Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Top 20 Uses of a Song in a Film

As separate artistic forms, music and film have the ability to stir profound emotions within us. When a film scene effectively utilises a song, well, that's like the time you dipped your French fries into your ice cream sundae at McDonald's, but even better. An individual song can underscore a scene by heightening the narrative, creating an atmosphere, or reflexively commenting on the scene through its lyrics. As with any list, my choices for the best uses of song in a film are purely subjective. I will only include scenes from films that I've seen, and I haven't seen all of the classics, so bear that in mind before you jump down my throat about 'forgetting' that song from your favourite cult film of all time. Another criterion is that no instrumental pieces are allowed. All scenes are accompanied by songs that have lyrics. There will be some spoilers here and there, but I'll try not to ruin the entire film for you. One last thing—this is an ordered list. I usually have no particular order to my lists, but I feel passionate about this subject. I'm starting at 20 and will work my way down to number 1. I hope you enjoy my offerings.

20. Blue Valentine (2010)

Song: You Always Hurt the One You Love
Artist: The Mills Brothers (covered by Ryan Gosling) 

This scene, between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, occurs in a flashback. Gosling and Williams portray a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, and scenes like this one serve to illustrate how love that was once tender and rapturous can turn sour. Above all, this scene is kinda cute due to Gosling's goofy singing and Williams' spontaneous style of dance, and it's accentuated by the setting of a beautiful shopfront.

19. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Song: Twist and Shout
Artist: The Beatles

Watching this scene, you envy everyone involved in it. Can you imagine how much fun they had!? Watching this film as a teenager, it's easy to fantasise about being Ferris Bueller. This scene allows you to get lost in that fantasy, as you watch everyone have a ball. It's really iconic, and I think of this film whenever I hear Twist and Shout.

18. Groundhog Day (1993)

Song: I Got You Babe
Artist: Sonny & Cher

Harold Ramis' film about a man who relives the same day over and over and over again (literally) is one of my all-time favourites. As soon as Phil's (Bill Murray's) clock radio ticks over to 6:00 and I Got You Babe plays, we know as an audience that it is February 2 all over again. It's a clever way of denoting that Phil is still trapped in the time loop. This scene is hilarious, but also subtly scary, as you imagine yourself in the same dilemma.

17. Shame (2011)

Song: New York, New York
Artist: Liza Minnelli (covered by Carey Mulligan) 

This haunting rendition of New York, New York was shot in real time at 3 A.M., with cameras simultaneously focused on Mulligan, Fassbender and Dale. Fassbender and Dale had never heard Mulligan sing before, so their reactions are genuine. I especially love this scene because of the lighting. There's this golden hue that adds character to the whole scene. 

16.  Mary and Max (2009)

Song: Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)
Artist: Doris Day (covered by Pink Martini)

This film is testament to the fact that you can be immensely moved by lumps of clay. Mary and Max is my favourite animated film of all time. Here, Mary attempts suicide after falling out with her American pen pal, Max. This is a very loaded scene, as Mary is only eight years old. Is she successful in her attempt? Well, I implore you to watch the entire film. It's one of the most touching movies I've ever seen, and the screenplay is amazing. 

15. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Song: Stuck in the Middle with You
Artist: Stealers Wheel

Mr. Blonde is one sick human being. He treats this cop as his plaything, but he doesn't want to be the traditional menacing bad guy. Instead, he puts on a song that gets the audience tapping their feet (effectively gaining our support), before slicing the cop's ear off. He even displays a sick sense of humour by talking to the severed ear, then asking the cop "Did you hear that?"

14. High Fidelity (2000)

Song: Baby, I Love Your Way
Artist: Peter Frampton (covered by Lisa Bonet)

In Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity (this film's source material; also my favourite novel), Rob hears this song and remarks "I'm in tears, and the feel-nothing world that I've been living in for the last few days has vanished." While John Cusack doesn't break out in tears in this scene, he is obviously mesmerised and moved by Bonet's rendition of the Frampton classic. She hits all the right notes, and it almost feels as though Rob has blocked out the whole world, devoting his whole consciousness to hearing Bonet sing. 

13. Harold and Maude (1971)

Song: Trouble
Artist: Cat Stevens

This unconventional love story is criminally underrated. For those not familiar with the film, Bud Cort plays a young adult who falls in love with a 79 year-old woman (Ruth Gordon). The film works because the relationship is treated with respect. We are not positioned to view the relationship as 'disgusting' or 'disturbing'. Harold and Maude click when they're together, and this scene exemplifies how much Harold cares for Maude. Note: Cat Stevens provided nine songs to the film's soundtrack. 

12. 50/50 (2011)

Song: Crying
Artist: Roy Orbison

In this almost poetic scene, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kyle (Seth Rogen) destroy one of Adam's ex-girlfriend's paintings. Adam has been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 27, so this scene not only embodies the catharsis of forgetting a past lover, but also goes to show that there are fun times to be had even if you have a debilitating disease such as cancer, which is the film's main point. 

11. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Song: Can't Take My Eyes Off You
Artist: Frankie Valli (covered by...must I list them all?)

I can't find a clip of this scene that allows embedding, so you can click on the link below.

A young Christopher Walken grooving to the song in a red flannelette shirt is not the only reason this scene works. The first act of this film makes for light-hearted viewing, as we see a close-knit group of friends bond before three of them go to serve in the Vietnam War. When the film is over, we look back at a scene like this  with fondness, and ponder whether this moment remains in the characters' memories, or whether it's been erased by the horrors of war. 

10. Say Anything... (1989)

Song: In Your Eyes
Artist: Peter Gabriel


Here's a scene that always pops up when the conversation diverts to classic moments in teen films. The fact of the matter is, we don't see this type of romantic earnestness in today's films. Indeed, Emma Stone's character in Easy A laments that we don't see such gestures of love anymore, wishing John Cusack would serenade her with a boombox. 

9. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Song: Singin' in the Rain
Artist: Gene Kelly (covered by Malcolm McDowell)

Can you imagine how confronting this scene would have been back in 1971? Heck, it's still controversial by today's standards! Singin' in the Rain is a song associated with happiness and freedom, but here the song is subverted as Alex and his droogs break into the home of a writer and his wife, committing physical assault and rape (the rape is not shown in this clip). It becomes a sinister victory song, as Alex and his gang frolic in this dystopian society. 

8. Boogie Nights (1997)

Songs: Sister Christian; Jessie's Girl
Artists: Night Ranger; Rick Springfield

I could not include this scene without acknowledging both songs. This scene combines hilarity and suspense in a way that few other films have mastered. You'll never see a drug deal scene quite like this. What really makes this scene is the presence of Cosmo—the kid who lets off firecrackers FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON. So much comic tension in this scene. The reactions of Wahlberg, Reilly and Jane are priceless, and Molina's performance as Rahad is brilliant. 

7. Drive (2011)

Song: A Real Hero
Artist: College (feat. Electric Youth) 

Director Nicolas Winding Refn chose this song for the film because he conceptualised Drive as a fairytale. The Driver (Ryan Gosling) kills 'villains' in the film; villains that are modelled on crooks from 1980s films. And yet The Driver is merely a human being, not unlike you and I. He doesn't say a lot, and he keeps an almost apathetic demeanour throughout the film. He's just an ordinary guy who adopts extraordinary responsibilities. I love how the film ends in ambiguity. The Driver drives off into the night, and we do not know what mission he will undertake next. Do yourself a favour and listen to the whole soundtrack (and watch the film if you haven't already).

6. American Psycho (2000)

Song: Hip to Be Square
Artist: Huey Lewis and the News

This ranks among my favourite film monologues of all time. This scene is rather similar to the ear severing scene from Reservoir Dogs. The upbeat nature of the song distracts us from the horror that is unfolding before us. We get caught up in the song, and before we know it, Paul Allen is dead. After watching this scene, you'll never forget that the song is "not just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends; it's also a personal statement about the band itself." 

5. Almost Famous (2000)

Song: Tiny Dancer
Artist: Elton John

You don't know how many times I've been on a crowded bus, hoping everyone would break out in song like this. You can tell how close the cast was in this film. They seem genuinely happy to be singing this song. It's a moment of bonding, and when Kate Hudson rests her head on Patrick Fugit's shoulder, I just melt. If you like music (you know, real music), you have to see this film.

4. Blue Velvet (1986)

Song: In Dreams
Artist: Roy Orbison

Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) is one of the most psychotic characters ever imagined in celluloid, so when he grabs hold of Kyle MacLachlan, gets up in his face, and whispers the lyrics of In Dreams to him, you are terrified. Look at how Hopper uses his fingers as he whispers the lyrics, and listen to how he vocalises the words " dreams". Truly haunting. 

3. Closer (2004)

Song: How Soon is Now?
Artist: The Smiths


The song plays very faintly in the background, but it's there. Larry (Clive Owen) deplores the way Alice (Natalie Portman) carries out her services. He wants Alice to show genuine feelings for him, but her job as a stripper does not allow this. Larry's pleas for intimacy fall on deaf ears, and when Morrissey belts out the line "I am human and I need to be loved," a fundamental truth of the human condition is crystallised. 

2. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Song: Llorando (Spanish version of Roy Orbison's Crying)
Artist: Rebekah del Rio

This is arguably the most moving film scene I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. When you watch this scene, you forget you're watching a film. You surrender yourself to the film, realising that art has obscurely dissolved into reality. It's an odd sensation, and no words can really do it justice. I would pay a copious amount of money to watch this scene alone in a dark theatre. Del Rio did not know she was being recorded, which makes the scene even more remarkable. Right before this performance, a man on stage says "No hay banda," (There is no band) "But yet we hear a band." I can't really delve any deeper into this. Only David Lynch knows the true answers. 

1. Lost in Translation (2003)

Songs: Brass in Pocket; More Than This
Artists: The Pretenders (covered by Scarlett Johansson); Roxy Music (covered by Bill Murray)

This is it. My all-time favourite use of a song in any film. Well, technically, this scene encompasses two songs. First we see Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) do a cute little dance for Bob (Bill Murray). There's no eroticism attached to it. She simply values Bob—her confidant and only friend in a city where everyone's a stranger. Through the song, she asks for Bob's attention. She needs it. Her husband is more interested in his photography career (and his models) than he is in her. Then, Bob takes to the mic and dryly sings More Than This. His voice is tinged with the knowledge that this chance encounter in Tokyo is all he's got with Charlotte. They share a glance to tacitly acknowledge this fact. Later in the film, Charlotte says to Bob: "Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun." An affecting scene from a beautiful film.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

How NOT to be Unfollowed on Twitter

No one likes being unfollowed on Twitter. Well, some people do, but they belong to the New Wave of masochism. I bet you're all wondering how to consistently maintain your follower base. Well, you're in luck! I present to you: the ten sure-fire ways to NOT lose your Twitter followers.

1. Be conventionally attractive. Have pimples? Photoshop them out in your display picture. If you don't have Photoshop, just do a Google Image search for 'model' and pass someone else off as yourself. You see, some people are on Twitter for the sole aim of getting inside other people's pants. NEVER upload Twitpics captioned 'no make-up' or 'just woke up'. People will vomit forcefully into their breakfast before clicking 'unfollow'.

2. Don't have opinions, AT ALL. Limit yourself to facts and/or descriptions. E.g. Instead of "Michael Bay is an atrocious director" you should tweet...actually, bad example. There is too much truth in that opinion. What I'm saying is that most of your tweets should be mere observations. E.g. "I am sitting on a brown couch"; "There is a clock on my wall. It has two hands—three if you count the second hand"; "I am out of margarine". Some people abhor subjectivity in others. They will unfollow you if your opinions are not analogous with theirs.

3. Limit your tweets to one per month. There are people out there who will unfollow you if you tweet a lot. The definition of 'a lot' varies from person to person, so it's safest to tweet once per month (or once per year if you're the paranoid type). If you adopt this approach, you have to be careful about what you tweet. For example, if you're diagnosed with a terminal illness, don't tweet about it. Your followers will have to wait a WHOLE MONTH just to find out if you're still alive. Of course, you can cheat by using, but some people hate links in their timeline, and may unfollow you for it.

4. Follow EVERYONE back. Some people get really frustrated when their following of you is not reciprocated. You don't want to risk being unfollowed, do you? SO FOLLOW THEM BACK! This goes for every single account that follows you. Spambots? Follow them back. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church? Follow them back. People who can't differentiate between your and you're? You better believe you're following them back! You see, it doesn't matter if you like their tweets. They followed you on Twitter, which is a BIG DEAL, so the kind thing to do is return the favour.

5. Never tweet about trivial problems, and ESPECIALLY avoid the #firstworldproblems hashtag. Did you know you're not allowed to care about anything except world poverty and hard-hitting current affairs in the political arena? I'm serious. It's in the Twitter guidelines somewhere (I think). Car broke down? Not important. Almost drowned after a surfing accident? Pfft, grow some fucking balls. Oh, and NEVER tweet things like "There's no chocolate in my house. FML!" or "Want to change the channel but can't reach the remote :(", or you will be unfollowed so hard your shadow will instantly disappear.

6. Reply to EVERY SINGLE tweet on your timeline. This rule is similar to #4. People crave attention, and if you don't reply to a tweet like "Going to the shops!", they'll assume you want them dead. So...the right thing to do is enquire "Ohhhh, exciting! What's on your shopping list?" The person who typed the original tweet will feel validated as a human being.

7. Make reference to Justin Bieber or One Direction AT LEAST five times a week (this will be tough if you staunchly follow rule #3). You see, everyone is a closet Belieber or Directioner these days. The old lady who catches your bus each morning? Yeah, she loves 'em. Your chiropractor? Absolute fanatic! Twitter is a haven  for fandoms to blossom. You never know how many of your followers are DYING to tweet "notice me justin. ur music defines me xoxox". If you even imply that Justin Bieber or One Direction are devoid of talent, you will be unfollowed from Twitter, and possibly from life itself.

8. Don't swear. At all. Did you know swearing makes you Adolf Hitler incarnate? I don't care if you saved someone's life. If you swore in the process, you deserve to be shot. It is at this point I ask you to disregard all previous swear words in this set of guidelines. My fingers slipped, or something. Seriously, Twitter is a place of grace and genteel refinement. If you swear, people will judge you so severely; they will unfollow you straight to Hell (oops, is Hell a swear word? Y/N?)

9. Don't live-tweet television shows. By all means, live-tweet the hysterectomy of your aunty's best friend's cousin, but television is a no-go zone. Forget the notion that Twitter is a powerful social media tool that blurs the geographic boundaries between our lounge rooms. MORE LIKE ANTISOCIAL MEDIA; AMIRITE!? You are not allowed to live-tweet television shows on the grounds that it is simply too annoying. It doesn't matter how much you love the show. It's guaranteed that other people despise it, and that's YOUR problem, so deal with it.

10. Constantly tell all of your followers how great they are, even if they're not. Some examples: "You're better than that Simpsons episode where Bart gets an elephant"; "I want to go to your house and marvel at your stunning array of neckties"; "Your name is Richard, right? With the addition of a comma, an anagram of your name is "Rad, rich." You should feel special, bro!" People need to feel valued, and sometimes following someone back or replying to their tweets isn't enough. You have to compliment them until their smile is so wide it extends past their face and falls off.

This is the fine print. Before you all unfollow me on Twitter, I should clarify that this is a satirical piece. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Suburb, My Community


One of several gritty sites captured in My Suburb, My Community      Picture: Cheyne Carter

By Steven Savona

Armed with cameras and a knowledge of their local area, students from Kingswood High School have produced photographs that expose the stark realities of their suburb.

My Suburb, My Community is an exhibition that aims to empower local youth by allowing them to document the issues they face every day.

The project is the brainchild of Mandy Schöne-Salter, a local visual artist who provided the students with cameras and some complimentary tuition, and tasked them with capturing the essence of life in Kingswood.

“I wanted them to give a warts and all portrayal of their suburb through photographs. All too often, teenagers have no connection to anybody outside of their family or peer groups,” she said.

The students delivered, offering representations of multiculturalism, bored youth, and the effects of a declining job market.

Ebony Paranihi of Year 11 considered the project an enlightening way to shatter misconceptions about Kingswood.

“I realised Kingswood’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Taking photos taught me that Kingswood’s not so bad after all,” she said.

Cheyne Carter, also of Year 11, said the project surprised her in a similar way.

“It wasn't what I expected. Kingswood seems to be a normal, welcoming place for the public. It’s not rundown and horrible like my peers make it out to be,” she said.

Ebony and Cheyne believe youth have a duty to care for and promote their local area.

“The way you treat your area and how well you look after it reflects on the type of people that live in that area. If people see our community in more of a positive light then they won’t be so hesitant to come here,” Ebony said.

                                                                                             Picture: Emma-Leigh Maley
 “Kingswood youth need to create an environment which isn't labelled as a bad area,” Cheyne said.

When asked how it felt to see her work in a public space, Ebony humbly replied “pretty ordinary,” but said the process of taking the photos was far more rewarding.

“I really got to see how Kingswood looked during the night and when it rained. I also got to find new places that I never even knew existed,” she said.

Cheyne was also modest about seeing her work on show, but said her mum was very proud of her.

She said the project gave her a taste for creative control and strengthened her ties with friends.

“Taking the photos was great because I could give people my take on the community. It was also fun to enjoy the experience with my friends,” she said.

Schöne-Salter has worked with disadvantaged young women and preschoolers in the past, but this is her first project involving high school students.

“I really enjoyed working with the students and found it very rewarding. Society seems to think youth don’t care about much, but my experience revealed the opposite,” she said.

“They really wanted to talk about the issues facing Kingswood and share it with anyone willing to listen.”

My Suburb, My Community is backed by RailCorp and is on display at Kingswood railway station.

Schöne-Salter chose this location because it is a prime position to catch the gaze of passing commuters.

She also believes public art at train stations serves a societal function.

“Research has shown that public art at train stations makes commuters feel safer and results in reduced crime rates,” she said.

The project is part of Penrith City Council’s ‘Magnetic Places’ Grants Program, and is funded by the council’s Neighbourhood Renewal Grant.

The program seeks to create invigorating public spaces and meeting places in the Penrith area.

It encompasses three streams: Community Collaborations, Creative Communities and Seeding Initiatives.

My Suburb, My Community belongs to the Creative Communities stream, which entails imaginative collaboration between a range of partners, and encourages innovative concepts.

The project has already been selected as part of the Head On Photo Festival—the world’s second largest photography festival.

Schöne-Salter believes the exhibition has worked because of its fusion of art and activism.

In particular, she advocates the use of ‘photovoice’—the combination of photographs and captions to propel social action.

                                                                                                Picture: Milica Nestorovic

“It’s been used in anti-gambling and anti-alcohol ad campaigns with great success,” she said.

“It is a great way to grab people’s attention and give them a different perspective, in this case an insight into a disadvantaged community group.”

According to Schöne-Salter, Penrith City Council have already expressed interest in a follow-up to My Suburb, My Community.

The exhibition is on display at Kingswood railway station until June 30.