Weekly Download Vol. II No. 23

Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric. I’ve decided there should be a third music category in the Academy Awards (N.B. As you may have noticed, I decided not to post anything on this year’s Academy Awards.  Yes, I was disappointed. The Social Network was a superior film in most every aspect to The King’s Speech.  But I have to admit I really liked The King’s Speech.  As a recovering (like alocoholism, never “former” never “cured” always the present participle never the preterite) stutterer, TKS remarkably depicted both the frustration and anxiety that accompany the condition (“condition” is a little dramatic, but you know what I mean).  So I prolly overvalued it for that reason.  Regardless I would still rank it a WYT+ to The Social Network’s RDW+. See WD VII N10).  This award should be called Best Acheivment in Use of Song in Film.  It would be distinct from Best Original Song, Best Original Score and any of the sound production awards.  It would awarded to the best scene in any movie accompanied by a specific song.

I think the marriage between song and film has been grossly overlooked. (N.B. this year the winner is the closing of The Social Network with Baby, You’re A Rich Man by The Beatles.)  It’s a topic that fascinates me and has led me, more than once, either to frantically dig in my pocket for my iPhone in hopes of Shazaaming (great verb) a particular song or to IMDB/Wikipedia (not good verbs) the hell of movies in hopes of finding a soundtrack list that doesn’t flutter by with the key grips, best boys and stand-ins. My curiosity led to the discovery of the distinction between diegetic v. non-diegetic music.  There are some fairly detailed explanations of the what these terms mean and their importance in the history of drama.  For the turbo curious here and here.  For the rest of us, and for my purposes, the distinction is best described thusly: diegetic music in film is music that the actors/characters are aware is playing and can be heard/interacted with.  Whereas, non-diegetic music, the actors/characters are unaware (in a suspension of disbelief/assault on the 4th wall sense) that music of any kind is playing.  Think of Lloyd Dobler holding up the stereo and playing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel in Say Anything v. You’re the Best by Joe Esposito playing during the All-Valley Tournament montage in Karate Kid. (Perhaps there should be two awards?)

Diegetic music tends to give films a more realistic feel (the camera is just recording what these people normally do (and what they hear)) as opposed to non-diegetic music (NDM) which, in theory, is communicates something directly to the audience.  Often this is done with a score to convey an emotion or a attitude w/r/t a particular character or scene (think The Imperial March from Star Wars when Vader appears). NDM is often used as more of chorus reminding the audience of certain subtexts (think any Randy Neuman song in any Toy Story movie). Or it’s used as kind of an ironic send up of a certain scene or even the movie in whole (think Stand by Your Man at the end of The Crying Game or Sympathy for the Devil at the end of the Interview with the Vampire).

(N.B. There is also an interesting  hybrid between DM and NDM where a song transitions from NDM to DM.  Many comedy movies make use of this.  But the most immediate example in a dramatic move that comes to mind is in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia in a mesmerizing scene where all of the characters begin singing along Wise Up by Aimee Mann.)

While I love nothing more than a perfectly chosen and placed NDM song in a film, I find much more artistry in the use of diegetic music.  I want to focus there and on it’s use in some of my all time favorite movie scenes.  Initially, I believe that movie makers who tend to emphasize DM in their moves are generally termed auteurs.  This is a fancy French term that essentially means “control freaks who must have their fingers in every aspect of their movie.”  This results in movies that are very distinctly and very recognizably their own.  For me, the two most recognizeable of these types of film makers are Wes Anderson and QT.  The movies they make are impossible not to distinguish (N.B. I would also say P.T. Anderson and Speilberg fit the bill of auteur, yet their movies can stand independantly of each other in a way that WA’s and QT’s do not.  This may mean they are more talented.  I don’t know.)  Likely enough, their films also tend to lean heavily on DM to make a point.  QT and WA are particularly fond of this and frankly, fantastic at it.  They both have deep stores of peculiar songs and can preternaturally fit them in appropriate places in their movies.  From each, my favorites are: WA: (1) the closing of Rushmore with Ooh Lah Lah by The Faces; and (2) the scene in The Royal Tenenbaums with Paltrow and the straight nosed Wilson brother in the tent with Goodbye Ruby Tuesday by The Stones.  QT: Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon Urge Overkill cover of Neil Diamond right before Uma puts the wrong stuff up her nose.

Other all-time favs: Almost Famous and the group sing a long of Tiny Dancer by Elton John (also one of my favorite all-time movie scenes) in general; The Body of an American by The Pogues from the “nat’ral pōlice” wake in The Wire (classic); Purple Rain (yes); and In Dreams by Roy Orbison from Blue Velvet (one of the creepiest scenes you will ever watch.)

But my all-time favorite is Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric from the way underrated Stranger Than Fiction.  Watch this. It’s perhaps my favorite three and half minutes in film.  Enjoy.

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