do with John Dahl’s recreation of a WWII POW rescue in The Great Raid1? I think nothing regarding the opera and everything to how it was used in the ’94 film (music score by Trevor Rabin). The interrogation scene involving Joseph Fiennes as the POW Gibson and the Japanese Kempeitai Maj. Nadai (Motoki Kobayashi) has the two sopranos singing faintly in the background, care of a record player. The film’s homage offered an interesting contrast as this time it’s the keeper instead of the captive playing that duet. Still, the scene’s sentiment remained the same as that earlier film. A hopeful defiance in the face of grim odds. And, it followed sage advice,
“Some things are best left unsaid.”
The entire series can be found here.