Although I can’t profess being an expert, or even a huge fan of the musical, the blending of images and songs has always fascinated me. This is a brief list I cooked up of my 10 favourite scenes that combine music and film. They are not all from musicals, and I think they’re rather diverse. For diversity’s sake, I’ve limited only one song per film. Before I go on with the list, here are 10 honourable mentions
Moon River, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
America,West Side Story
Diamond’s are a Girl’s best friend,Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Dance in the Cafe,Band of Outsiders
Time Warp,The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Singin’ in the Rain,Singin’ in the Rain
Isn’t it Romantic,Love me tonight
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,The Night of the Hunter
Springtime for Hitler,The Producers
10. The Gold Diggers Song (We’re in the Money)-Gold Diggers of 1933
From one of the best of the early musicals, we have the ironic opening song “We’re in the Money”. All at once playing on the fact that the characters are broke, it takes a playful jab at the socially detached musicals of the day. The song has ingrained itself so deeply in our culture, that most people don’t even know where it’s from. Even Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde sings along to it as she plays with her new riches. In terms of choreography, it doesn’t get much better than Busby Berkeley. He was probably the first dance choreographer who realised the endless possibilities that the camera allowed him, and he used it to great effect. Rumour is, that it was Ginger Rogers’ idea to sing the chorus in pig Latin, a stroke of genius.
9. Ballet of the Red Shoes- The Red Shoes
Speaking of people who transcend the stage, we have Powell & Pressburger who transformed a ballet into a cinematic wonder. Using special effects, and editing they create a seamless cinematic ballet. While rooted in stage, it takes full advantage of the camera. Few filmmakers would ever attempt such a lengthy sequence, let alone be able to sustain it. In (arguably) one of the greatest cinematic filmographies, this could be easily chosen as the greatest moment in any of Michael Powell’s films. Capturing not only Shearers’ talent, he captures the atmosphere and passion of the story. Colour has never looked as good as it does here, and it makes me mourn the saturation and the brightness capable with Technicolor. Within the large ballet, probably the best short sequence is when Shearer dances with the newspaper.
8. In Dreams, Blue Velvet
David Lynch is part of a select group of filmmakers who truly understands the use and importance of sound and music in film. In Blue Velvet he uses for the first time in his filmography he uses music to emphasize the falseness and illusions presented in film. While, the sequence that borrows from this idea in Mulholland Dr. is probably my favourite in that film it cannot beat the eerie presence of Dean Stockwell. The scene haunts me like few can, and it plays so readily with the viewer’s perceptions and preconceptions. The use of lighting and colour, as can be expected, is wonderful. The scene is edited divinely, revealing so much not only about Stockwell but of Frank, and more generally Lynch’s vision and intention.
7. Plastic Jesus, Cool Hand Luke
Another non-musical on the list, this is one of those scenes that never fails to break my heart. I can’t imagine a more perfect scene for Luke to mourn his mother. The camera’s slow close-up, and the rain in the background adds a perfect touch. The last few moments, as he looks up to the ceiling with a newfound energy brings an extra layer and added interest to the scene. There are countless variations on this song, and I think it’s important that aside from Jesus all the figures he includes are women. He’s singing about his mother as his newfound guardian angle. He still fears whether or not he himself will end up in heaven or hell.
6. Cry me a River- The Girl Can’t Help It
This is probably the most obscure choice on my top 10, and for those of you who haven’t seen the Girl Can’t Help it you really should. One of the best rock and roll films I’ve ever seen, it plays with the new and the old as they clash in “the modern world”. It’s genuinely funny, and the music is awesome (a great showcase of popular musical acts of the day, including Little Richard). This is inarguably the best scene of the film, and easily one of the most ambitious and beautiful musical scenes you will ever see. One of the character’s is haunted by the love of his life, a singer he helped discover but was forced to part with. She appears as a ghost like presence in his apartment. Julie London has a gorgeous voice, and has a look very much like Lauren Bacall. The use of colour and light is divine, and the song is inexplicably beautiful (has no relation to the Justin Timberlake song).
… Top 5 continued tomorrow. Any guesses or bets welcome!