Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gunsmoke gets in your eyes

As I gear up for the massive mixing session to complete my RiVeN music project I've been listening to lots of classical music, especially Holst, Stravinsky, and from there to the film scores of John Williams, who is clearly influenced by both; in particular the scores for the first 'Star Wars' trilogy, and the 'Indiana Jones...' compositions. The other night I was sitting out in the back yard, on the first truly warm spring night the city has experienced so far, enjoying a crepuscular cider and cigarette, seated in my incongruous comfy chair, soaking up 'Star Wars' through my new ( not-so-great ) headphones. Strange as it is to listen to the soundtracks for these classic films, sans the images, the music is so memorable that more often than not a cue triggers the memory of the scene it accompanies. Examples of this are during the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' soundtrack with the piece that accompanies Indy's revelations in the map room, the subterranean chamber with the snakes and my favourite sequence featuring the truck chase in the desert. Or, that opening chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk of 'Jaws'. Eyes closed I can conjure the imagery up as vividly as if it were in front of me, so inextricably entwined are the two medium; which is surely a testament to Williams' skill.

With that in mind I turn to the 'Star Wars' soundtrack, and the thrust of this tale. Something strange happened to me as I made my way through the double album, deluxe edition. An utterly unexpected happening occurred as I reached that sad, funereal harmony that accompanies Luke gazing out over the desert at the setting suns, the metaphorical transition of his life ( You know the one: daaaaa-daaaaa-da-dee-daaaaa-daaaaaa.... ), I started crying.

Not racking sobs, or convulsive choking heaves, but tears none-the-less.

I sat there turning over the very heart of the film: a young orphaned farmer, raised by his relatives, with ambitions and dreams and little hope of realising them until chance intervenes and he is propelled into a life of adventure and danger than results in him becoming a decorated hero.

Can you see my point? Isn't that beautiful? 'The right stuff ' of melodrama.

I don't think I've ever cried at this facet of the saga before. Oh, I know when I was 7, or 8, I would have lost it over Yoda, but never over Luke's story, not until I listened to that particular piece of music. The tears streaked slow trails down my cheeks, dripped from jaw, as I moved on through the score, suddenly lost in thought, contemplating the experience.

There is a classic scene in the otherwise forgettable floss that is 'Sleepless in Seattle' when Tom Hanks and his buddy break into mock-sobs recounting the closing reels of 'The Dirty Dozen' to their bemused partners. I laughed at the time, knowing this to be a truth, there is terrible tragedy in seeing our heroes lose their lives; this band of men that we the audience have grown to be a part of over the previous two-and-a-half hours.
Every time I watch 'The Dirty Dozen' I still think everyone will make it out alive..

The other classic men-watching-movies-for-men melting-moment is the fate of the Mickey character in the 'Rocky' movies. I'm not sure how many time he has seen it, but regardless I always get a text message from good friend Richard, every time he re-watches Burgess bite the big one, as he admits the sniffly state he has been reduced to.
The mighty Dropkick Murphys mention this same phenomena in their song 'Wicked sensitive crew'.

These are two of the best examples of men-in-tears cinema, but I found myself wondering if there were others.

So, what I have here is a list of films that have either made me emotionally liquescent, have at least caused my heart to sink a little, a lump to form in my throat, bottom lip to wobble, an eruption of an anguished 'oh no' or disappointed expletive. The sort of film, or TV show, that has left me glad I'm home alone so no-one can see me in such a state. ( well one of two types of films that leave me glad I'm home alone glad not to be seen in the state I'm in. I'll talk about the other another time some time... )

Here goes:

  • The climax to 'Von Ryan's Express'.
  • The evac for the marines, Ripley and Newt doesn't exactly go as planned in 'Aliens'.
  • What may well be Clint's last stand in 'Gran Torino'.
  • Pacino rushes for the train in 'Carlito's Way' bringing unfinished business with him.
  • Withnail soliloquises in the park in 'Withnail & I'.
  • Michael Caine discovers the truth of his brother's death in 'Get Carter' .
  • Jack Nicholson gets a nasty shock in 'One flew over the cuckoos nest'.
  • Sam Rockwell wants to go home in 'Moon'.
  • Mickey Rourke discovers something about himself in 'Angel Heart'
  • Yoda dies down in Degobah, in 'Return of the Jedi.'
  • The bitter ending to Shane Meadows' excellent 'Twentyfour-seven'.
  • Sonny Corleone is turned into a colander in 'The Godfather'.
  • Gene Hackman does his best to hang for dear life in 'The Poseidon Adventure'.
  • Al Powell tells John McClane why he works behind a desk in 'Die Hard'.
  • Tom Cruise rages and breaks down in 'Magnolia'.
  • Steve McQueen has a second attempt at jumping that fence in 'The Great Escape'.
  • Christopher Eccleston defeats a tavern full of University stiffs, only to shift from triumph to tragedy in 'Jude'
  • Ed Wood bonds with Orson Welles in 'Ed Wood'.
  • Lars' relationship with Bianca eventually has to end in 'Lars and the real girl'
  • Anthony Hopkins almost admits his true feelings in 'The Remains of the Day'.
  • The realisation that the old guys being interviewed throughout 'Band of Brothers' are the real-life incarnations of the characters portrayed, and that agonising wait to see if Winters survived.
  • Harvey Keitel breaks down in a church in 'Bad Lieutenant'.
  • Sean Connery underestimates the wops in 'The Untouchables'.
  • DeNiro listens to a terrible revelation in 'Sleepers'.
  • David Tennant's Doctor bids goodbye to Rose.

There you go, twenty five occasions of masculine meltdown, maudlin machismo, or downright un-mensch-anable moping. Those are just the ones that came to mind. If I think of more, or if any fresh melting-moments take place, I'll let you know. Most recently I'll admit I was a mess by the end of the 'Female Agents', a top French film about the way women were 'used' during WW2. Well worth watching, especially for the sight of Sophie Marceau running about dressed as a nurse, or in German uniform, shooting chaps. ( Which perhaps brings me a around to the other kind of films I mentioned earlier...)

Perhaps I'm just over-empathetic, a big softie, watching these films when I'm 'manstrual', or revealing at last the secret history of 'men-in-tears' cinema, whichever of these I know that there comes a time when deep down I just need to let something sombre out. Don't we all?

And speaking of David Tennant, even at the though of his imminent departure from his triumphant performance as The Doctor I find myself developing a distant stare, and a weakening of will. Things will go badly, I know it. There I'll be, sitting up late at night, just The Doctor and I, too moved to munch my last Monte Carlo, to teary for tea, too sniffly for a cider...tears streaking my cheeks.

I know it's going to happen, and you know what?

I can't wait.

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