Well hello, and welcome to my Lloyd Awards. Each year, Boombox Serenade bestows this award on the directors who use real music in original and/or powerful ways in their films. When I say "real music," I mean music that was not written for the film, but was first introduced to the world in some way other than the movies, usually as a label-backed album release.
I don't mean to be flippant. There have, of course, been many great scores and songs written explicitly for film. Some of my favorite original songs include "On the Road Again," "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)" and "Tender is the Night." Other greats include the "Theme from Shaft," "Nobody Does It Better," "Streets of Philadelphia," "Unchained Melody," "Lose Yourself," "Last Dance," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
And yet, when you ask people what their favorite music moment in film is, the answer you get often goes something like this: "Oh, that scene in Office Space where they destroy the fax machine to the hardcore rap track." Or like this: "That scene in The Big Lebowski when Juhn Turturro licked the bowling ball to the Gipsy Kings' cover of 'Hotel California'" Or, like this: That part where the buildings explode at the very end of Fight Club with The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind."
In other words, it seems the truly memorable moments in film-music history seem to belong not to score nor to original songs composed for the film, but to music that first had a life and a context outside cinema. Why is that?
In some cases it's because of the tasty irony that can only arise when there's some friction between sound an image -- a friction that an artist would rarely choose to introduce if he or she was hired to write something directly to the scene. If Mike Judge had asked the Geto Boys to write some music specifically for Office Space, for instance, they probably wouldn't have come up with lyrics like, "Back up in your ass with the resurrection is the group harder than an erection." Nope. Probably not.
In other cases, the greatness comes from the perfect accord between image and sound. When Willard creeps up on Kurtz and assassinates him to The Doors' "The End" in Apocalypse Now, it's difficult to imagine any other music for that scene. Francis Ford Coppola loves bringing in (and riffing on) the works of other epic poets like Jim Morrison and T.S. Eliot. He's just not interested in the false continuity of a world in which he's had some hand in creating every element.
Enough nattering. Let's get on to this years' winners. As usual, we start at the bottom of the list and work our way up to the years' #1 film-music moment.
Lloyd #7 goes to Director Julian Jarrod for the "A Certain Smile" sequence in Red Riding Trilogy: Part I: 1974. Not many people in the U.S. caught this excellent adaptation of David Peace's The Red Riding Quartet, about the Yorkshire Ripper case, and it's a shame. Julian Jarrold's (Brideshead Revisited) contribution was easily the strongest of the three installations. One of the most memorable moments is when he sends his plucky young investigative journalist, Eddy Dunford, to visit a woman named Marjorie Dawson in the institution where she lives. A nurse quickly figures out Eddy isn't her nephew, as he's claimed, and calls in a couple of Yorkshire's finest to nightstick him in the knees (the corruption and brutality of Yorkshire cops is a major theme throughout this trilogy). To distract herself from the smackdown, the fragile Majorie turns up the radio on her nightstand and suddenly, Johnny Mathis' velvety voice overtakes the scene. As Eddy is unceremoniously dragged down a long hallway Mathis croons, "A certain smile, a certain face, can lead an unsuspecting heart on a merry chase..." It's twisted and wonderful.
Lloyd #6 goes to John Cameron Mitchell for the "The Higher Road" sequence in the official trailer for Rabbit Hole. Somewhere around the 1:20 mark of this exquisite trailer, the cello gives way to the tumbledown groove of Broken Bells' "Higher Road," and the whole thing becomes strangely exalted with a world weary James Mercer advising you to "let loss be your guide." Before the film had even been released, John Cameron Mitchell showed his ability to imbue heavy subject matter with a tender, even holy quality that made you want to meet that couple and bear witness to their loss. Instead of choosing music that was merely sad, Mitchell picked something more complex and mysterious. It's a song that somehow captures the horror of transition after a tragedy...the inexorable sundowning of your old life. This is the second trailer to win a Lloyd Award. The first went to Spike Jonze and Arcade FIre for the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are.
Lloyd #5 goes to Director Danny Boyle for the "Lovely Day" sequence in 127 Hours. Earlier when I was talking about what makes a film-music memorable, I mentioned that real music can introduce irony in a way that score has a hard time doing. A downright flawless specimen of this is furnished by Mister Danny Boyle this year, who puts a little Bill Withers on the turntable as the sun comes up on mountain climber Aron Ralson's third straight day of being pinned by a boulder to a narrow crevasse in Robbers Roost, Utah. At first this seems like the dryest possible choice of an Englishman, but as much as Boyle is commenting wryly on the plight of the hero, he's also using the sequence to show the very real loveliness of the Utah landscape. A brilliant beverage montage, too, is an early look at Aron Ralston's inner life, which gains sway as the film progresses. This is Danny Boyle's second Lloyd Award. His first was for the "Paper Planes" sequence in Slumdog Millionaire.
Lloyd #4 goes to Directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington for the "Touch Me" sequence in Restrepo. After a brutal firefight in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan (often called "one of the deadliest places on Earth"), the remaining soldiers of B Company return to their makeshift outpost on a barren hillside in this feature-length documentary about war. They've recently seen members of their unit die right in front of their eyes, so the last thing you'd expect is for a spontaneous dance party to break out, let alone to some vintage 80's mall pop, and yet, that's exactly what happens. In the midst of ditch digging and weight lifting, of the soliders puts a euro-disco remix of Samantha Fox's "Touch Me," and suddenly a clump of burly soldiers are bouncing excitedly to the chorus, "Touch me, touch me, I want to feel your body /Your heartbeat next to mine." The moment might have seemed like some kind of psychotic break if it weren't so obviously an expression of relief and the kind of urgent bonding people sometimes need to do after having survived something deadly. Samantha Fox's bubbly voice justaposed with the wintry Afghan countryside is haunting and bizarre.
Lloyd #3 goes to director David O. Russell for the "Here I Go Again" sequence in The Fighter. It's the end of the film...the big title fight in London. Welterweight Micky Ward waits in the wings with his older half-brother and trainer, Dicky Ecklund, who has only recently kicked a nasty crack cocaine habit. It's a loaded moment. So much struggle has gone into it, on both sides. Micky has had to work like a fiend to regain his career. Dicky's fight has been to break his addiction and win back his brother's trust. The brothers bow their heads together. Micky's entrance music starts to play, "Here I Go Again," by Whitesnake. Dicky starts to sing it softly and Micky joins him. They step into the crowd together and make their way toward the ring. At this point, most directors would have transitioned to just the Whitesnake, mixing the bombast of the hair metal with the din of the crowd. Instead, David O. Russell lets us hear that the brothers are still quietly singing together, all the way up to the ring. The intimacy of that private duet is what makes it so moving. This is song as ritual and shield. We feel the fierceness of the brotherly love and understand the victory this walk represents for each of them before the first bell even rings.
Lloyd #2 goes to Director David Fincher for the "Baby You're a Rich Man" scene in The Social Network. Proving that a director need not necessarily use the latest indie hit to capture the zeitgeist, Fincher turns the final moments of his film over to John Lennon, who asks, "How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?" as Mark Zuckerberg reloads his browser again and again, waiting for an ex-girlfriend to accept his friend request. As the camera pushes in close on Zuckerberg's face, we realize that he's implicating us every bit as much as his protagonist -- our impatience, our declining social skills, our burgeoning preference for ersatz connections over real ones.
Lloyd #1 Goes to Director Sofia Coppola for the "My Hero" sequence in Somewhere. On paper, this moment doesn't sound as if it'll go down as one of the filmmakers' most memorable, but it absolutely will: Johnny Marco, famous actor, drifts off to sleep while identical twins pole dance in his Chateau Marmont suite. Most directors wouldn't have dreamed of using a song like the gruff, platonic "My Hero" by the Foo Fighters for this scene, but it's the kind of oddly literal selection the dancers themselves might have made to go with their candystriping costumes. The way this elaborate, muscular track emanates thinly from a cheap boombox really captures the ennui, as does the twins' junior varsity choreography with its perfunctory jiggling of butt cheeks. There's no attempt to portray anything as complex as seduction here. Mystery is at a minimum, as if tanning bed bulbs and hydrogen peroxide had long since burned away all their Freudian darkness. The real centerpiece of this scene, though, is Johnny Marco's bored expression as he watches the twins dance. Coppola lets her camera linger on his face, grafting our gaze to his.The shot lasts so long, in fact, that we don't just witness his slow-motion decision to let sleep prevail over horniness, we actually experience the pleasure and the vacuousness of his life. A few scenes later, Marco is sitting in the stands of an ice skating rink, reading text messages while his eleven year old daughter, Cleo, receives a private lesson. When she performs run-through, Marco's attention shifts from his phone to his daughter's performance. Once again, he is watching a dance, but this time he's captivated. The juxtaposition of the two scenes is unmistakable. Cleo's innocence seems all the more luminous next to the false innocence of the twins. Johnny's choices are cast a new light and we wonder whether he feels strange about his womanizing now that he sees his own daughter ramping up to womanhood. In this way Coppola is now crafting meta-moments with a touch that seems ever lighter; she has a gift for arranging and slowly rotating things in a way that reveals their complexity.
Honorable Mention Lloyd goes to Director Meghan Eckman for the end credit sequence, "Welcome to the CPL" from The Parking Lot Movie. The Lloyds proper only go to film moments featuring music that wasn't written explicitly for the film, but every now and then Lloyd must tip his boombox to an original song, like this hilarious track at the end of The Parking Lot Movie, a documentary about frustrated parking lot attendants in Charlottesville, Virginia, who are forced, daily, to deal with presumptious, BMW-driving dickheads and the drunk, spoiled University of Virginia undergrads who don't have to work in a parking lot to make ends meet. The line "God will hand us the sword of justice," alone, would have been enough to attract this blog's attention, but working in such existential inquiry as, "Do you park the lot or does the lot park you?" rate a prestigious Lloyd Award, no question.
And there you have it! The intensely subjective Lloyd Awards, brought to you by Boombox Serenade and Hint of Id Perfume. See you next year!