This is the next entry in a series from early 2012 that looks at the use of “needle dropped” songs, many of them popular tunes, in movies. Specifically, in more than one. Yet they are not officially considered part of a film’s score. A score consists of those orchestral, choral, or instrumental pieces some consider background music. Both music forms 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. This convergence of the music and film arts I’ve spent much time toward. My wife can confirm this. Some (not all) movie soundtracks have incorporated those songs the director or music programmer showcased in their production along with the film’s score.
A few filmmakers have made it part of their work to incorporate well-known or popular song as a recurrent element. Why not? Music and movies make for a wonderful tandem, and I regularly watch out for them. As usual, 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?:
“… 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.”
This entry examines one of the classic pop songs of the 50s. In fact, this version of Wheel of Fortune, written by Bennie Benjamin and George David Weiss, is the cover song of the 1951 original performed by American jazz singer Johnny Hartman. Kay Starr‘s stirring number out a year later was given a special verve by the versatile pop and jazz singer in her rendition. Her biggest hit, #1 for 10 weeks, tied together two critically acclaimed film adaptations, each of whom lost out big time come awards season, fourteen years apart.
The Right Stuff (1983)
One of the great films of the 80s by the fine writer-director Philip Kaufman, The Right Stuff (reviewed here), used Tom Wolfe’s best-selling 1979 book as its basis. To an extraordinary cinematic and musical extent, too. A number of needle-dropped songs, in Bill Conti’s fine score, marked the passing of time for the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots in the seeds of the space program. “Wheel of Fortune” can be heard from the jukebox in this scene involving various reactions to Scott Crossfield’s successful attempt at breaking Mach 2 in ’53. Their risky work reflected in the capricious nature of chance the song highlights. Shadowing the hotshot players (Crossfield, Chuck Yeager, et al.) vying to stay atop the competitive pyramid of test flight. Though Scott is at the pinnacle for the moment, it’s fleeting. Even owning the heart of someone like Glennis, Chuck’s wife, is wistfully framed as the song ends. Something else he’s fated to not hold.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Another celebrated film, which also lost out for Best Picture that year (to “Titanic” — what were we thinking?!?), sprung from another equally renowned novel by James Ellroy. The neo-noir classic L.A. Confidential (recently reviewed by J.D.), Curtis Hanson’s stellar adaptation (scored by Jerry Goldsmith), showcased Starr’s torchy rendition1 one better through film montage. Backing the composite of scenes, the ballad’s sound effect from the unequal game of chance, “The Big Six” or “Wheel of Fortune”, is melodiously telling. As detectives Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes swim about in the serendipitous and corrupting fortunes within Capt. Dudley Smith’s LAPD, Pierce Patchett’s business, and the city of Los Angeles of the 1950s, Officer “Bud” Wright is caught under the spell of call-girl Lynn Bracken. Ultimately, amidst the unscrupulous dealings going down, it’s this isolated pair who’ll fulfill the love song’s sentimental lyrics onscreen:
I’ll not dream of winning fortune or fame
While the wheel is turning, turning, turning
I’ll be yearning, yearning
For love’s precious flame
The entire series can be found here.
- Kay Starr’s roots remained firmly in jazz, and Billie Holiday famously referred to the singer, “…the only white woman who could sing the blues.” ↩