Last month saw Rock of Ages land into cinemas nationwide with a very, very damp squib. So what better way to celebrate the failure of a musical than by looking at films in other genres that get the ‘musical’ just right!*
So this month the staff here at EatSleepLiveFilm have thoroughly researched musical numbers in films that aren’t musicals. They’ve watched every one of them rigidly, in fact… they’ve been preparing for this day for well over a year now. Let’s face it, no one expected Rock of Ages to bomb this badly…
There really is something special about a great musical number though, especially one that pops up where it’s least expected. Musical numbers are the ultimate form of cinematic expression, it manifests for a number of reasons but most of all these boil down to the simplest: when you can’t think of what to say, it’s better to sing and dance. It’s a release, sometimes of anguish and others of pure unfettered joy.
So without further ado…
TITLE: Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ performed by Gene Wilder & Peter Boyle
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Wilder) has trained the monster (Boyle) to behave in a civilised way in order to integrate into society and is putting on a display to a packed theatre.
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: Quite simply this is one of the most hilarious scenes in any comedy at any time ever. Having taught the monster how to behave, the pair begin to perform the popular musichall routine in front of an appreciative audience, only for a lightbulb to explode, sending the monster into a rage.
The two actors have their routine nailed down tighter than an air-raid shelter roof, both in perfect synch. The hilarity comes when Wilder – singing with his light-hearted singing voice – cues Boyle to say certain words within the song, which he does in the strangled, out-of-key tones of a creature that has just been given life. In a film full of puns, one-liners and visual gags this scene gives that little bit more in order to give the film that one defining scene, and although a musical number would normally seem a little incongruous in a parody of a horror movie the film is so brilliantly daft that it comes out of nowhere and fits right in.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: I’ve done a few in my time but my signature karaoke song is Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’.
TITLE: Hot Rod (Akiva Schaffer, 2007)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: Never by Moving Pictures
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: After a stressful fight with his ailing step-father (Ian McShane), Rod (Andy Samberg) heads to his “quiet place” to punch-dance away his frustrations.
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: Every inch of this film is a pastiche of ’80s teen movies. While the central premise is about an underdog stunt man, with jokes that are often downright surreal, the plot beats and soundtrack are 100% retro and this sequence completely plays into that. To someone who didn’t grow up with these movies, seeing Rod angry-dance in a wooded glen may seem like another surreal joke, but if you’ve ever seen Footloose it seems positively average. The fact is, the only actual joke in this sequence is the ridiculously long downhill tumble, which only makes the dance sequence funnier in hindsight.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: Every Christmas I break out The Pogues, Fairytale in New York. An embittered drunk is really the only noise I can accurately mimic.
TITLE: The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008).
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: Guns ‘N’ Roses – Sweet Child o’ Mine : The fired up Ring of Honour wrestling crowd at Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson’s 20th Anniversary rematch with the Ayatollah.
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: I’m bending the rules here slightly, but this is a great moment in a recent film where a diagetic music piece most definitely plays a pivotal role. Randy The Ram, once a bona fide wrestling legend, now long past his prime and known to be in ill health, is back for one last bout against his long-time adversary. As The Ram waits nervously backstage, knowing one more fight could see his heart give out, Pam, the object of his affections, turns up at the last minute to try to talk him out of it. Suddenly, that instantly recognisable guitar intro fills the air and the crowd goes wild. The crowd in the auditorium are fanatical hardcore fans who remember The Ram in his prime. They are relishing the fight and the music whips them up even more. When Randy hears their roar, he says to Pam, “You hear them? This is where I belong”. He emerges through the curtain and appears before his adoring crowd just as Axl Rose’s lyrics kick in and they duly go berserk, driving him on to one last moment of glory.
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: It’s a perfect blend of music and action and proves how the right song choice can generate an emotional response. Not just with the people there in the auditorium, but also with the viewer at home. The Ram has tried so hard to reform, to be a better person and a better father, but has failed miserably. All he has ever known to do well is to get into that ring and make his fans cheer. As he’s talking to Pam and she pleads with him not to fight, Slash’s legendary intro kicks in and it’s just the perfect musical cue, prompting Ram’s profound moment of realisation. He knows his heart is weak and another fight could kill him but he decides to do it anyway for one last taste of the big time.
As he enters the packed hall with tears in his eyes, knowing it will be the last time, Axl Rose’s bittersweet opening lyrics , “She’s got a smile that it seems to me, reminds me of childhood memories. Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky” fits the mood perfectly. Packed full of longing, tinged with regret and evoking memories of a better time now past, it perfectly sums up the sentiment behind Ram’s actions. The guttural raw roar that goes up in the crowd gives me goosebumps every time. Their excitement at what is to come is palpable, as is Ram’s heartfelt reaction. The frenzied reaction to their once great hero is heightened by his anthemic theme tune which they will forever associate with The Ram. His defiant strut down the ramp, high-fiving the crowd as he goes, is driven forwards by a fittingly powerful rock classic.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: I’m a terrible singer, but what the hell, Meat Loaf – Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Why not.
TITLE: Strange Behavior (Michael Laughlin, 1981)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: Lightnin’ Strikes by Lou Christie
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: Twenty minutes into Laughlin’s little-seen, all-over-the-place 50s horror/SF homage comes this INCREDIBLE party sequence. New wave teens – dressed in fun party costumes – bust out a delightful, unexpected, utterly infectious, synchronized dance to Lou Christie’s Frankie Valli-esque 1966 US Number 1 hit. It’s one of the great musical moments in any movie, teen-based or otherwise. Why are they dancing? I guess that group dancing, when a killer of teenagers is on the loose, is the safest form of protection. After all, we know what happens to the ones who have sex…
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: It took me a while to decide on this one. I was split between opting for a Godard (Anna Karina’s pool-hall moves in Vivre Sa Vie) and a Godard remake (hot Richard Gere serenading an even hotter naked Valerie Kaprisky in McBride’s pop-art take on Breathless). But both those have been written about extensively so I went with a less well-known number – which has a better musical scene than either.
Strange Behavior (it has a bunch of aka’s, including Dead Kids) is a curio with tons of charm. Set in small town Illinois (actually Auckland, NZ) the twisty plot involves serial killings (male victims unusually), University medical shenanigans, experimental mind control and a Tor Johnson mask. It also has Michael Murphy (Manhattan), the nurse from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and an original soundtrack by ace German prog overlords Tangerine Dream. And this amazing dance scene. Cult nirvana, basically.
If the YouTube clip doesn’t put a big goofy grin on your face we (well, no YOU) clearly have a problem. BONUS: in this scene you get the whole party and the creepy mask-wearing stalk and slash sequence that follows – set to the magnificent, overblown pre-emo goth-pop stirrings of ‘Shivers’ by Nick Cave’s Boys Next Door.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: I always do Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark (MUST incorporate plucking of random ‘lucky’ lady* from the crowd (*pissed work colleague.)
TITLE: Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: Queen’s classic, Don’t Stop Me Now, as ‘performed’ by a handful of pub-loving Brits, three pool cues and a fire extinguisher.
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: Having taken up a stronghold in the relative safety of their local, The Winchester, Simon Pegg and the gang find themselves face-to-face with a zombified landlord just as the jukebox kicks into life. They’ve got some zombie-killing to do, and the randomly selected Queen classic provides a surprisingly fitting backing track…
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: There’s a reason why this scene became probably the most well-known and beloved sequence from the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy’s first instalment – actually scratch that, there’s plenty of reasons.
For a start, if we’re going to have a British zombie apocalypse, then we’re not going to skimp on the British-ness. What could fill the hearts of our nation with more pride than a group of pub-loving folk beating the ever-loving Eartha Kitt out of the undead to the beat of Queen down their local? Nothing, that’s what.
As the ironically toned, upbeat 70’s classic blares out during our sorry band of heroes’ desperate struggle to hold strong within the walls of the The Winchester, I dare you not to crack a smile as every beat of zombie-smackingly rocktastic Queen brings with it a smack of perfect comic timing right upside the head of the pathetic looking, doddering old zombie landlord.
There’s something oddly satisfying about the perfect, right-on-the-beat timing of the cracks with the pool cues and the almighty whacks Liz (Kate Ashfield) delivers with the blunt-end of a fire extinguisher to this old zombie’s sorry bonce before letting the thing off in his face, flawlessly in time with Mercury and co. belting out “woah, woah, WOAH EXPLODE!”
As well as delivering heavy blows with every beat, there are plenty of other moments that fit perfectly in time with the song. David’s (Dylan Moran) haphazard efforts to shut off the jukebox at the fuse box brings the outside lights dancing to life as they flash to the beat to really (and of course ironically) liven up the place. Hell, if it wasn’t for the hoards of the shambling undead they’d have a pretty good party going by now. An honourable mention also goes to Dianne (Lucy Davis) nailing Pegg square in the head with a dart as he yells out in anguish as “Don’t stop me, don’t stop me…” kicks back in, before Shaun ends it all by forcing the zombie’s head clean into the jukebox. The way the music cuts out in ominous bursts of song brings the tone straight back to the macabre, an essential final ingredient to bring us back towards the hopelessness of their situation.
But, while it lasted (to reuse a new favourite phrase of mine) it was a zombie-smackingly good time.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: Well, pretending that I’d have the confidence for a spot of karaoke, I’m struggling to see past Journey’s classic Don’t Stop Believin’ – and that’s the Journey version, NOT the Glee version! Although having written this, Don’t Stop Me Now would be tempting… Apparently I’m game as long as ‘not stopping’ is involved.
TITLE: Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1998)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: The cast and crew of Jack Horner’s porn empire get down to the stellar funk of The Commodores’ 1974 smash Machine Gun, led by the hip-and-dick-swinging style of rising star Dirk Diggler.
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: Machine Gun provides the soundtrack to a key montage about an hour into Boogie Nights. The sequence starts with Dirk on set, about to perform with Heather Graham’s Rollergirl, before cutting to Horner (Burt Reynolds), reading Dirk some of the rave reviews his performances have won him. As the music rises, the screen splits into four – then the right-hand section takes over, showing Dirk and friends strutting their stuff on the dance floor.
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: In terms of audacious musical set pieces, PT Anderson is best known for Magnolia’s heartbreaking cast sing-a-long. But for my money, the Machine Gun dance beats it – like Cruise and company crooning along to Wise Up, it takes liberties with realism, but is not nearly so on the nose in trying to convey a message or emotion. It’s a single-take routine, with one terrific zoom-in to Dirk and best buddy Chest Rockwell (John C Reilly), but it is a routine. Dirk and his partner are perfectly choreographed, while the dancers behind them move their bodies in the right way at the right time. The scene is joyous and hilarious and there for one reason – to show just how good the good times were for these people at this time.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: I will be Survivor, tearing into Rocky III’s soft rock anthem Eye Of The Tiger. Rising up, back on the street…
TITLE: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: Wayne Newton’s Danke Schoen & The Beatle’s Twist and Shout
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOL’S DANCING?: Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) decides to challenge the notion that his best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) “hasn’t seen anything good today.”
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: Nothing makes me happier than these 5 minutes of film. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a shot of fresh energy to the brainsack. There’s nothing about it that feels stale, overworked or lethargic. At it’s core it’s the ultimate wish fulfillment: not only do you take the day off school, you take your best friend and your incredibly hot girlfriend with you and you explore the city to your heart’s content. You eat in fancy restaurants, go to a baseball game and drive around in a priceless sports car. And when your friend says this isn’t enough? Well there’s not much you can say to that. So Ferris does the right thing. He pretends to sing and he gets EVERYONE to dance. When words just can’t do the job, people break into song and dance and at this point in this film it’s the most cathartic thing that could have happened. For all the moments they’ll remember from this day, this one they shared with the community of Chicago will be the most memorable and it was music that brought it all together. It’s the ultimate expression of both rebellion and inclusion.
I don’t know what it is about the city of Chicago that brings out the best in impromptu community dance numbers but between these guys Twisting and Shouting and the inhabitants of The Blue’s Brothers’ Chicago shaking their collective tailfeathers there’s obviously something in the water. From the window cleaners, to the street spectators, to the marching band, the baby and the choreographed dancers on the city steps, the pure joy is unavoidable and extremely contagious. Coupled with Ferris’ expression of detachment you have the ultimate feeling of freedom and the realisation that yes, these will be the best days of their lives but it doesn’t mean they can’t share them with everyone.
By the end of the song, the city has erupted into (I’d assume intentional) Beatlemania. Ferris’ stock has been rising through the entire film but at this point he’s the highest he can be, and everyone either wants to be him or be with him.
And all this because one boy didn’t feel like he’d seen anything good that day…
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: I can’t hold myself back from a bit of late-80′s/early-90′s hip hop so normally I’m inclined to go for Biz Markie’s Just a Friend or Young MC’s Bust a Move. But more often than not it’s One Week by the Barenaked Ladies.
TITLE: THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Joel Coen/1998)
WHAT’S THE WORD, HUMMINGBIRD?: Kenny Rogers’ funky track, Just Dropped In, which plays over The Dude dancing away in his hallucination for several minutes.
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: In keeping with the bonkers nature of the film, The Dude falls into unconsciousness after having his White Russian spiked by porn king Jackie Treehorn.
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: He drifts into a brilliantly surreal porno of his own entitled Gutterballs. The fact it’s so random is what makes it work in the context of the film as it manages to encumber The Dudes sexual desires, bowling obsession and general oddball persona, not to mention his interest in his ‘lady friend’, Maude Lebowski.
The sequence ends as the imaginary movie fades to black and then into The Dude running in slow motion down the middle of a road before getting picked up by a local Malibu police officer..
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: I’m not a big karaoke participant, but when I do I am strangely drawn to Nirvana; specifically Come As You Are. I blame Singstar on the PS2, personally.
TITLE: Reservoir Dogs (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
WHAT’S THE WORD HUMMINGBIRD?: Stuck in the Middle With You, Michael Madsen
WHY ARE THESE CRAZY FOOLS DANCING?: Mr Blonde aka Vic Vega (Madsen) is holding a cop hostage in a warehouse after a job goes wrong. While the remaining members of the group try to determine whether there is an undercover police officer in their midst, Vega keeps himself occupied by turning on the radio to find Stuck in the Middle With You playing, thus beginning a twisted game of ‘will-he, won’t-he’ as he toys with the cop.
GETTING JIGGY WITH IT: This scene typifies everything I love about Tarantino films – sinister and darkly funny. In a film where acts of violence are as plentiful as the swearing, this sequence is still quite jarring in its graphic brutality while also displaying a smidgen of pitch-black humour.
The fear on the face of the copper tells you all you need to know about how Vega’s behaviour is affecting him – especially when he kicks things off with a swift slash to the cheek. The uncertainty over what’s going to happen to him – even though we’re well aware it’s not going to be good – is overwhelming. The build-up, with Vega performing his little jig and sing-song as the track plays before proceeding to slice off the young officer’s ear and speak into it, is one of those cinematic moments that will stay with you forever.
When Blonde leaves the warehouse to fetch a petrol can, he returns as the song reaches the: “Please…please…” section, which only magnifies just how the officer is feeling. It ends unexpectedly with Mr Orange (Tim Roth)’s input.
TONIGHT MATTHEW, I WILL BE: The Eagles singing Hotel California
*Devin Faraci recently spotlighted the oft-maligned dance numbers in Spiderman 3. Good on him.