I’m not sure if two bad films constitutes a slump, but when you only make movies every 4-5 years like Cameron Crowe, it sure feels like one. Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky were epic turds, but even in their awfulness Crowe’s knack for combining music and film shone through. After all, this is the same guy who spent his adolescent years hanging out with the greatest bands of the 1970s, experiences he later dramatized in Almost Famous. So he’s an obvious choice for Empire Magazine to enlist to share his favourite musical moments in the movies. As expected, his list is impeccable, even if I must openly confess that I’ve only seen a handful of the films he chooses.
What the article did, though, is inspire me to dig through my own DVD collection and think about those great moments where the soundtrack and the screen are working together perfectly. Like with Crowe, I make no pretense that these are the “greatest” of such scenes – for one, they’re largely quite modern – and it’s a list that might change if I had more time to think about it, but these are the five scenes (in no particular order) that jump to mind first:
Once – “Falling Slowly” (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová)
My one crossover pick with Crowe’s list, “Falling Slowly” is the first time that Guy and Girl sit down and play together in Once. They’re just at that point in a relationship when the flirting has run its course but they”re not quite certain if there’s something more there. The moment that Guy starts singing, you know you’re in for something special; when Girl hits the harmony on the first note, you realize that you’re watching something spectacular, and shockingly intimate. If you’ve ever picked up a guitar or sat down at a piano before, and you DON’T immediately fall in love with this scene, you are a heartless bastard.
Lost in Translation – “Sometimes” (My Bloody Valentine)
Frankly, I could easily stretch this out to include the entire “night on the town” sequence of Sofia Coppola’s brilliantly dreamlike film – from the club party playing Phoenix to Bill Murray’s cathartic take on Roxy Music’s “More than This” – but it’s the sequence’s conclusion that always stuck out for me. As Charlotte lays her head on Bob’s shoulder, the thunderous opening chord of “Sometimes” kicks in and soundtracks their cab ride back to the hotel, the perfect cooldown for an exhilarating, wistful evening. It’s Bob that naps in the cab, but by the time they reach their destination it’s Charlotte who’s fallen asleep. As Bob carries her back to her room, the song’s volume drops off but if you listen closely, you can hear the track still playing, reverberating like a memory carrying through the night. Magic.
Purple Rain – “Purple Rain” (Prince)
Prince is a jerk; he’s also brilliant. He doesn’t try to hide either of these in Purple Rain. Throughout the film, the Revolution’s Wendy and Lisa keep trying to get Prince to listen to the chord progression they’ve written and he keeps treating them like dirt. It’s only when the Purple One breaks down over his parental issues that he finally gives the track a chance. He then transforms it into one of the greatest power ballads ever written, and credit he gives to Wendy and Lisa feels like a token gesture during his big, climatic moment. It’s a testament to the brilliant, captivating, awe-inspiring performance of the song that you forget all this background angst the moment the first chord hits; it’s the one moment where the movie earns its self-importance.
Adaptation – “Happy Together” (The Turtles)
Like “Purple Rain,” “Happy Together” isn’t just played for fun; it’s integral to the plot and themes of Adaptation. Once you realize that what you’re watching is what the film’s protagonist – a fictional take on the real-life Charlie Kaufmann – is writing, you get to watch as both he and the movie fall victim to the worst cliches of Hollywood, audience-baiting tripe. Earlier in the film Charlie’s twin brother Donald talks about ending a film with “Happy Together” and Charlie looks at him like he’s got two heads; when the song kicks in over the closing credits, it’s both darkly comic and unbelievably sad and tragic all at the same time. Happy, indeed.
Almost Famous – “Tiny Dancer” (Elton John)
Say Anything – “In Your Eyes” (Peter Gabriel)
Yeah yeah, I’m copping out and picking two, but somebody’s gotta balance out the fact that Crowe was too modest to include his own movies on his list. These two films have rightfully earned their iconic status but they still hit home time after time because they strike the perfect balance between the romantic and the real. Everyone’s had a singalong with friends, or fantastised about some awkward romantic gesture, but Crowe takes these scenarios just across the line into the magical and fantastical, still maintaining the human experience at their core.