Friday, June 25, 2004

100 Years, and This is the Best We Can Do?

Hi-De-Ho Rene!

The American Film Institute has published a new Top 100 list -- this one is "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs."

I won't argue with most of the list -- it's pretty subjective, after all -- but there are some glaring omissions and some weird inclusions and inflations. "Let the River Run," from Working Girl? Whaaa? "Ain't too Proud to Beg," from the Big Chill? Was AFI so desperate for 1980s representation that it snuck those two in? The first two '80s movie-songs on the list are "Fight the Power" from Do the Right Thing at No. 40, and "Wind Beneath My Wings" from Beaches at No. 44. Both are ridiculously too high on the list -- a list that puts the iconic "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky down at No. 58! When I hear "Fight the Power," I don't think first of the Spike Lee joint, although it's an excellent film, and the song is well-used. I certainly don't think of Beaches while I'm reaching for the tuner to change the channel when "Wind Beneath My Wings" comes on. Ech.

Anyway, the list does remind me of another reason I like old movies so much -- songs were often essential to their mood, even if they weren't musicals. While today's movies are scored to the hilt, actual songs usually seem placed there to help sell soundtrack albums. It really irks me that many of those songs only play over the end credits, and yet sometimes the field is so thin that they get nominated for Oscars anyway.

There are some notable contemporary exceptions. Pulp Fiction was on IFC the other night (and will be repeatedly for about a month). Regardless of what you think of Tarantino's use of violence and stylized dialogue, you can't deny he has a knack for matching visuals with music that invokes something very specific. Think of the "Son of a Preacher Man" scene, or "Let's Stay Together" playing under Marcellus' speech. (By the way, nothing from Pulp Fiction is on the list.)

The other great exception, and it's sorely missed, is TV's Homicide: Life on the Street. I recently bought seasons 1-3 on DVD, used, reminding me of the amazing use of songs on that series (not as background music -- but as integral elements to visual montages or cues to the inner life of featured characters). That show rocked. I don't have HBO, but The Sopranos appears to use similar song devices.



Blogger Rene said...

Thanks for the link to AFI, Kari. I will have to use the links there to guide my viewing of old films. One of my hospitality goals is to host the occasional old movie night. When friends are sitting around talking about what to do we sometime look at the list of current movies and find them wanting and we think, we should rent old movies and of course, we don't actually get around to doing so!

I was curious if AFI gave any guidence on the voting for the top movie songs and they did as described at the bottom of the page. The last 2 criteria really stand out in my mind:

Cultural Impact: Songs that have captured the nation's heart, echoed beyond the walls of a movie theater, and ultimately stand in our collective memory of the film itself.

Legacy: Songs that resonate across the century, enriching America's film heritage and captivating artists and audiences today.
Indeed many of the songs especially at the top half of the list immediately played in my head and I think of the movie.

Did you check out the list of nominees? 400 on the ballot and they had to pick 100. They should publish a more exclusive list like the songs that were on say 80% of the ballots? What do you think?

Speaking of movies that use songs well. Have you seen Lost in Translation? I'm finding people either love it or hate it. I liked it a lot though I don't rave about it quite like some fans but I give it a solid 3 stars out of 4.

Anyway, one thing about the movie that worked for me was the usage of songs as part of the narrative of the story. I'd be curious to hear what you thought of the film.

6:49 AM  

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