' ' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: Best Song Reimagined

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Song Reimagined

In a pleasant twist, this year’s Oscar Best Song category eschewed its typical lackluster nominees for at least a pair of worthy entrants. This blog’s heroine, Lady Gaga, was nominated along with for “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”, which accompanies the movie’s high point, while “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”, written for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by the impeccable Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, was a nifty austere sort of spin on Gene Autry. My heart desperately wants “Shallow“ to win, as you no doubt assume, but either song would be a worthy victor. Still, the modern art of selecting pop songs to accompany film moments continues to go unrecognized, and this blog continues to contend it should become the new basis of the Best Song Category.

So, as we do every Oscar season, Cinema Romantico reimagines the Best Song category as one in which pop music curation was rightfully honored and this blog and this blog alone was judge and jury in regards to the five nominees.

Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets in Cold War. “Once upon a time,”  Aaron Leitko wrote in a Washington Post article a couple years back reviewing a few music memoirs, “rock-and-roll was strange, wild and dangerous.” That’s true, as any cursory history of the movement can go to show, but that sonic menace has inevitably been strained out over the years. In “Cold War”, however, for one astonishing sequence, the best implementation of pop music in a 2018 movie, director Pawel Pawlikowski puts it back in. As Zula (Joanna Kulig) wastes away at the end of the bar, the sudden appearance of Bill Haley’s immortal chart-topper becomes a mythic invitation to freedom, and then danger, and then self-destruction.

Angel Baby by Rosie & The Originals in You Were Never Really Here. If pop songs are often used in juxtaposition to moments of brutal screen violence (see: Quentin Tarantino), director Lynne Ramsay is not seeking juxtaposition at all. No, this song was famously recorded on a two-track machine in an abandoned airline hangar, directly contributing to its rough, nigh eerie, sound, which is why it effortlessly harmonizes with rather than running counter to the eerie, oblique manner in which Ramsay recounts Joaquin Phoenix’s character violently liberating a young girl.

Too Late To Turn Back Now by Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose in BlacKkKlansman. We already wrote about this selection for our year-end Random Awards and, as such, simply re-offer our digression: What music does, whether it’s on your headphones, in person, or at a club, is let you slide into an in-between place for a few minutes at a time. That’s the sensation Spike Lee’s implentation of the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s 1972 hit captures. And in “BlackKkKlansman”, after the thrill of the Kwame Ture rally and then the pain of the activists at the rally getting stopped by the police, when “Too Late to Turn Back Now” appears, that’s where the characters briefly, blessedly go...into the in-between of both those places.

Harvest Moon by Neil Young in A Quiet Place. If I told you that real-life wife and husband Emily Blunt and John Krasinski share a slow dance to this song in this movie you would probably retch. Ah, but in the film’s context, a world where positively no noise can be made lest monsters with acute sense of hearing come and eat you up, A Quiet Place’s single implementation of a pop song (heard through earbuds) therefore assumes deeper meaning, for them and for us, a reminder of how, in a cacophonous modern world of piped-in music everywhere you go, a single pop song remains capable of providing salvation.

Goodnight Ladies by Lou Reed in Can You Ever Forgive Me? If “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is nominally about a forger who gets caught, it is also about an unlikely, effervescent friendship that forger forms as she breaks the law and which inevitably ends and pointedly without any sort of traditional redemption. That is what makes “Goodnight Ladies”, culled from the Bard of New York’s second solo album, such an ideal anthem. It is heard during the movie’s high point, a joyful night out, sung at a nightclub by transgender singer Justin Vivian Bond, before Reed’s original version plays over the closing credits after that joyful feeling has faded and the consequences of the characters’ actions are all that’s left.

1 comment:

Drew @ Man About Words said...

I absolutely love the idea of this post! I kind of talked about this yesterday on the blog, in reference to a cover version of I Will Always Love You that reminds me of Baz Luhrmann's incredible ability to select the perfect song for the perfect moment in his films. Song selection is so key to the overall impact of a film scene, so it should be something rewarded by The Academy...much more so than silly Popular Film award! LOL. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my post, if you have the time.