Music and movies go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Mmmm ... But it's not often that I like an entire soundtrack or score. So why have this page? Because when I can't get the tunes from a flick out of my head, I might want to share why.
'Like shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom'
Everyone knows summer is a great time for romance. The concept was first immortalized on the big screen for me thanks to one of the great culture-clash couples of cinema – Sandy and Danny in the 1978 musical “Grease,” one of the first movies I ever fell for. Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta are terrific playing two teenagers who become sweethearts over the summer but then have to face the realities of their different cultures when they end up at the same high school in the fall.
Set in the 1950s, Sandy is the sweet, wholesome girl next door, and Danny is a greaser – wild, leather-clad and way-too-cool for school. It’s all very “The Outsiders” with music and without the class overtones. Their troubles don’t stem from Danny being from the wrong side of the tracks, but from Danny having to project a tough, bad-boy image that doesn’t mesh with actually caring about a girl. He’s conflicted because he really does love Sandy, but he’s supposed to be about sex, not love. And Sandy has to decide if she’s going to maintain her standards and squeaky-clean image, or throw all that out of the window to be more like the type of girl she thinks could win Danny’s heart for good. Although set more than 50 years ago, these issues are just as common today – and not just for teenagers.
My friends and I saw “Grease” when we were little and had all the songs memorized – from the opening number, “Summer Nights,” to the closing tunes, “You’re the One that I Want” and “We Go Together” ("like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong"). I especially liked “Hopelessly Devoted to You” because I fancied myself a singer from a young age and was already attuned to my penchant for unrequited love songs. I also loved Stockard Channing’s rendition of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” because it was so catty and clever.
If you haven’t seen “Grease” in a while or for some unfathomable reason have never seen it, late summer is a great time of year to be transported to that ‘50s era with great songs, classic performances and a timeless story about what could happen after a summer romance.
A SCENIC VIEW
As musicals go, they don’t get much cooler than “Guys and Dolls.” Brought to the big screen in 1955 by director Joe Mankiewicz, the film is adapted from the hit Broadway play set among New York City gamblers, show girls and missionaries of all things.
From “good old reliable” Nathan Detroit to Sky Masterson to Nicely-Nicely – the guys were all slick and savvy. And the dolls – dear, longsuffering Adelaide and the fastidious Sgt. Sarah Brown – were lit from within. I could pick any number of scenes to amplify here; each one draws you further into their world of living by quick wit and by faith (faith in God for some, faith in luck for others). The story is a lighthearted and comical take on the struggle to do what’s right when your instincts are steering you in the opposite direction.
The movie stars Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine – all wonderfully cast apart from Brando’s singing voice. Nearly every scene in “Guys and Dolls” is entertaining, and every song on Frank Loesser’s Oscar-nominated score is a gem. The fast-paced opening number featuring the title song along with “Fugue for Tinhorns” (I got the horse right here!) sets up the story just as an intro should. I love both of Adelaide’s numbers at the Hot Box – the polar opposite confections “Pet Me, Poppa” and “Take Back Your Mink.” And Sarah Brown’s ebullient declaration of love in the classic “If I Were A Bell” resonates mightily with anyone who has ever been in love. There’s one of the catchiest tunes you’ll ever hear, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” sung endearingly by Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely. Then of course there’s the pièce de résistance, “Luck Be A Lady,” one of the most popular songs to come out of musical theatre thanks largely to Sinatra’s cover. The song was unfortunately sung by Brando as Sky Masterson in the movie, but Brando was great otherwise, so let’s keep the party polite (I couldn’t resist!).
But even with all that, my favorite song/scene has to be Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the ballad “Adelaide.” Sinatra plays Nathan Detroit, and Vivian Blaine gives a terrific performance as Adelaide. Nathan and Adelaide have been engaged for a whopping 14 years, and poor Adelaide is at her wit’s end – her frustrations manifested in a chronic, psychosomatic cold. Nathan has been running “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” since his youth, and it always, conveniently for him, seems to interfere with his and Adelaide’s plans to wed. But for once, it looks like the crap game is indirectly going to pave the way for them to exchange their long overdue vows.
"So gentlemen, deal me out. Do not try to feel me out. I've got no more evenings free."
In this scene, Nathan has summoned all the participants of his upcoming game to his favorite diner so he can reveal the game’s location. But the heat is on, and suspicious copper Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) can’t resist coming into the diner to see why there appears to be “a hood’s convention” taking place. Nathan is also in the dog house with Adelaide because she discovered he had been lying to her about giving up the game and becoming a legitimate business man. So when she walks into the diner and gives him the high hat just as he’s fending off Lt. Brannigan and impatient gamblers, Nathan delivers the line, “It’s complete. Everybody in the whole world who hates me is now here.”
As Lt. Brannigan insists on knowing why Nathan and his cohorts are all gathered together, Nathan’s right-hand man Benny Southstreet (Johnny Silver) comes up with a brilliant excuse: It’s Nathan’s bachelor party. Adelaide rejoices, and as much as Nathan would like to run for the hills, he knows he has to go with it. Besides, he really does love Adelaide, as you’ll see from some of his other songs and speeches in the film, including this one. With “Adelaide,” he accepts his impending nuptials by admitting he’s no good but he’s willing to roll the dice since Adelaide is taking a chance on him.
It’s not the most romantic song in the world, but it’s honest. I don’t know exactly what it is about the song, but I was hooked from the opening strings that elevate right after the first line, “Unaccustomed as I am to getting married … .” The combination of the music and lyrics is gorgeous, but it’s Sinatra’s delivery that brings it on home. He was the chairman for a reason – his way with a song. Yes, he was a solid actor when he wanted to be and wielded great influence in and out of entertainment circles. But it all boiled down to his vocal styling, and with this deceptively simple, charming tune, I wouldn’t put any money on him missing the mark. Talk about your longshots.
Some great movie scores according to Paste
I recently discovered this list by Mark Rozeman for Paste Magazine. It's the top 28 (kind of random - love it) movie scores written by rock/pop/hip-hop artists. I should probably put it on my "Tops" page, but I'm not. I especially like his Queen for "Flash Gordon" choice - "Flash ... aah-aaah! He'll save every one of us."
Bossa nova in wonderland
I'm so glad that you don't have to speak Portuguese in order to love bossa nova. Mercifully, the language doesn't matter because the sound transcends it, speaks through it and around it (plus most of the popular songs have English versions anyway). There's such a breezy, rhythmic flow to it, like in everything by Antonio Carlos Jobim, but to give an example, how about "One Note Samba"?
"This is just a little samba built upon a single note. Other notes are bound to follow, but the root is still that note."
When I saw the movie "Next Stop Wonderland" (1998), it quickly became one of my favorite romantic comedies. It is not because of the wistful stares of Hope Davis or even the unwittingly comic maneuvers of the array of knuckleheads who try to woo her based on her Personals ad. It is not because of the perseverance of Alan Gelfant's plumber aspiring to be a marine biologist, the over-the-top commitment of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's environmental activist, or the felonious machinations of Robert Klein's grimy developer (Robert Klein - who would've thought?). Nor is it because of Holland Taylor's flawless performance as Davis' meddling mother. It is because the entirety of the movie was set to a wonderful, classic bossa nova soundtrack with songs from Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto (Astrud's daughter), Elis Regina, Claudio Ragazzi, Toots Thielemans and even Coleman Hawkins. If you're a bossa nova fan, you probably already have many of the songs - "Desafinado," "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)," "Stay," "Triste," "Mas Que Nada." But if you don't have these songs, this soundtrack is a must-get! And the movie is actually a rather charming piece of work, too, as romantic comedies go.
Sadly, the only good clip I could find featuring some of the music is the official trailer, which for some strange reason brings in the typical trailer trash music midway through it instead of keeping the bossa nova. I guess the studio powers decided that keeping the bossa nova for the entire trailer would make the film less commercial. Ugh. But I had to include a clip, so just listen to the first minute or so and then pull up some of the song clips from the movie instead.