Twist & Shout: Great Musical Interludes in Film
Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be the Place is full of twists and turns, some hilarious and some thought-provoking, all tied together with a memorable performance by Sean Penn, who's aging rockstar Cheyenne feels like an oddly satisfying and endearing combination of Edward Scissorhands and Napoleon Dynamite. An undeniable highlight of the film is a full length performance of David Byrne's titular "This Must Be the Place", featuring gravity defying visual effects that are simply stunning to watch. It's a brave move to include a musical performance in a movie that isn't a musical; here are a few favourite examples of other films that have taken the plunge:
500 Days of Summer
Marc Webb's love letter to hipsterdom is a non-linear telling of a blue-hued Zooey Deschanel and gaga-eyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt navigating their relationship. While the twee-ness of the whole thing is a bit much for some people, most can agree that watching JGL break into a dance after their first coital encounter is simply delightful. Singing and dancing to Hall & Oate's classic "You Make My Dreams Come True", the number takes on a Disney-esque vibe, with townsfolk joining in and a pair of animated birds chirping around his head. Webb's world is so heightened and whimsical that the number feels completely organic. And after all, who hasn't felt like dancing in the streets after a successful romantic encounter?
The Fifth Element
Luc Besson's sci-fi masterpiece takes place in a dystopian future where humanity faces destruction from the Great Evil, and, unsurprisingly, our species fate lies in the hands of Bruce Willis. The film takes a left turn from its action with a performance by opera singer Diva Plavalaguna (Maîwen Le Basco, vocals by Inva Mula); the performance then takes a turn on itself when it grows from a classical aria to a synthesized, industrialized, electronic operatic climax, with Milla Jovavich's character kicking some serious ass (in tempo, none the less).
A Woman is a Woman
Jean Luc Godard's tribute to the American musical; perhaps technically it falls into the "musical" category, but as it is a deconstruction of the genre it gets to stay. It's great to see something so playful from Godard, and Anna Karina's sailor striptease scene is a particularly memorable musical moment; accompanied by a harsh honky-tonk piano that drops away when she actually starts to sing, the scene is a jarring example of just how strange musical interludes can be.
Putting in a musical number in a non musical generally creates a moment of surreality, and David Lynch is arguably the modern master of the surreal. In Blue Velvet, nightclub singer Dorothy (Isabella Rosellini) sings the titular song, but it is the character Ben's (Dean Stockwell) lip-syncing of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" that makes for a truly unexpected moment. The song sends the sociopathic Frank (Denis Hopper) through a myriad of emotions, and later when he savagely beats Jeffery (Kyle MacLachlan) he orders the song be put on through the car speakers. Apparently when Lynch first approached Orbison about using the song Orbison refused, but Lynch used it anyway, and even played it repeatedly on set to set the mood. Orbison didn't discover it's use until a chance viewing of the film, but eventually came around to Lynch's vision and ended up recording a music video for the song using clips from the film.
Really, David Lynch could have his own list of Cinematic Music Moments (and probably does), and like Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive has several contenders but perhaps the most haunting is Rachel Del Rio's performance in Club Silencio. Lynch turns to Roy Orbison again, with a lip-synced a cappella version of Orbison's "Crying" sung in Spanish ("Llorendo"). The song marks the beginning of the breakdown of Betty and Rita's (Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harding) relationship; we see them weeping in the audience, as Del Rio collapses on stage, the vocals continuing on without her.
An iconic piece of music and film, "Dueling Banjos" from John Boorman's disturbing story about a group of friends who set out for a canoe trip in North Georgia, is recognizable all over the world. In a discovering-the-natives sort of scenario, Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) engages in an impromptu duet with a local child, Lonnie (aka "Banjo Boy"). While Drew is impressed with the Lonnie's playing, the other men on the journey show condescension toward the locals; the locals, for their part, have their own disdain for the outsiders, and the scene is a brief moment of levity (albeit tinged with foreshadowing) in the unsettling but popular film.
While Henry Mancini's Pink Panther theme will forever be celebrated in the annals of film scoring, "Meglio Stasera" performed by Fran Jeffries is a quintessentially 60s musical interlude. Between her figure-hugging ensemble, sky-high up-do and perfect cats-eye eyeliner, Jeffries epitomizes the era. The song-break doesn't seem to have much to do with the overall plot, but it put Jeffries (briefly) on the map.
The Night Porter
Lucia's performance of Marlene Dietrich's "Wenn icy mir was Wünschen Dürfte" is a powerful and disturbing scene in an already powerful and disturbing film. Liliana Cavali's controversial story of an SS Officer (Maximillian Theo Adolfer, played by Dirk Bogarde) and a concentration camp prisoner’s (Lucia, played by Charlotte Rampling) sadomasochistic sexual affair during World War II through flashbacks. The pair unexpectedly meet after the war with Adolfer now working as a night porter in a Viennese hotel and Lucia married to a wealthy man. Though their social statuses have changed, they fall back into their previous destructive relationship. One such flashback shows a half-naked Lucia in an SS uniform performing for Nazi officers in her concentration camp. With the officers variously adorned with masks and frills, the costuming makes a chilling scenario more grotesque, and Adolfer's gift to Lucia of the head of a fellow prisoner who had been bothering alludes to Salome and John the Baptist.
When Sissy (Carey Mulligan) sings her haunting and poignant rendition of "New York, New York" to her brother Brandon (Michael Fasbender) and his friend David (James Badge Dale), director Steve McQueen chose to film the actors run real time, catching Fasbender and Dale's first reactions and Mulligan's performance all at once with three cameras. The result is tense and beautiful, and a far cry from the familiar brassy Sinatra version. As the film progresses and we see more of the complex and loaded relationship between Brandon and Sissy, Mulligan's yearning performance seems even more heartbreaking.
10 Things I Hate About You
The romcom is all about the Grand Gesture, and few beat Heath Ledger as Patrick Verona, serenading Julia Stiles' Cat with "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" over the school's PA system, dancing on the bleachers and avoiding security staff. Admittedly, it was a tie between this one and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" from Top Gun, but in the end 10 Things won out due to the use of a marching band. Next time, Tom.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Leave it to John Hughes to give us not one, but two – and sequential, none the less – musical scenes. Ferris lip syncs not only Wayne Newton’s version of “Danke Schoen”, but “Twist and Shout” as well, and manages to get the whole city of Chicago dancing in the streets with him.