Between mid-January and late December 2015, there were seven new movies that I saw in theaters which had memorable uses of diegetic music (music coming from a source seen in the film, like a song playing on a radio or something sung/performers by the characters). I was inspired by the recent post I made about shots/scenes/dialogue in films from last year as viewed in moving GIF images; I thought about how much more important sound and music can be in a movie when it is heard not only on the soundtrack, for us viewers, but also in the film’s world, by its characters.
P.S. If I could have found any good clips showing the many wonderful uses of disco in The Martian, or a high-quality clip of the “Tarzan Boy” scene in The Wolfpack (the only available video was fuzzy), I would have included those scenes too.
Friday, January 16: “La nuit n’en finit plus” (Petula Clark)/Two Days, One Night (2014, dirs. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)/Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (Broadway between W 62nd and 63rd Sts)
Marion Cotillard was nominated for an Academy Award last year for her performance as Sandra Bya, a clinically depressed Belgian woman who must visit her co-workers between Friday and Sunday to convince them to vote in favor of saving her job on Monday; the options are to fire Sandra and give the remaining workers a holiday bonus, or to keep Sandra and forgo the extra pay, which most people need. In this scene, Sandra and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) drive from one co-worker’s home to another, and although Sandra’s experiences on the road have run the gamut of emotions, hearing Petula Clark’s French-language cover of “Needles and Pins” (first recorded by Jackie DeShannon and made more popular by the Searchers), translated as “La nuit n’en finit plus,” calms her down. Despite the much darker lyrics in Clark’s version, something about Sandra and Manu feeling a moment of closeness while listening to it is quite moving. Although there are no subtitles for this video, you can see in Cotillard’s eyes how this sad song can be life-affirming.
Wednesday, February 11: “Diamonds” (Rihanna)/Girlhood (2014, dir. Céline Sciamma)/Film Society of Lincoln Center (Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center) (W 65th St between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave)
Uploaded in two parts (the first clip shows only the first 50 seconds or so of the scene), “Diamonds” plays at a high point in Girlhood (the English-language title for the French film Bande de filles, which translates to Gang of Girls), a coming-of-age drama about black teenage girls living in a lower-class Parisian suburb. The main character, Marieme (Karidja Touré), is naturally shy and plain in appearance, but once she befriends “bad girls” Lady, Adiatou and Fily (Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh and Mariétou Touré), Marieme gains newfound confidence. Changing her hair, her clothes and her outlook on life, Marieme assumes the nickname “Vic” (for victory) and in the scene shown in the clips above – when Marieme and her friends rent a hotel room in Paris using stolen money – their singing and dancing along to Rihanna’s pop song “Diamonds” brings Marieme the final cathartic release to bring her out of her shell.
Saturday, May 9: “Get Down Saturday Night” (Oliver Cheatham)/Ex Machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland)/Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM Rose Cinemas) (Lafayette Ave between Ashland Pl and St. Felix St)
In the middle of Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller, there is a random scene in which mysterious millionaire/robotics expert Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has a disco dance party with one of his cyber creations, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno); Nathan’s protégé, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), looks on in total confusion. As weird as the scene is, compared to all the more serious events in the film, it had a particular impact on me and probably on the other moviegoers in the theater – which was, as you may have noted, on a Saturday night.
Thursday, June 11: “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark/All I Do Is Win” (Das Sound Machine)/Pitch Perfect 2 (2015, dir. Elizabeth Banks)/City Cinemas 1, 2 & 3 (3rd Ave between E 59th and 60th Sts)
It’s a lot to ask for “good entertainment” from the sequel to a big-budget franchise about competitive a cappella singing groups; there are only so far the jokes can go before they run out of steam. The one truly fun aspect of Pitch Perfect 2 was the presence of the Barden Bellas’ fiercest opponents, German team Das Sound Machine. Their performance of a mash-up of Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” and DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” at the climactic World Championship showdown is energetic and, thanks to Craig Alpert, well-edited.
Thursday, July 16: “I Want It That Way” (Backstreet Boys)/Magic Mike XXL (2015, dir. Gregory Jacobs)/Regal Union Square Stadium 14 (Broadway between E 13th and 14th Sts)
After some worry over having possibly lost his male-stripper mojo, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) is set a task by his buddies: to bring a smile to the solemn face of a cashier (Lindsey Moser) in a roadside gas station. When the Backstreet Boys song “I Want It That Way” – one of the poppiest boy-band tracks of the late 90s – starts playing on the store’s PA system, Richie improvises a dance with Cheetos, bottled water and some imagination. I assure you, if you had seen this in a packed theater like I did, where the audience was 95% women, you wouldn’t have been able to prevent yourself from grinning and cheering like the ladies did.
(UPDATE on Fri. 1/15/2016: The video I originally posted has been deleted from YouTube, so in its place – even though it does not have anywhere near the same impact – is a clip of director Christopher McQuarrie explaining the making of the scene just prior to when “Nessun dorma” appears in the film.)
Thursday, August 13: “Nessun dorma” and other selections from Turandot (Gregory Kunde and company)/Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, dir. Christopher McQuarrie)/AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 (IMAX Theater) (Broadway between W 67th and 68th Sts)
Even though this sequence is ripped right out of Alfred Hitchcock’s Royal Albert Hall assassination scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), it is still thrilling to watch Ethan Hunt (the seemingly unstoppable Tom Cruise) do battle in the rafters at the Vienna State Opera, the action taking place as American tenor Gregory Kunde performs one of Puccini’s most famous arias. The combination of music and visuals was especially impressive when seen on a gigantic IMAX screen. And hey, there’s a weaponized clarinet! That’s a new one.
Wednesday, December 30: “Back to Black” (Amy Winehouse)/Amy (2015, dir. Asif Kapadia)/Museum of Modern Art (Theater 1) (W 53rd St between 5th Ave and Ave of the Americas)
A brilliant moment caught on film, Amy Winehouse’s studio session recording her song “Back to Black” (about her tempestuous relationship with then-boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil) is a rollercoaster ride for the audience as the background music fades into the isolated vocal, then is abruptly cut out by the documentary’s director, Asif Kapadia, to emphasize the quiet but powerful rawness of the performance and all the meanings we hear in those lyrics, both from the time they were written and what we think of now.