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.”
The first 2016 entry for this series rests with an unexpected hit from 1961. What was undoubtedly Dave Brubeck‘s greatest commercial success, his quartet’s signature tune1, and likely the earliest song to simultaneously appear high on Pop, Easy Listening, and Jazz charts. We’re speaking of, Take Five, written by the group’s alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. First performed and released in ’59, two years before it unpredictably grabbed AM radio audience ears. Becoming the biggest-selling jazz single ever2.
“Take Five” was also used similarly for the film soundtrack of Pleasantville (1998).
Covered continuously thereafter by various artists, the tune would only be needle-dropped on to movie soundtracks, establishing mood and contrivance, in recent decades — in this case ten years apart and across two very different genres.
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Spanning five decades worth of work, undeniably Woody Allen is known for his comedy act, screenwriting, and filmmaking, among other things. His movies stress both humor and drama, sometimes within the same film or scene; claiming a number of admirers3. Many, quirky personal efforts. His self-directed ’90s romantic comedy Mighty Aphrodite4 used a few big band and jazz standards for its soundtrack. “Take Five” among the most recognizable, here setting the unusual tone his Lenny character finds himself in. So fascinated in identifying the mother of his adopted child, he’s oblivious to his wife and neighbor laying their infidelity groundwork right beneath his eyes. Even as Cassandra attempts to warn him otherwise. Like the tune itself, famously written in an unusual 5/4 meter, the sequence overlays the differing dramatic melodies of two lives going astray.
Perhaps not as celebrated, but certainly garnering his share of box office success5, the younger Francis Lawrence has made a name for himself. His debut feature film, Constantine, loosely based on Vertigo Comics’ Hellblazer series, may not have garnered award nominations (or critic and comic book aficionado praise), but remains an undervalued work. Visually striking, with a Klaus Badelt and Brian Tyler score to match, the film used its L.A. locale as the unspoken character of the piece. “Take Five” makes a special cameo, care of Constantine’s manual turntable in a stylish apartment many an Angeleno would gladly kill for. Here the dying, sentenced-to-Hell lead character seeks to enhance his otherworldly arsenal for the peril ahead by way of his friend Beeman. Brubeck’s best, which broke all the rules of song and music writing, backs the supernatural scene with the same distinctive West Coast jazz style that became so everlasting6.
The entire series can be found here.
- “A perennial crowd-pleaser,
Take Fivebecame de rigueur in the group’s concert performances, during which band members would leave the stage one at a time after their respective solos until only drummer Morello was left.” ~ Encyclopædia Britannica ↩
- In keeping with radio playlist time frames of the era, the single version of Take Five a decidedly pared-down version (2:55) of the album cut, which runs 5:28 on the Time Out LP (and later Compact Disc). ↩
- Critic Roger Ebert described Allen as “a treasure of the cinema.” ~ Wikipedia ↩
- Mira Sorvino’s splendid performance, as the ditzy prostitute who is the mother of a genius son she gave up for adoption, won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year. ↩
- cough…Hunger Games…cough ↩
- The NBC Today program used “Take Five” as its theme music for a number of years. ↩