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.”
Rhapsody in Blue animated in a segment in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 (1999)
With the leaves turning their last color for the year, it’s time to showcase another classic piece in this series. A composition that’s endured as a best-in-class for most of the 20th century and beyond, as recognized by music, stage, as well as movie aficionados. Perhaps American composer George Gershwin‘s finest, Rhapsody in Blue stands apart with its unique arrangement of solo piano and jazz band. Combining elements of European classical music with the distinct influence of American jazz, it is instantly recognizable.
Written in 1924, the composer figuratively backed into a corner to do so by Paul Whiteman for an experimental classical-jazz concert to be held at Aeolian Hall (New York), the originally titled “American Rhapsody” bloomed forth. The title later changed upon a suggestion by his brother Ira after visiting a gallery exhibition of James McNeill Whistler paintings1. An enlivened expression and an unheard of musical hybrid of its time, NPR’s Teddy Libby noted in 2009 what made it so everlasting:
“In the hands of another composer, Rhapsody In Blue could easily have turned into a disjointed exercise in symphonically dressed up jazz rhythms, melodic figures and quasi-improvisatory instrumental licks. Instead, Gershwin’s uncanny sense of timing, and a gift for memorable melody unparalleled in the 20th century, turned the Rhapsody into an embodiment of the Jazz Age’s upbeat lyricism and dance-driven vitality. The roaring Twenties had a soul, and this was it.”
Featured on television and motion pictures from time-to-time2, Gershwin’s musical essay invariably used to help tell a story in the most uncommon, but unmistakable American way. In this case, by two very different filmmakers, one American…the other Australian, across romance tales thirty-four years apart.
As cited earlier, the comedy, screenwriting, and filmmaking of Woody Allen‘s, among other things, peculiarly special. A career spanning decades and stressing both humor and drama…sometimes within the same film or scene. Quirky personal efforts, none more so than his Manhattan, which clearly emerged from the Seventies. Another self-directed dramatic romantic comedy deemed “culturally significant” and placed in the National Film Registry. Need only view its beautiful Gordon Willis-lensed montage opening of that densely populated borough, Allen fitfully narrating introductory drafts of his book’s main character and the city he loves, and accompanied by George Gershwin’s magnum opus, to explain why the U.S. Library of Congress did so. Rhapsody in Blue the lyrical consciousness of the twice-divorced, female-challenged, 42-year-old ex-TV comedy writer now dating a 17-year-old girl3.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Australia’s director-screenwriter-producer Baz Luhrmann has made quite a name for himself, even if he only has five feature films (and a number of shorts) to his credit. All of them spectacular, most featuring audacious, music-filled and elaborately staged sequences. Luhrmann on the other end of the scale compared to the introspect Allen in style and volume. Nonetheless, when it came to needle dropping George Gershwin’s most popular work, he could not have picked a more perfect personality to match it with. The title character to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Rhapsody in Blue electrified the sequence4 that dramatically introduced Jay Gatsby onscreen. Nick’s, the teller of the tale, chance meeting with the mysterious business magnet at one of his breathtaking parties. All eyes and ears set aloft as it played with the fireworks in the backdrop, recreating the same rousing Jazz-aged period that undoubtably gave rise to Gershwin’s masterwork.
The entire series can be found here.
- Many bear titles such as Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket and Arrangement in Grey and Black (better known as Whistler’s Mother). ↩
- Us old-timers can recall when United Airlines used the piece in a series of advertisements; even in their pre-flight safety videos, and for their hub in Chicago O’Hare (Terminal 1 underground walkway). ↩
- We all know what you’re thinking. ↩
- As it did when, “Rhapsody in Blue was played simultaneously by eighty-four pianists at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.” ~ Wikipedia ↩