' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

In his memoir “Love is a Mixtape”, Rob Sheffield wrote about the recurring synth-pop duo fantasy he had about any girl he ever dated. “The girl is up front,” he wrote, “swishing her skirt, tossing her hair, a saucy little firecracker. I’m the boy in back, hidden behind my Roland JP8000 keyboard. She has all the courage and star power I lack.” Even if this might traffic somewhat in gender stereotypes, there is nevertheless a certain truth to the general synth-pop band appearance, not simply in the delineation of Girl and Boy but Star and Not Star. And as someone with a soft spot for synth-pop bands, I often enjoy watching the person on the Roland JP8000 keyboard, or thereabouts, just as much as the person at the front singing the song and working the crowd. There is a visual dichotomy there that I find thrilling. Zola Jesus tends to perform with her limbs majestically akimbo, but it is just as easy to get lost in the rhythmic sways of the upstage keyboardist semi-lost in the shadows. It’s difficult to take your eyes off Lady Gaga during her iconic “Paparazzi” performance on SNL, but look left, over the shoulder of the backup dancer, and the unmistakable Space Cowboy is lording over his surfeit of sound-making machines with hipster cool.

Marc Lawrence’s 2007 rom com “Music and Lyrics” has a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes though if anyone other than channel surfers who stumble upon the thing on TBS or TNT some hungover Saturday afternoon even really recall its existence I would be surprised. I greatly enjoyed it, whatever its deficiencies, and so did My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and our mutual friend. In fact, My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and our mutual friend saw it in on the big screen way back when at a showing with only one other person in the theater and My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife likes to joke that the one other person was probably me. It wasn’t, because I did not see it in the theater, but I like to spiritually think it was, or something. Anyway.

If “Music and Lyrics” is remembered at all it is probably for its opening, which takes the form of a 1980s music video by fictional band PoP and their hit New Wave-y tune “PoP Goes My Heart.” This is because the central character is Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant), formerly a member of PoP but now obligatorily washed up while his principal bandmate, Colin Thompson (Scott Porter), went onto bigger and better things. Both Colin and Alex were vocalists in the band, as the “PoP Goes My Heart” video will prove, but it opens with Colin on lead while Alex is concocting the beat in the background. It is highlighted in my heart by this shot…..

No one would confuse Hugh Grant with “the boy in back”. He’s generally right up front and on the poster. Not just for “Music and Lyrics” but even for something like “Love Actually”, or “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, which might not be his movies, per se, but which he nevertheless enlivens so memorably with his patented dithering that they kind of just feel like Hugh Grant movies anyway. His pleasingly, tipsily theatrical turn as the narcissistic villain in “Paddington 2” does not steal the movie, per se, but is so stellar that it just sort of exists as a co-equal of the eponymous Peruvian bear. And yet.

In this shot, Alex is merely the producing savant in the background, content to just stay in the shadows and lay down the beat while Colin tells you what’s up. If it becomes visual shorthand for how Alex really was the brains of the band even as he fell on harder times, there is something else happening here. It’s almost a jolting look for Grant, being “the boy in back”, but he rolls with it in these few instants, just playing keys and pressing buttons. And because it is Grant you are drawn to him anyway, an entire alternate universe glimpsed in the space of a screenshot, where Hugh Grant did not comically cater to your every whim but simply let his aura do the talking.

No comments: