Movies and music captured my heart and imagination almost simultaneously, and at an early age. Welcome to my Top Five memorable movies and the music that plays a role in making them great.
Casablanca: Score by Max Steiner; Song: “As Time Goes By” by Herman Hupfeld. Steiner's score weaves familiar international patriotic melodies into a score that also hits the heights of romantic passion and despair, and captures the dire circumstances in which lovers reunite and sacrifice their fleeting happiness for the greater good.
Ilsa: Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake.
Sam: [lying] I don't know what you mean, Miss Ilsa.
Ilsa: Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By."
Sam: [lying] Oh, I can't remember it, Miss Ilsa. I'm a little rusty on it.
Ilsa: I'll hum it for you. Da-dy-da-dy-da-dum, da-dy-da-dee-da-dum...
[Sam begins playing]
Ilsa: Sing it, Sam.
If you've ever seen Casablanca, the iconic 1942 film with Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa, Dooley Wilson as Sam, and some guy named Humphrey Bogart, well, you know what comes next. And Wilson's rendition of “As Time Goes By” is the gold standard.
Fantasia: Music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Paul Dukas, Modest Mussorgsky, Igor Stravinsky, et al. opened up in my brain an affinity for classical music and the ways in which music can be adapted to storytelling. Since then, film scores, popular songs strategically placed in a film, and certain movie musicals linger in my memory and probably will for as long as I live.
Mary Poppins: Yes, at age 7, I fell in love with Julie Andrews. She is, I believe, “practically perfect in every way.” But it wasn't just Ms. Andrews' wise and wonderful nanny that made this movie so beloved, her exquisite singing, or Dick Van Dyke's vibrant performance as Burt the sidewalk artist and chimney sweep. It's the songs by Robert and Richard Sherman that give the movie its soul, from the wild Cockney frenzy of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to “Feed the Birds,” a song to warm the coldest heart.
Love and Death: Again with the classical music, this time by Sergei Prokofiev, mostly. Love and Death was my introduction to Woody Allen's work, staring himself and Diane Keaton. This is an earthy satire of novelist Tolstoy, filmmaker Eisenstein and all things Russian, set during Napoleon's invasion of the Motherland. And true to his vision, Allen chooses parts of Prokofiev's jaunty score for a lost film satire skewering capricious bureaucracy and aristocracy, Liuetentant Kije.
(500)Days of Summer: Now for something a little more contemporary (2009). This Mychael Danna and Rob Simmonsen score haunts me, from the opening shot of Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) holding hands on a park bench to the moment we learn what got them there. And the songs, from sad British pop (The Smiths) to the exquisitely pointed use of songs by such groups as Doves and The Temper Trap, flow seamlessly into and out of the score and the movie's fractured narrative.