The Digital Fix’s Favourite Musical Moments

In the words of David Bowie: Sound and Vision.

.article_full img {padding:0px 0px 0px 10px;}It is time, once again, for various Digital Fix contributors to come together on a common theme. On this occasion we’re discussing our favourite musical moments, whether they come courtesy of Heath Ledger or Miles Davis. There were no guidelines when coming up with these individual gems meaning that we could chose pop songs or orchestral scores, a moment in a concert movie or from an actual musical. Of course with so much choice available many favourites are going to be missing, so please do feel free, as ever, to add your own in the comments box below…

Les Anderson: Once Upon a Time in the West
Arrival at the Station by Ennio Morricone

This is such a cliché but I have to go for ‘that’ crane shot in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. Considered to be the most operatic of all westerns, Once Upon A Time in the West achieves a rare stylistic fusion between image and music. As anyone reading this knows, 99.99% of films have the music added after the final cut is made and the music is composed to fit. Leone’s film is a very rare beast in that the relationship between the image, the editing and the score was organic from the start. He commissioned Ennio Morricone to write music in advance of filming to be played back on set during shooting of certain scenes. The shot in question is the one where, after Jill McBain’s (Claudia Cardinale) arrival at Flagstone station, the camera tracks alongside her as she walks through the station building and out into the town’s bustling main street. As she does so, the camera sweeps up in an incredibly well-orchestrated single shot taking in the whole of Flagstone accompanied by an expansive orchestral crescendo on the soundtrack. The staging and photography alone are breathtaking. This was long before the days of digital trickery and it all had to be done for real. It involved hundreds of extras, vehicles, livestock and, most importantly, La Cardinale. Her timing is immaculate and the soundtrack with Edda dell’Orso’s vocalise soaring over the orchestra transforms the scene from stunning to mythic. It has been copied (Back to the Future Part III for example!) but never equalled.

Emma Farley: 10 Things I Hate About You
Can’t Take Me Eyes Off You performed by Heath Ledger

I have a load of favourite musical moments in films. I think my ultimate has to be Heath Ledger serenading Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You. His rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is one of the main turning points in the film. Kat starts to let her guard down and he realises that he’s not just in it for the money anymore. 10 Things is special to me as it’s the first teen movie I really loved, it was my first Heath Ledger film and it was the first film that I saw where I really paid attention to the soundtrack.

Other favourites include Jon Cryer lip-syncing to Try a Little Tenderness in Pretty in Pink and the tour bus singing Tiny Dancer in Almost Famous.

clydefro jones: Elevator to the Gallows
Florence sur les Champs-Élysées by Miles Davis

She moves down the streets of Paris with sadness and in black and white. A trumpet cries for her, perhaps with her, on the soundtrack. It’s dark, extremely moody and everlastingly cool.

The ‘she’ is Jeanne Moreau, it’s Miles Davis on trumpet and the film is Louis Malle’s debut Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud; UK: Lift to the Scaffold). It’s a short sequence with a major impact. Moreau’s character knows her boyfriend, played by Maurice Ronet, is planning to murder his boss, her husband, but she’s not heard from him and fears the worst. The set-up and so much of the atmosphere is very French. It’s almost as though Malle specifically set out to define ‘cool’ on film, what with the black and white night time cinematography, the focus on Moreau’s distraught face, and that romantically bleeding soundtrack Davis provided. That it is indeed French seems somehow natural and like an obvious reality. It need not be, of course. Miles’ trumpet could ache for a film in any language but, apparently, only a French picture could marry his instrumentation so well with dark visuals. The trumpet feels noir, and authentically so. Davis’ score emerges on and off during the picture, always exemplifying or even establishing the downbeat mood. It came from a burst of improvisational creativity and was recorded in just a single night. Without Miles’ contribution, the film would feel rather ordinary but with it, Malle captured sad lightning.

Mark Lee: Suspiria
Sighs by Goblin

As the seventies progressed, horror began to shrug off its clumsy, lumbering, organ-saturated slabs of sound as filmmakers came to realise that they could disrupt the paranoid subconscious of the decade’s psyche by fusing psychological techniques, overwhelming visuals, and complimentary musical scores. Whereas John Carpenter’s straightforward yet chilling piano score in Halloween and Mike Oldfield’s spine-tingling Tubular Bells in The Exorcist provide excellent examples of expertly congruous musical accompaniments to horror visuals, I find it difficult to think of a more apt example than the soundtrack to Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece, Suspiria.

In fact, I find it difficult to think of any audio/visual pairing that quite matches the diabolical symbiosis of Argento’s vivid, baroque visuals and Goblin’s mesmerising disharmonic noise. Rather like Oldfield’s opening theme to The Exorcist, during the early phases of Suspiria the soundtrack only reveals a slight aperture through which to glimpse the impending, evil chaos with a tentative, hesitant melody, teasing and playing with the viewer’s anticipation of what may lie ahead. Innocence, naivety, and a little trepidation characterise the early section of this tale, and such restraint sets the stage perfectly for the impending scenes of what is one of the most pure examples of complete, unfettered horror.

Argento’s overwhelming and gloriously indulgent visuals finally become inextricably woven into the multiple layers of Goblin’s jangling, screaming, howling soundtrack during Pat Hingle’s (Eva Axen) long demise. As she takes refuge in the apartment of a friend, Goblin’s Sighs launches its discordant guitar-based assault on your senses, and this is a sequence where the audio and visual combine with nefarious glee to pummel your nerves into quivering submission. Goblin’s crazy aural presentation works in absolute collusion with Argento’s vivid and garish kaleidoscope of dazzling colours, and as Pat is terrifyingly and helplessly dragged out towards the blinding coloured glass that will act as the final canvas for her untimely death, your senses are similarly dragged into the aural crescendo, a glorious cacophony of sound and vision that is little short of a waking nightmare.

Personally speaking, I can’t recall a more devastatingly effective companionship of sound and vision, and without Goblin’s cruel, engulfing soundtrack, Argento’s most perfect of horror set pieces would surely not carry the unforgettable impact it unleashes on its mesmerised viewers.

Gavin Midgley: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones

It’s not very fashionable to like, much less celebrate, Mike Myers’ swinging 60s spy spoofs at the moment, but it’s worth remembering that the first film was a happy discovery, a genuine cult video success after it was largely overlooked at the multiplex. The opening title sequence in particular makes it abundantly clear that the film intends to do nothing but entertain for the next 90 minutes, and it was certainly successful at that.

At a time when musicals were still box office poison, here was a film that revelled in an extended musical sequence complete with acrobatic dancers and colourful cinematography. Shot in an obviously fake London street and set to Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova, it’s a short and sweet slice of feel-good nonsense as Austin is chased through the city by dozens of screaming female admirers. At the end he leads a marching band out on to the streets before back-flipping in to his Union Jack-coloured car. The somersaulting London bobbies are a particular highlight. It can’t help but raise a smile, and is there for no other reason than being fun to watch.

There are a few other musical interludes later on, including of course the legendary Burt Bacharach, but the simple joy of the opening sequence is what lingers in the mind. Austin Powers has to be commended for admirably bucking the trend long before Moulin Rouge! revived the movie musical proper.

Anthony Nield: Away from Her
Harvest Moon by Neil Young

Choosing a single favourite is quite the task simply because there have been so many great meetings of sound and vision over the years. Do I opt for a musical, such as that magnificent opening sequence to Love Me Tonight during which the song Isn’t It Romantic? travels from character to character? Or a moment from a concert movie, whether it be any number of possibilities from the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense or that terrifically shot guitar solo outro to Moonage Daydream by Mick Ronson (whilst David Bowie undergoes a costume change backstage with a silent Ringo Starr watching on) in Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars? Or there are countless scores to choose from – from Morricone to Miklós Rósza – and countless instances of pop songs given a fresh shake-up… Which comes out tops?

I don’t know if my chosen moment is necessarily better than any of the other examples given (either by myself or others), but it is a wonderful piece of cinema and perfectly understated. It comes from Sarah Polley’s debut feature, Away from Her, released in 2006. This is a low-key affair concerning a retired married couple played by Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie. Suffering from a failing memory, she is diagnosed early on in the film with Alzheimer’s Disease. Concerned about the risks she poses to herself the decision is made that she will enter a nursing home, one that has an initial 30-day ‘no visitors’ policy so that the new patient may adjust. As the film develops she slowly forgets her husband and instead grows affectionate towards another patient, played by Michael Murphy. In a way, it can be seen as alternate Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, albeit without all the gimmicks and instead told in firmly realistic terms. Needless to say, it’s also considerably more affecting than Michel Gundry’s (to my mind) overrated efforts.

But before this, and before the nursing home, a single scene, played out during Christmas. Knowing it will be their last together on their own terms, the pair spend the season together and in one particularly heartfelt moment dance together in their living room. The song is Harvest Moon by Neil Young, taken from the album of the same name, a conscious throwback to his earlier classic from 1972, Harvest. Thus it’s an acoustic number, and a quiet one at that, in which Young sings of a love that has spanned years: “When we were strangers/ I watched you from afar./ When we were lovers/ I loved you with all my heart.” With just a few lines we are able to picture the couples’ past and with just a few lines more – “But now it’s getting late/ and the moon is climbing high” – we can sense the encroaching end. Combined with Pinsent and Christie’s affectionate performances it’s a truly heartbreaking moment, allowing the viewer to both see the love these two have for each (and have had for decades) and a perhaps unconscious acknowledgement that it won’t necessarily play out to a happy ending.

Mike Sutton: Mean Streets
Be My Baby performed by The Ronettes

Martin Scorsese has always been a director who is acutely aware of the power inherent in the apt conjunction of music and image and has demonstrated this in an incredibly creative way. Whether it’s the standards in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Goodfellas, Van Morrison’s T.B. Sheets in Bringing Out the Dead or Elmer Bernstein’s lushly romantic score for The Age of Innocence, he has always chosen just the right sound for a particular scene. But my favourite example is found at the beginning of Mean Streets. After an opening monologue, we see Charlie (Harvey Keitel) lie down, his head hitting the pillow in synchronisation to the opening drum beats of Be My Baby, the 1963 hit single by The Ronettes, produced by Phil Spector. As the song plays, we see Super 8 footage of Charlie’s life; his friends, his family and his church. Meanwhile, Ronnie Spector’s glorious voice ascends into the heavens, suggesting an eternal world of ethereal joy which is always just beyond Charlie’s reach and which, by the end of the film, will be lost forever. There may well be five better opening minutes to a film but I have yet to see them.

Anthony Nield

Updated: Nov 06, 2011

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