Fame by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Fame…Song #24/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

One of the great truisms of being an educator is that the students under your care are all unique individuals. They enter into your classroom with varied life experiences, states of intellectual readiness and physical health, minds and hearts filled with hopes and dreams that are theirs alone and, of course, you have those who don’t want to be there at all and would rather still be tucked safely and warmly in their beds. As a teacher, I always built my programme around the fact that I shouldn’t expect all of my students to learn the curriculum in the exact same manner nor at the exact same speed. I had to find ways to help each child to be successful on their own terms. So, each school year, I tasked myself with creating 20-30 individualized academic programmes of instruction and ran them in a collective social setting. What made this easier for me is that, in reality, in any classroom setting the majority of the students fall into a fairly broad band of academic achievement that roughly translates to being in “the middle”. These would be the students who traditionally earned “B”s and “C”s on their report card. While there would be slight variations between these students, most were successful most of the time and were on course to successfully meet the requirements for that particular grade level. At the opposite end of those students who were in “the middle” were those students who struggled mightily and those students at the top end who excelled. While educators often spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how to help those students who are struggling, that will not be the topic of today’s post. Instead, for a change, we are going to focus on the needs of those kids who excel.

Photo of a young Scarlett Johansson when she was a student at the Professional Children's School in New York City.
Actress Scarlett Johansson when she was enrolled at the Professional Children’s School in NYC.

Despite how it may seem, it isn’t always easy to be an academic rock star in a regular classroom setting. One of the main reasons for that is simply boredom. When you possess tremendous skills and knowledge, it can become frustrating to always have to be waiting for your peers to catch up to where you got to a long time ago. In the public school system where I was a teacher, students who excelled at a tremendous rate could be tested for academic giftedness. If the testing process revealed that a student was, in fact, functioning at a gifted level then, a whole host of additional programming options could, in theory, be made available to that child. In other countries, there are whole schools established with the sole mandate of helping children who have displayed giftedness in The Arts or in Athletics, for example. Today’s post begins at one such school in the US called The Professional Children’s School. This school was established in New York City in 1914. It was run for the benefit of children who worked professionally in some facet of the entertainment industry in New York. A quick look at the names of some of those who have graduated from the PCS is to read a veritable Who’s-Who of the entertainment world. Professional Children’s School alumni include Yo-Yo Ma, Beverly Sills, Marvin Hamlisch, Buddy Rich, Vanessa Carlton, Milton Berle, Peggy Lipton, Lorna Luft, Macaulay Culkin, Carrie Fisher, Elliott Gould, Scarlett Johansson and many, many more, including a young singer and dancer named Irene Cara.

Head shot of actress Irene Cara smiling.
Irene Cara.

Irene Cara was enrolled in the Children’s Professional School in the 1970s. While a student there (and then later upon graduation), Cara earned roles in many Broadway plays and musicals and had some small supporting roles in soap operas and television serials. In 1979, Cara showed up to try out as an extra for a new movie that was inspired by the musical, A Chorus Line. This movie was centred upon a group of young people in a school for the arts who were all trying to break into the world of show business. When Cara performed her audition for a role as an extra, the producers were blown away by her singing voice and by her onscreen presence. In fact, the producers of Fame ended up creating an entirely new character for the movie named Coco Hernandez and gave the role to Irene Cara. Not only that, they had Cara sing the title track to the movie. The song called “Fame….I’m Gonna Live Forever” announced Irene Cara’s arrival as a star! The movie, Fame, became a huge box office hit. Cara won the first of her two Academy Awards for Best Song. She would win her second Oscar shortly thereafter for the song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling!”. Not long after Fame ended its theatrical run, word came out that the story being told in the movie was going to be continued in a television series. Many of the original movie cast signed on to reprise their roles on the small screen. Many assumed that Irene Cara would do so as well, but she declined that opportunity and her role was given to a new actress. Cara justified her decision to turn her back on the role of Coco Hernandez by saying that she believed that many other movie roles awaited her in Hollywood and that she didn’t want to become typecast as Coco just as her career was beginning.

The television version of Fame enjoyed a few seasons of success on network TV before being canceled. Meanwhile, Irene Cara had teamed up with music producer Giorgio Moroder to write the hit song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling!” for the movie of the same name that starred Jennifer Beals as a wannabe dancer searching for her big break. Around the same time, Cara starred in a sequel to the television mini-series, Roots called Roots: the Next Generation. Irene Cara received a Golden Globes nomination for her role as author Alex Haley’s grandmother in this continuing saga. As the 1980s reached their midway point, Irene Cara was one of the brightest names in the entire world of the entertainment industry. And then, it all went away for her.

Movie poster for Fame.Top half shows the word, FAME in lights. The bottom half of the poster shows students rehearsing on a stage.

Another one of life’s truisms is that history is told by the victors and not the vanquished. It is difficult for me to say with any certainty exactly what happened to cause the downfall of Irene Cara’s career but some facts are known and I will share them with you now. As Irene Cara became a bigger and bigger star, she began to receive career advice from other people who were stars in the world of music and television. Those people were becoming concerned about how Irene Cara was being managed by her management team. Specifically, they advised Cara to have independent lawyers look into the terms of her management contract because they felt she was being denied royalties to her music that were rightfully hers. With hit songs such as “Fame” and “Flashdance” under her belt, Irene Cara should have been earning enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle. But, the fact was that she was continuing to live paycheque to paycheque. So, Irene Cara hired new lawyers and soon launched a lawsuit against her own management team in an attempt to recoup lost royalties she felt she was owed. Because Cara had little money of her own to begin with, her management team countered with a succession of lawsuits that essentially bankrupted Cara. The lawsuits dragged on for over a decade. By the time the dust settled, Cara had won a settlement of 1.5 million dollars. Not long after the decision of the court was issued, her management team declared bankruptcy itself. This caused Cara to have to begin new lawsuits aimed at recouping a fraction of that settlement, with her as a creditor. All throughout the time she was engaged in her legal battles, Cara began finding it harder and harder to get work in the entertainment industry. She claimed that her management team had placed her name on a blacklist that prohibited others from hiring her. Her former management team denied this and countered her claim by stating that Irene Cara had always had a reputation for being difficult to work with, and on top of that had become addicted to cocaine and was, in fact, the author of her own misfortune, and that it all had nothing to do with them. What the real story is, I cannot say but, the reality was that toward the end of her career, Irene Cara’s only source of income was from doing voice-over work for commercials and for animated movies. As many of you may know, Irene Cara passed away recently at age 63. The exact cause of her death is unknown.

Facade of The Professional Children's School in New York City. Banners with the school name hang down over the sidewalk.
The Professional Children’s School in NYC.

One of the things that I learned from being a teacher was that ensuring the academic success of my students was only one part of my role in their lives. The physical, social and emotional health of my students was of equal importance and required just as much attention from me as did all of the ABCs and 1-2-3s of the world. I have often felt sorry for young performers such as Irene Cara, Macaulay Culkin, Michael Jackson and others who achieved great fame at a very early age. It must be tough to bear the weight of the responsibility for million dollar entertainment franchises when you are still so young that you don’t even really know who you are as a person yet. One of the goals of The Professional Children’s School was to provide counseling services for their students to help them deal with the pressure that comes from being so famous at such a young age. That such services are necessary speaks to the cutthroat nature of the world in which Irene Cara found herself as she left her teens and entered her twenties. To protect such children from ruthless promoters was one of the reasons that The Professional Children’s School was started over a century ago and why it still exists today. At the end of the day, it can’t be easy to be gifted with such talent. Somewhere along the way, balance becomes equally as important as ambition and intellect and creativity and talent. Irene Cara’s story stands as a cautionary tale, not only for those with exceptional talent but also, for those who surround them. It is important to strive for greatness, for sure but, it is also important to love and be loved for that is the true path to happiness.

The link to the video for the song “Fame…I’m Gonna Live Forever” by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Fame can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Flashdance can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Fame can be found here.

The link to the official website for Irene Cara can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Professional Children’s School can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Slow Ride by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Dazed and Confused…Song #23/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

At the time of writing this post, I have two daughters who are both in their teenage years. All throughout their lives, they have been encouraged to ask my wife and I about anything that is on their minds. We have always believed that having open communication channels is important between parents and children. We want our girls to feel comfortable talking with us. I believe that they are comfortable talking to us because they are always asking us questions. “Where did you and Dad meet?” “Where did you go on your first date with your first boyfriend/girlfriend?” “What jobs did you have when you were a teenager?” And on and on it goes. Their questions always seem to match their own experiences at the time. But one of the questions that I have the most trouble answering is one of the most basic of them all…”What was high school like for you, Dad?”

The fact of the matter is that I can’t remember all that much about my high school years in specific terms. What I do remember is the more general feeling of doing not much of anything at all. I hung around a lot with my friends. That was really it. I sat for hours in school hallways with my back against a locker as kids copied my homework and we talked about what was on TV the previous night or who was having a party soon. I went downtown on Friday nights and hung around the main street in town with the other kids, leaning against telephone poles or else sitting on the stone fence that fronted St. Paul’s Church, listening to the sounds of Trooper and April Wine blasting from car stereos as guys drove round and round in a loop through town. Sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we would travel to the mall and play video games at the arcade, stopping for a burger before heading home. But, truth be told, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all during my high school years. In fact, if anything, the feeling I had was that I was like a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. So, for me, high school was a time spent preparing to leave Glace Bay. To answer my daughters’ question, what I remember most about my highschool years was simply putting in time in the belief that there was something better somewhere else. I had no real idea at the time what that “something better” might be but I knew for sure that it wasn’t going to be found there in Glace Bay.

There have been a lot of movies made about life as a teenager. However, there have been very few that seemed able to replicate that feeling of nothingness that I experienced as a teen. None of us went on secret spy missions. No one found treasure. None of my classmates were secretly vampires or monsters who revealed themselves when the moon was full. There were no UFOs or celebrity encounters or riots or anything. There were drugs for some, alcohol for others, fights for a few and sex for many but none of that for me. I abstained from it all, not because I felt above it, but more because I was simply too introverted and nerdy to be invited to partake or to force my way in. So, I hung out. I was a friendly nerd among jocks and cool kids and tough guys and fashionista girls. That was high school for me. One of the very few movies I have ever seen that captured what that sort of high school experience was like was Dazed and Confused.

Milla Jovovich was just one of many young stars who got their start in Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused was directed by Richard Linklater. It was his first feature film. Dazed and Confused was set in the 1970s in a small nameless Texas town on the last day of high school. It starred a bevy of young actors who would go on to become big stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Adam Goldberg and a host of others. The storyline revolved around one teen…the captain of the football team…who has been recruited to play at a prestigious college, which makes the whole town feel a sense of pride as they take his accomplishment as reflecting on them all. As part of his recruitment, he is asked to sign a pledge of good conduct by the end of his high school year. This pledge includes a promise to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. So, as Johnny football hero deals with the peer pressure from his town and ponders whether or not to sign away his freedom to live as he pleases in return to gridiron glory, the rest of his graduating class prepares for their last day in the safety net that high school provides. They all know that when tomorrow comes, they will no longer be high school kids but will, in fact, be part of the real world. Dazed and Confused follows this band of jocks, cool kids, misfits, stoners and lovers during the entirety of those final twenty-four hours, as each faces the prospect that the future is there now, knocking at the proverbial door. There is not a lot to the plot of this movie, just as there was not a lot to the real life experience of being in high school for me. These kids hang around a lot and talk a lot. They start the day at school and end the day at a party in a park. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They make out. But, most of all, they simply are who they are, all together, one last time. The movie has a really great soundtrack that is filled with many of the top classic rock tunes of the 1970s. The reason I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat as the song for this post is because that song is the soundtrack to the closing scene in the film. In that scene we learn what Johnny football hero has decided to do, as he drives away with a few of his closest friends down a road that leads off into the future. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen the film, but the choice of a song like “Slow Ride” was purposeful by director Linklater and speaks to the nature of life being a journey, rather than a destination.

A very young Matthew McConaughey in character.

Even if you haven’t seen Dazed and Confused for yourself, you may be aware of the famous catch phrase uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s character. McConaughey plays a character who has graduated a few years prior and has chosen to still keep hanging around the high school scene as if he has never left and gotten on with life. He spends the movie doling out advice about the real world that he feels is wisdom. At one point, he says, “Alright! Alright! Alright!” in his slight Texan drawl that McConaughey has become famous for. That catch phrase has been associated with him throughout the remainder of his career. He even ended his acceptance speech with it when he won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Dallas Buyers Club. That iconic line came from Dazed and Confused. ***FYI, if you haven’t heard this speech, it is one of the better Oscar speeches ever given. McConaughey did a super job. You can watch and listen to it here.

If my two daughters end up reading this post, then I am sorry that your Dad wasn’t a more exciting person when I was your age. But the truth is that, unlike the movies, in my real high school experiences, I never once snorted cocaine off of the stomach of a bikini-clad Paris Hilton lookalike while poolside, nor did I battle aliens or develop a computer programme that almost started a nuclear war or build a robot sex slave in my basement. What I did was watch a lot of television. I hung out with friends doing nothing in particular. I listened to tunes on my headphones in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed. I vacationed with my family. I was a nerd. I was liked by many but loved by no one. I got through it all. And so will you. Real life isn’t often like it is portrayed in the movies…unless it is like it is portrayed in a movie like Dazed and Confused.

The link to the video for the song “Slow Ride” by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Dazed and Confused can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Dazed and Confused can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Andrew Lloyd Webber, as sung by Elaine Paige from the Original West End Cast Recording of Evita…Song #22/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The history of politics is filled with compassionate souls who have entered into the field of public service because they felt they had something to offer that would make the world a better place in which to live for everyone. To those kind folks, I salute you. Our world would be a much kinder, fairer and more just place to be if those sitting in the big chairs did so as leaders possessing charitable hearts. But, the reality of political history all throughout the world is that many who enter the political arena do so for less magnanimous reasons; power and money being chief among them. Politics has always been, or so it seems, an occupation not for the faint of heart. It is far too rare that political opponents join forces in pursuit of a common goal. Most often, we have maneuverings and intrigue, leaving someone to be the victor and someone to be the vanquished. And as the hoary old cliché goes, the history of our times is always written by the victors.

Who ends up dictating the events of history is an important factor to consider when discussing the story of one of the most controversial, beloved and misunderstood figures in any era of modern world politics, Eva Perón. In all of the research that I have conducted into almost one thousand songs, I have never encountered such a polarizing figure as the lady who would go on to inspire the hit musical, Evita. In fact, the information that I have read about her varies wildly depending upon who is doing the telling…the victors or the vanquished. So, let me take a few moments and give you the broad strokes of the story behind who Eva Perón was and how she came to hold such a position of influence within the country of Argentina. I state the following facts as being as true as I can know them to be. I am not an Argentinian scholar, by any means. If anyone reading this post has a greater pool of knowledge to draw from and can add to or correct what I am about to write then please, by all means, feel free to do so below.

Eva Peron as she while acting as the First Lady of Argentina.

Every biography of Eva Perón that I have read states that she began her life as Eva Duarte and that she had an impoverished upbringing. As she grew up and became a teenager, Eva Duarte began to have dreams of becoming a movie and music star. She knew that she would never become a star where she was living so she began to devise a plan that would see her move to the capital city of Buenos Aires. Not having money, Eva Duarte used her beauty to attract the attention of men in positions of power. It was through her relationships with these men that she made her way from her small town all the way to the big city. Once in Buenos Aires, Duarte began venturing into nightclubs and theatres looking for an opportunity to make herself known to those with the power to advance her career. As her teenage years moved along, she began getting roles in musicals, as well as opportunities to sing on stage in clubs. It was while working at a benefit fundraiser that she met one of Argentina’s rising young political stars, Col. Juan Perón. There was an attraction between the two and soon they began a torrid love affair. *(Up until this point in her story, the only bone of contention between those who consider Eva Perón to be akin to a saint and those who despise everything about her is whether she made her way to the top of Argentinian society because of her cunning determination and ambition or whether she prostituted herself). From what I have read, there appears to be no middle ground in this matter.

Eva and Col. Juan Person made for a glamorous couple.

Once Eva Duarte and Juan Perón became a romantically involved couple, they entered into a political partnership. As anyone with any knowledge of politics probably knows, no one rises to positions of power in isolation. They do so because they have supporters working behind the scenes, as well as in front of the cameras, who help their candidate of choice acquire enough popular support among the electorate to gain power. This is where the story of Evita becomes muddled and why it is important to understand the motives behind whoever is telling her tale. As the Peróns ascended to the Presidency of Argentina, they started a series of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of the working class. Hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc…, all received an influx of funding that flowed from the pens of Eva and Juan Perón. Up until their arrival, charities in Argentina were often run by the wealthy who would pocket much of the money that was raised from the citizens of the country. Needless to say, when Eva Perón essentially nationalized philanthropy, she made a lot of powerful enemies among the ruling class. It bothered them further that she was beautiful and revered by those she was helping. To her supporters in the working class, Eva Perón is viewed as an angel who made a concrete difference in their lives. For those who disliked her, she was nothing more than a political opportunist who stole from the rich to enrich herself and whose charity was nothing more than a power move to solidify support from those she considered her base. Many who oppose her claim that she was no better than another notorious First Lady, Imelda Marcos of the Philippines. Eva Perón died from cancer in her mid-thirties. Her husband was the subject of a military coup. Perón’s body was removed from its crypt by thieves and spirited away to Italy, where it was held for ransom for several decades before finally being allowed to return to Argentina. She was eventually laid to rest in the Duarte family plot in the same small village in which she had been raised. Her life had come full circle.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is a famous creator of musicals, as many of you are aware. He has a musical partner named Tim Rice. Rice often composes the musical scores that accompany Webber’s lyrics. It was Rice who first heard of the story of Eva Perón. He spent years researching her life story. He visited Argentina dozens of times, going to all of the places that played a major role in her life. In his mind, the story of the life of Eva Perón was an obvious choice to be turned into a musical. However, his partner wasn’t so sure. Webber argued that no one outside of Latin America knew who she was and that the general public wouldn’t rush out to see a play about the First Lady of Argentina, even if they did. But Tim Rice persisted and eventually Andrew Lloyd Webber agreed to give it a try. Initially, the compromise solution was to create a live cast recording and leave it at that. But, as tracks were recorded, the story that became Evita began taking on an energy of its own to the point where even Andrew Lloyd Webber himself had to acknowledge that this was a musical waiting to happen. But this is where the politics of the storyteller’s perspective come into play.

The plaque placed on her tomb by the taxi drivers union. It was the inspiration for the song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was not entirely certain as to how to accurately portray Eva Perón on the stage. As noted, she is a historically polarizing figure whose biography varies a great degree depending upon who is doing the talking. So, what Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up doing was to insert a character into the story called Ché. *(This may or may not be a reference to the famous revolutionary leader, Ché Guevara). The character of Ché is used by Webber in the role of the traditional Greek chorus. Ché is cynical of Perón and her motives and helps provide a perspective that contrasts with the mythologizing of Eva Perón that comes from the rest of the cast who play the citizens of Argentina. That she was adored and despised in equal measure appears to be the truest path to tread when it comes to evaluating Perón’s legacy by those of us who were never there at the time and who have to rely on the perspectives of those with something to gain by how they share her story. In the end, Andrew Lloyd Webber appears to have come down on the side of those in her corner. For the show stopping number, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, Webber drew upon the true story of how ordinary citizens reacted upon hearing the news of her death. At her gravesite rests a plaque that was paid for by donations raised by the taxi drivers union of Buenos Aires. The plaque states that they will not cry for her (because they felt blessed to have had her in their lives, even for such a short time as it turned out to be), but that they would cry for their country (because of the opportunity for charity and compassion that had been lost).

Evita has gone on to become one of the most successful musicals ever made. The song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song in a Musical the year it was released. In the 1990s, Evita was made into a Hollywood movie that starred Madonna as Eva Perón. Madonna had campaigned for years to play the role of Eva Perón because she felt that Perón’s life story bore a striking resemblance to her own. The movie opened to mixed reviews, mostly due to Madonna’s acting and singing voice. That may seem like a strange thing to say, since Madonna is one of the biggest selling singing stars of all time. However, what her performance showed, more than anything, was that there is a big difference between being a singer who sings Pop songs recorded in a studio as opposed to being a singer who belts it out on stage every night. Prior to Madonna singing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” in the movie, the song had been famously sung by such women as Barbra Streisand, as well as the legendary West End star, Elaine Paige *(who you will remember from her star turn in Cats as she sings that musical’s show stopper, “Memories”, which you can read about here). For my money, Paige is simply the gold standard. It is her version of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” that I will feature below. I will include Madonna’s, too, just so you can compare the two performances for yourself.

The politics of storytelling is not reserved for musicals and dramatic film adaptations. We are seeing this bear fruit in real time in our own society as more and more of our newspapers, television news stations and social media outlets are being taken over by those on the right wing side of the political spectrum. When the information we are being presented takes on the perspective of those who view themselves as the victors, then their reality becomes our history. An easy modern example is the resistance to Climate Change initiatives. Who are the ones who believe in a “Green” future, and who seek to maintain the status quo because it is good for the bottom lines of those in charge? Who are the victors and who are the vanquished, and, just as importantly, who gets to tell the tale? Our future just may very well depend upon the answer to that question. Perhaps I should tweet about my feelings on Twitter but, then again…..

The link to the video for the song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” as sung by Elaine Paige can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer of the West End musical, Evita, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” as sung by Madonna from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Evita can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Evita can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Eva Perón Society can be found here.

*As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner with the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Opening Theme: Schindler’s List by John Williams…Song #21/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The country of Israel is known as the homeland of those with Jewish ancestry. The creation of Israel was one of the political consequences of World War II. After suffering through the Holocaust, it was determined, going forward, that all people of Jewish ancestry needed a safe haven to return to in times of trouble. As many Jewish people experienced during the War, being Jewish in a foreign land was often a precarious position to be in. As many Jewish citizens attempted to flee in the face of German policies that placed their very lives at risk, there were many countries that refused them entry for political and religious reasons. Thus, when WWII ended, those Jewish people who had survived banded together and swore to never again be cast adrift on the world’s stage. So, the country of Israel was created to be the Jewish Homeland for ever more. ***Of course, politics and history being what they are, how the State of Israel came to be is not as black & white as I am making it out to be. Its creation is multi-hued, to say the least. But, for the sake of contextualizing today’s musical selection, the essential facts are important to know so I have presented them as such.

The Holocaust, or “Final Solution”, was a formal policy devised and implemented by members of the Nazi Party of Germany during the 1930s and into the 40s. The aim of the Holocaust was to remove all people of Jewish ancestry from Europe. The policy was carried out with tremendous efficiency. Starting in Germany, itself, and then spreading out to all countries that were conquered by the German Armed Forces during the War, the Holocaust was a cold, highly-organized administrative effort that saw laws enacted that limited the rights of Jewish people to work, attend school and to own property. They were even required to be seen in public wearing identifying yellow stars. As the lives of Jewish citizens were increasingly restricted, they were soon rounded up by military officers/police and placed in certain small, confined areas where they could be monitored. Their former homes, businesses and possessions were looted and then sold to others who were officially approved by the German government. Those Jewish citizens who were forced into these confined areas were then shipped by trains to work camps erected by the Germans. In some cases, these camps were used strictly for extermination purposes. In other cases, the Jewish people who ended up there became slave labourers who produced goods needed by the German war machine. By the time WWII ended, it was revealed that over six million people of Jewish ancestry had been killed in the Holocaust. As the scale of the atrocity was first being reported, many found the news difficult to believe. How could murder occur on such a vast scale, seemingly under the watchful eyes of the world?! Well, since that time, the stories of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust have been told in the hope that by doing so, we may be better able to prevent such cruelty from manifesting itself again. In the words of the survivors, the world must never forget.

Oskar Schindler.

Amid the great cruelty, there were moments of great courage and sacrifice. One such story that seemed to stand out from the horror was the case of German industrialist Oskar Schindler. The short strokes of his story are that after the German Blitzkrieg had rolled through Poland and the “Final Solution” had begun to be implemented as official policy there, many German profiteers appeared on the scene to scoop up the spoils of war for themselves at a reduced price. One of those profiteers was a small-time industrialist known as Oskar Schindler. Schindler was no saint when he first arrived in Poland. In fact, one of the very first things he did upon arrival in Krakow, Poland was to bribe his way into Krakow and commandeer a factory for his own purposes and profit. The factory he appropriated was one that made enamel products. As Schindler moved into the factory, it came to his attention that some of the employees that he was going to need to effectively manage it were, in fact, Jewish. This was particularly true of a man named Stern, who was the bookkeeper. Using money as bribes, Schindler was able to pay off the German officers in charge of Krakow so that they would leave his Jewish employees alone. Just as all of this was happening, the new local German officer in charge of Krakow, Amon Goth, was charged with rounding up all of the Jewish citizens of Krakow and placing them in a holding area that became known as the Krakow Ghetto. From there, these citizens would be shipped to a new work camp that Goth was in charge of building. The purpose of this camp was the killing of Poland’s Jewish people. Needless to say, there was much chaos and cruelty on display during the process of rounding up the Jewish citizens of Krakow, which was a fairly large city to begin with. As panic took hold of Krakow’s Jewish community, many learned of Mr. Schindler and how he had protected his Jewish employees through bribes. Suddenly, those seeking protection began showing up at Schindler’s factory begging to be allowed in. Before too long, the list of those deemed as “essential employees for the war effort” grew and grew. Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper, managed the list. As one can imagine, that list became the difference between living and dying for over one thousand Jewish citizens of Krakow, Poland. No one knows the exact moment that caused Oskar Schindler, Nazi Party member, to change from a war profiteer to a humanitarian and saviour but that transition did happen. It even went so far that when German officer Goth built his new extermination camp, Schindler asked to move his factory nearby so as to have access to “more labour” (when, in fact, he was trying to shield Jewish people right up until the end when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. The Jewish people whose lives were spared because their names appeared on Mr. Schindler’s list became known as the Schindlerjuden or “Schindler’s Jews”.

Director Steven Spielberg.

In 1962, in the spirit of “Never Forget”, one of the Schindlerjuden decided that Oskar Schindler was a hero and that his story needed to be shared with the world. A man named Poldek Pfefferberg made it his mission to get Schindler’s story published. Finally, in 1982, a novel was written by an Australian writer named Thomas Keneally called Schindler’s Ark. It was based upon Pfefferberg’s story of his time with Oskar Schindler. A few years after that, a review of Keneally’s book was given to director Steven Spielberg to read in the hopes of turning it into a movie. At first, Spielberg, who is Jewish, felt overwhelmed by the cultural importance of such a story and was reluctant to touch it. He tried to get several other directors to take the project on (such as Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski), but each declined for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Eventually he agreed to helm the project but only if it could be filmed as more of a documentary than a feature film. The movie was shot on location in Poland and used all German and Polish actors as the extras for the film. Spielberg filmed the movie in black and white to give it a historical feel. Most scenes were filmed with hand-held cameras, too. A then relatively-unknown actor named Liam Neeson was hired to play the role of Oskar Schindler. Ben Kingsley, of Gandhi fame, was hired to play Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper. Ralph Fiennes was cast as the ruthless German officer, Amon Goth. Schindler’s List went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, for Spielberg.

Composer John Williams.

Through it all, Spielberg has stated that the experience of making this movie was like no other, and that he required counseling and much emotional support in order to merely complete his task of finishing the movie. Many of those who worked as extras and as crew members relate similar tales of how devastatingly emotional it was to make this movie. One of the most important people who was asked to become involved in this project was somebody who didn’t appear on screen for a single second…it was Academy Award winning musical composer and film scorer extraordinaire, John Williams. As you may know, Williams shot to fame as the composer of the highly successful Star Wars series of films. When Spielberg first showed Williams the initial scenes that he had shot, Williams turned Spielberg down, saying that this movie required a better composer than he was. To which Spielberg replied that he agreed with Williams but that Mozart and Beethoven were already dead, so Williams was the next best choice he had. For the opening theme, Williams contacted renowned violinist and cellist, Itzhak Perlman. It is Perlman who captured the essence of this story by playing notes that appear as tears. For many, the opening theme is an excruciatingly sad piece of music. It is heartbreak as expressed in notes and chords.

Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews at his grave site in Israel. Schindler is the only member of the Nazi Party to be granted a honorary citizenship by the State of Israel.

One of the things that Steven Spielberg did with Schindler’s List that helped to make it the great film that it is, concerns how he ended it. It is easy to take a story like the Holocaust and to wallow in the tragedy of it all. Make no mistake, the Holocaust was as horrific as a story can be. However, Spielberg knew that the counterbalance of horror and loss is hope. Spielberg knew and author Keneally knew and Schindlerjuden, Pfefferberg knew that unrelenting pain is unbearable, and that to simply pound audiences over the head with gore and pain would cause them to turn away in the end, which is the opposite of the “Never Forget” philosophy. So, at the end of the movie we get to meet those who have survived. We meet the Schindlerjuden. The importance of ending Schindler’s List in this fashion is to show the extent of the good that Oskar Schindler did in protecting as many Jews as he was able to in Krakow. Each one of those people who survived went on to do something with their lives that would not have happened if not for Schindler’s intervention. Some survivors turned out to become doctors and artists and teachers…most became parents of children who would never have been born without the help of Oskar Schindler. The power of helping out in times of trouble is shown in a way that makes a narrator’s voiceover explanation unnecessary. When there is Hope, there is Life. The Schindlerjuden are the proof of that.

In the world in which we all live, each person is worthy of life. This was true back in the 1930s, and yet much of the world turned a blind eye to genocide as it played out in Europe. It remains true in the 2020s. The story of the Holocaust is an important story to keep retelling, not just because of how it affected Jewish people. It is an important reminder that our history is replete with instances of groups of people being targeted for abuse and/or extermination because it suits the political agenda of others to do so. One need look no further than to cases of Pro-Nazism being on the rise around the world, including in my own country of Canada. Anti-semitic attacks are rising in lockstep. The times appear to be approaching a danger point once again. The importance of never forgetting has never been more relevant than it is right now. As much as I admire what Oskar Schindler did for the Jewish people in Krakow, Poland, I would rather that we all live in a world where such valour is not required at all. Instead, let’s strive for a world in which we would live in societies built upon the premise that all lives are worthy, and then live our lives by treating each other accordingly. That is my Hope.

The link to the video for the composition “Opening Theme: Schindler’s List” by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the film Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the stories of those who experienced the Holocaust, can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow, Poland can be found here.

The link to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio ft. L.V. from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Dangerous Minds.

The man who started it all…Johann Sebastian Bach, composer of Prelude in C minor for piano.

Over 300 years ago, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a little piece for piano or lute that went by the title, “Prelude in C minor”. Of all of the music he composed over the course of his lifetime, the “Prelude in C minor” is well-regarded and is regularly included in lists of the best preludes Bach composed. Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer, lived on until the 1750s but his music lives on forever. Proof of this is the fact that Bach’s prelude is the opening link in a chain of musical and personal connections that bring us to today’s song, Gangsta’s Paradise” by rapper Coolio. Let’s connect the dots, shall we?

Stevie Wonder playing the violin….seriously! From Songs in the Key of Life, this is the first known use of synthesizers to recreate a full violin ensemble.

Two hundred and fifty years after “Prelude in C minor” was created by Bach, another unbelievably talented young man was searching for inspiration for a new album he was putting together. In the mid-1970s, Stevie Wonder was arguably the most talented and prolific musician in the world. From his early days at Motown as “Little Stevie Wonder” who would headline the Motown Reviews along with Motown’s stable of other stars, Stevie Wonder’s musical career had evolved right before our eyes. By the time the middle of the decade rolled around, Stevie Wonder was enjoying a string of success not seen since Elvis and The Beatles hit the stage. By 1975, Wonder had had four consecutive strong albums, three of which reached #1 (Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale plus, Music of my Mind, which reached #4). At this point, Stevie Wonder engaged in contract negotiations with Motown. He was threatening to quit music altogether and become a missionary in Africa. Motown buckled. Wonder was given a contract valued at close to 37 million dollars and, just as importantly, he won the right to exercise full creative control over what appeared on his albums. After the acrimony of the contract negotiations, Wonder asked for a year off to recharge and reorient his passions. As the year went on, Wonder began writing again. His vision for his career was as an ambassador for the downtrodden, the weak, the lonely, the unloved and those pushed to the margins of society. At the end of that sabbatical year, Stevie Wonder returned with an album that critics have hailed as one of the most magnificent albums ever recorded in the whole history of modern music…Songs In The Key Of Life. While songs such as “Sir Duke”, “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and “Isn’t She Lovely?” emerged as the hit singles from this album, there was another song that was inspired by a piece of music that was two and a half centuries old. “Pastime Paradise” borrows the chord structure of the opening eight notes of Bach’s “Prelude in C minor” but, instead of piano, Wonder used a synthesizer to mimic a full orchestra of violin players. It was the first use of a synthesizer in this manner. Normally, a song uses a drum beat to establish the rhythm or beat of a song. For Stevie Wonder, he used the synthesizer to create the beat. Nestled amid a selection of songs that spoke to social justice, “Pastime Paradise” speaks to the importance of a positive attitude and a strong work ethic in achieving goals that might lift someone out of poverty, for example. The song denigrates those who champion materialism and possessiveness. Songs in the Key of Life may be rated as Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece but it wasn’t his last work. Wonder wrote many more albums in the 40 plus years that have followed and is still a respected and revered figure in the world of music and in life, in general.

LouAnne Johnson as she looked in the 1970s when she was a member of the US military and was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines.

While Stevie Wonder was putting the finishing touches on Songs in the Key of Life, a lady named LouAnne Johnson was enlisting in the US military. Johnson was posted to Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines. While there, Johnson took university level courses and ended up with an Honours degree in Psychology. Upon leaving the military, Johnson decided to become a teacher. Much to her surprise, her very first application was accepted and she was given a job in a high school in California. Unbeknownst to Johnson at the time, this high school was located in an inner city neighbourhood known for gang violence, drug use, rape, teenage pregnancies, poverty and much more. When Johnson showed up for her first teaching gig, she understood why her application had been accepted so quickly by school board officials. Finding teachers who were willing to work in this school had been a challenge. FInding teachers who would stay was an even bigger challenge. Well, not only did LouAnne Johnson fulfill the terms of her teaching contract, her students thrived. She wrote about her experiences in a book called, My Posse Don’t Do Homework. This book was a hit and ended up being turned into a movie called, Dangerous Minds. Michele Pfeiffer played Johnson in the film. Dangerous Minds grossed almost $200 million dollars during its run but much of what drove the success of the movie came from the soundtrack and, in particular, a song called “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio ft. L.V.

This would be Coolio and L.V and those would be Grammy Awards for “Gangsta’s Paradise” that they are holding.

In the links below, I will have a spot for you to listen to Stevie Wonder’s song, “Pastime Paradise”. I encourage you to give it a listen, even if you only do so for the opening thirty seconds or so. If you do give “Pastime Paradise” a listen and then give Coolio’s song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” a similar airing, you will see that Coolio basically sampled the core of Wonder’s synthesized rhythm track. The two songs have an almost identical musical structure. So similar are the songs that Stevie Wonder was given a song writing credit on “Gangsta’s Paradise”. As a further condition of allowing Coolio to sample his work, Wonder put down a clause that was important to him…no profanity allowed! Thus, “Gangsta’s Paradise” is one of the very few hit Hip Hop songs that uses lyrics that are completely clean. The fact that profanity is absent does not detract from the power of the message contained within this song nor does it impact Coolio’s powerful oration. He raps his way through “Gangsta’s Paradise” with passion and emotion, almost as if his life depended on him getting these lyrics said aloud. Coolio has stated that he was well aware of the song’s historical connections, with Stevie Wonder, as well as with the gospel-tinged nature of the music that gives it a religious fervor. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was the #1 selling song in the US the year it was released in 1995. It won the Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance, as well as a host of other awards.

From Johann Sebastian Bach to Stevie Wonder’s seminal album, Songs in the Key of Life to 1995’s Song of the Year, “Gangsta’s Paradise”, the musical dots are connected. It is amazing to think of how an eight chord progression created almost three centuries ago would be the catalyst for a hit Hip Hop song in 1995 that was created as a result of the life story of one of America’s first female marines, LouAnne Johnson that was made into a hit movie starring Michele Pfeiffer. But, that’s how it all lined up. Historical dominos do not always fall quickly but, in the end, fall they do.

The link to the video for the song, “Prelude in C minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, ft. L.V., as sung on the Billboard Music Awards show with Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Gangsta’s Paradise” sung a capella by Coolio and L.V. on the Howard Stern Radio Show can be found here. ***For what it is worth, I think this is an awesome live version. What a voice Collio had! This is a home run performance for sure. ***Lyrics version of “Gangsta’s Paradise” can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie, Dangerous Minds can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the official website for LouAnne Johnson can be found here.

The link to the official website for Coolio can be found here.

***FYI: Coolio passed away just recently. This post was created in his memory. #RIP

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Man of Constant Sorrow by Blind Dick Burnett from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a movie that was released in the year 2000. It was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen Brothers have a long history of producing movies that are quirky and innovative, with memorable characters and great scenes. They have directed The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, one of my personal favourites, Barton Fink (which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), Inside Llewyn Davis and the Academy Award winning, No Country For Old Men and Fargo. Needless to say, these talented men know how to put together a movie that resonates with critics and regular movie audiences alike. They do this partly by being students of literature and cinema. There is no clearer example of this than O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The movie stars Goerge Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three convicts who have escaped from a chain gang in the southern US and head off on a journey to find buried treasure. Along the way, the trio are faced with numerous challenges, meet a wide variety of interesting, dangerous and/or mysterious characters and, as is often the case, wind up changed as humans by the end of the story. That O Brother, Where Art Thou? uses the old storytelling strategy of having a physical journey tell the story of a personal journey doesn’t make it unique among movies. There are a whole host of movies that use this storytelling device to tell their tale. What makes the Coen Brothers’ take so unique is that they have based their movie on the original story of a journey….the epic poem, The Odyssey by Homer. Without going into too much detail, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer are considered two of the most important works of literature in all of human history. In both cases, Homer became one of the very first people ever to tell an epic tale in written form. For the sake of this post, let’s take a very quick look at The Odyssey and see how it inspired the Coen Brothers in their making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Sirens attempt to seduce Odysseus and his men in a scene from Homer’s The Odyssey, just as they do to George Clooney and his compadres in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. In this story, Odysseus fights for ten years in The Trojan War and then, once the war is over, the story follows him and his men as they struggle for ten more years to get back home. Along the way, Odysseus and his men encounter interesting, dangerous and/or mysterious characters such as the Cyclops and the Sirens. Because it takes Odyesseus two decades to get back to his home, his wife, Penelope, has assumed that he has been killed and has sought to go on with her life. This includes remarrying. So, part of the story of The Odyssey involves scenes in which Penelope deals with various suitors who are asking for her hand in marriage. All the while, Odysseus is struggling, straining and battling his way back home to be with her as well. For O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coen Brothers have made almost a scene by scene updated adaptation of The Odyssey. George Clooney plays the Odysseus character. Holly Hunter plays the role of Penelope. John Goodman plays a KKK Bible salesman who has only one eye (Cyclops). John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson play characters based upon Odysseus’ lieutenants. Singers Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris play a trio of singers who attempt to seduce and rob our escapees (the Sirens). As it turns out, just as Odysseus journeyed to return to his one true love, Penelope, so George Clooney does the same to be with his true love, Holly Hunter. He ends up discovering that true treasure does not necessarily come in gold and silver form.

Writer/Director, Preston Sturges. The Coen Brothers got the title for their movie from a scene in his 1940 movie, Sullivan’s Travels.

In a further tip of the cinematic hat, the Coen Brothers named their film after a scene in another movie about the Great Depression and the southern US called Sullivan’s Travels. This movie was directed by Preston Sturges. In the movie, there was a character who wanted to direct a movie called O Brother, Where Art Thou? about the reality of life for ordinary folks in the South. Not only did the Coen Brothers get the title for their movie from the Sturges film but another draw was the fact that Preston Sturges paved the way for them to make movies like they do. Sturges was one of the very first people in Hollywood to create their own original screenplays and then direct these screenplays and make them into a movie. At the time that Preston Sturges was making history in the 1930s and 40s, it was common practice for screenwriters and directors to be separate people. But, as Sturges proved, one person could fill both roles just as the Coen Brothers are proving that today with the films they write and produce.

Dan Tyminski is a member of the band, Alison Krauss and Union Station. Dan is the real singer of “A Man of Constant Sorrow” in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

As is the case with all good directors, the Coen Brothers are known for their attention to detail. An example of that is how they used music throughout O Brother, Where Art Thou? First of all, all of the music contained in the original motion picture soundtrack is historically accurate to the time and location where the movie takes place. I have often used the phrase “woven into the fabric of society” to describe instances where a song ceases to just be a piece of music that exists in isolation and, instead becomes integrated completely into the environment in which it is being played. This is the case with the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? This movie is set in the Appalachian region of the US which includes Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi and so on. The period in history the movie is describing is the 1930s. At that time in the Appalachian region of the southern US, Bluegrass and American traditional folk music was the popular style of music among ordinary people. In both styles of music, harmonies play a big role when singing. The instruments used tended to be fiddles, banjos, pianos and acoustic guitars. In fact, as was the case in the Maritime provinces of Canada, there were a great many immigrants who settled along the US seaboard who originally came from England, Scotland and Ireland. When they arrived, they brought many of their customs and traditions with them. When it came to music, they brought fiddles and guitars. It is claimed that banjos originated from slaves. In any case, over time, music took on a flavour of its own in the Appalachian region and, as a result, Bluegrass and Traditional American Folk music came to be. So, for the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, all of the music reflects the culture of the time and location of the movie. The most popular song to come from the soundtrack is a centuries old song called “Man of Constant Sorrow”. No one knows who originally wrote this tale of woe and perseverance but the first person to be credited with recording a published version of the song was a bling guitarist from the South called Blind Dick Bennett. As is the case with many folk songs and spirituals from the distant past, there have been many recordings of this song by all manner of singers such as Bob Dylan and Ginger Baker, all the way through a host of local Appalachian singers who covered the song because it has cultural meaning to them. For the movie, George Clooney and his gang lip sync their way through the song while on stage. The real voices belong to members of Alison Krauss’ band, Union Station. Specifically, the lead vocals are sung by Dan Tyminski. Because of the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, there has been a resurgence in appreciation among fans and fellow musicians when it comes to Bluegrass music. In fact, modern bands such as Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, etc., use the same instruments and harmonize in the same manner when singing as do those who sing on the soundtrack that the Coen Brothers put together. Taking it one step further, electronic dance music super DJ, Avicii, even recorded an EDM-inspired tune called, “Hey Brother” that was taken directly from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“A Man of Constant Sorrow” won the Grammy Award for Country Single of the Year and the soundtrack album won for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards, as well as at the Country Music Association Awards. I guess it just goes to show that when you are respectful of your roots, whether it be in music, cinema or storytelling that good things often end up being the result. If you have any comments about O Brother, Where Art Thou? or any of the other Coen Brothers movies, feel free to let me know in the comment box below. Thanks for taking the time to read my words. I appreciate having you stop by.

The link to the video for the song, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” from the original motion picture soundtrack of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Go To Sleep Little Baby” from the original motion picture soundtrack of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Sister Christian by Night Ranger/Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to Boogie Nights…Song #18/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

Boogie Nights was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It was his second major Hollywood picture and the one that really helped him make a name for himself as one of the bright rising stars among Hollywood directors. This movie was nominated for three Academy Awards and won many major awards at film festivals around the world including the Toronto International Film Festival (T.I.F.F.) where it made its world debut. Boogie Nights has an all-star cast including Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore *(who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards), Phillip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham and many other recognizable faces.

Boogie Nights is a movie that was inspired by the true story of 1970s porn actor John Holmes. But the beauty of what Paul Thomas Anderson managed to do with this story is to turn it into a treatise on human connections, on love and trust and, most of all, on putting in the hard work that goes into achieving the American Dream. Anderson managed to pull this off by creating a story that consistently manages to not be what you think it is going to be. He defies expectations and disguises the traditional path taken by most storylines. For instance, Boogie Nights is set within the porn industry. It is all about sex yet, it is not sexy or titillating at all. It is a movie in which beautiful bodies pair up onscreen yet, off screen, these same people are as lonely and flawed as the rest of us. The movie shows how easily people come to believe that the facade of movie making is real and that what happens on screen can be replicated in real life. Boogie Nights starts out as a fantasy playland where everyone is being gushed over and ends up being a lesson on how much more difficult it is to make your way in the real world of bill payments and aging and changes in technology.

Mark Wahlberg as Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights.

Mark Wahlberg stars as an unknown dishwasher who is discovered by a porn director (Reynolds) and asked to audition for one of his movies. At the start of the movie, Wahlberg is all handsome, with a chiseled physique and, we are told but never shown, an enormous physical attribute that makes him perfect for porn acting. Being the flavour of the month, Wahlberg’s character is fussed over, given lavish treatment everywhere he goes and soon comes to believe his own hype. In the process of the evolution, we get to see how unsexy the business of making x-rated movies is and how bored the actors and crew are much of the time. Needless to say, the excitement that marked the early stages of the film gives way to decadence and addiction and rejection as the movie unfolds. Walhberg’s character, Dirk Diggler, becomes addicted to cocaine, starts running out of money and is at risk of being replaced by another actor who becomes the new flavour of the month. It is at this point in the movie that our songs of the day come into play.

I used to own this album. Rick Springfield at the height of his fame.

Both “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger and “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield were bonafide hits during the 1980s. “Sister Christian” was Night Ranger’s biggest hit. It was a power ballad written by the band’s drummer about his younger sister who was no longer a child but a young woman heading out into the world. Knowing how the world works better than she did, big brother wrote the song as his way of warning her to be careful in how she goes about looking for love and not to be too quick to turn her back on her family life at home. “Jessie’s Girl” by Rock Springfield reached #1. It was his only #1 song but it did help earn him the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal by a Male Artist the year the song was released in the early 1980s.

Night Ranger in the early 1980s when “Sister Christian” was such a huge hit for them.

In both cases, the songs have come to cast Springfield and Night Ranger as though they were more prolific and successful than they actually were. It was this sort of attention to detail.…his ability to shine a spotlight on a couple of movie characters, pairing them with a couple of one-hit wonder songs and asking the question “Is this really all there is”….that has helped Paul Thomas Anderson earn such high marks for the movies he makes. In Boogie Nights, Anderson deliberately chose songs for the soundtrack that mirrored the times in which the movie was portraying, as well as mirroring the emotional/personal states of the characters at the time, too. In the scene in which both songs play back-to-back, Walhberg and his best friend in the movie, fellow porn actor John C. Reilly, have realized that there is a shelf life to being a porn actor and are searching for other avenues of employment to help make money for themselves. By this time, they are both heavily addicted to cocaine and have snorted through their savings and are now too broke to actually explore new ventures such as paying for studio time so they can start a career as singers. So, along with another friend, they attempt to rip off the man who has been supplying them with cocaine. Like everything to do with the storyline of this movie, the “drug heist” scene is a classic example of things appearing to be one way when, in fact, they end up being the complete opposite. Anderson does a masterful job of creating tension and suspense in a scene that is long enough to last through both songs. I will provide the link to the scene below. If you haven’t seen it before then get ready, it is truly something.

Chicken Soup from scratch. Click here to access the website where this photo originated.

If we are lucky, we are afforded the opportunity to call our own shots in life. But there are many people who subscribe to the old rock n’ roll notion that it is better to burn out than to fade away. As a result, we see people who soar to great heights very quickly in their young lives. The trick for them becomes how to remain atop the mountain. A select few manage to exhibit some sense of longevity but many others end up falling by the wayside. We use these people for our own pleasure, never thinking of what becomes of them after the bright lights are turned down and the music fades away. Boogie Nights tells this story for us. It is a cautionary tale in many regards. Whether or not you choose to heed its lessons depends, I suppose, upon whether you believe that even a brief taste of success is worth more than simply experiencing the everyday reality of normal life like most people do. For me, I have always been more of a “Steady Eddie” type than an Icarus. Whether that is the better choice, who can say? All that I know is that after I finish typing up this post, I have to peel carrots and chop celery and onions because I am making soup for supper. Such is life when you are a “Steady Eddie”.

The link to the video for the scene from Boogie Nights that shows “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger and “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield being played can be found here and here.

The link to the video trailer for the movie Boogie Nights can be found here.

The link to the official website for Night Ranger can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rick Springfield can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post can be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

My Eyes Adored You by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the musical, Jersey Boys: Song #17/250…The Stars of Stage and Screen.

To be honest, the fact that I picked “My Eyes Adored You” as the title song for this post is more because of a slight personal connection I have to the song than it is anything else. I could just have easily chosen songs such as “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night!)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and many others. While the Jersey Boys musical tells the story of 1960s supergroup, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it is mainly an excuse to create a play out of their musical catalogue of hits. In this way, Jersey Boys shares a lot in common with another Broadway hit, Momma Mia (which, as many of you know, showcased ABBA’s entire roster of hit songs in the guise of a romantic comedy storyline). But, thinking that the story of Jersey Boys is just like Momma Mia would be wrong. In fact, the two stories couldn’t be more different. The mere fact that actor Joe Pesci plays an integral part…in real life as well as on screen…tells you all that you may need to know that something is up with Jersey Boys. So, without further delay, here is the story of one of Broadway’s most popular and enduring hits, Jersey Boys.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: Valli, Gaudio, Massi and Devito.

With the emergence of the Fab Four over in England, American record executives were searching high and low for their own version of singing quartets. As luck would have it, four guys from New Jersey were meeting up and realizing that they shared a common love of singing and of four-part harmonies. These four young men were named Tommy Devito, Frank Valli, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi. While these four young men could sing and ended up having a string of #1 hit songs, their fame only went so far; especially when compared to groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. The reason for that was because many of those involved in the group had well known ties to organized crime. In fact, Tommy Devito had already spent time in prison prior to becoming a singer in The Four Seasons (which is what the band was originally known as). Not only that but, Devito ended up racking up huge gambling debts as the 1960s unfolded. The debts got so high that eventually, the remaining members of the band had to approach a New Jersey-based Godfather and ask to cut a deal. Needless to say, cutting a deal with the Mafia rarely works out in anyone’s favour and that remains true of The Four Seasons who spent the remainder of their career working to pay off Devito’s gambling debts.

The structure of the storyline for Jersey Boys is broken into four quarters. Each quarter represents one phase of their career and each is told from the perspective of a different member of the band. The musical starts off with Devito talking about how the band came together and how the early days of their success unfolded. The second chapter of the story is told by Bob Gaudio (who actually wrote the entire musical). He tells of the back stories behind some of the biggest hits they had. For example, as fame came to the band, they toured constantly which caused the marriage of Frankie Valli and his first wife, Mary, to fracture. This led to the song, “My Eyes Adored You”. Part Three is told by Nick Massi and involves how Tommy Devito began getting into trouble with his gambling and how that affected the rest of the guys in the band. Massi describes how the band was forced to negotiate with a mobster and how that caused Devito to have to be hidden away for awhile so as to keep him from gambling anymore. Part Four is told by Frankie Valli, himself. He describes how the band changed focus by placing him as the star (in the same way that Motown put Diana Ross in front of her partners in The Supremes). He tells of how they finally managed to pay off the debts that they owed but at the price of his second marriage failing, his daughter succumbing to a drug overdose and the band agreeing to part ways and break up. The musical concludes with their manager, Bob Crewe, describing what it was like, years later, for The Four Seasons to be inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and how it came to be that the four original members reunited for one final performance.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is quite the story. My personal connection to their work is not nearly as dramatic but it exists in my memories just the same so here goes. When I was in Grade 7, I attended my very first school dance. As one might expect, it was an awkward affair. I was never a wild party animal to begin with so the prospect of having to navigate these uncharted social waters filled me with dread. I wore tight polyester pants and a red flowery, Hawaiian silky shirt because my mother insisted that I “dress up” because that was what people of her generation did when they went to a dance. So, there I was, pimply-faced, overdressed and terrified to ask any of the girls to dance. The thing I remember most about the evening was that, for whatever reason, out of all the record albums available to our DJ that night, we had only one slow dance song. That song was “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Once the slow dances began and my friends started figuring out that slow dancing was the reason we were all here that night, “My Eyes Adored You” must have been played a dozen times at least! It may be a sweet song sung by Frank Valli’s about his first love but for me, I will always be taken right back to that night in our classroom dancehall at Brookside Street Elementary School where, true to my introverted nature, I was scared to be there and couldn’t wait for the night to be over.

“Funny, how?!” One of the most iconic scenes from the movie, Goodfellas. According to reports, much of this scene was improvised.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons became Jersey Boys which, in turn, went on to win numerous Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Jersey Boys continues to be performed all over the world. Presently, it is holding court in The West End in London, England. Here is an interesting tidbit of note that shows how Art can imitate life…in real life, Tommy Devito was introduced to Bob Gaudio by actor (and fellow New Jerseyite), Joe Pesci. One of the movie characters that Pesci is best known for is from the movie, Goodfellas, where he played a mobster known as….you guessed it…Tommy Devito!

Gramma’s iPod Shuffle.

A final small personal connection for me comes in the form of a story about my mother-in-law. When iPod Shuffle players first came out my father-in-law asked us to order one for her as a birthday present because she liked to listen to music while going for walks. Once the gift was given, my mother-in-law asked to have some of her favourite songs placed on her new Shuffle. The first CD that she gave me to download was the soundtrack to Jersey Boys. She knew all of the lyrics by heart. But more importantly, she and my father-in-law both know how to dance and love to do so in front of my daughters. Unfortunately, I am still no better today than I was in Grade 7 however, if “My Eyes Adored You” were to be played, at least I would have a slow dance partner to have and to hold and that’s all that truly matters to me.

The link to the video for the song, “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the musical, Jersey Boys can be found here. The trailer for the movie can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Jersey Boys can be found here.

Pulp Fiction Soundtrack Compilation…Songs #16/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

These are the stories behind the most memorable songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

Today we are going to do something a little bit different. Instead of choosing one song and focusing on it and the impact that it had on a given movie or musical, we are going to discuss how director Quentin Tarentino uses music to create a stylistic environment for his movie characters to live in. Tarentino has become known as much for how his movies “sound” as he has for how his movies “look”. For him, the musical soundtrack adds layers of detail and meaning in very much the same way as the set design, the cinematography or the fashion choices do. So, in this post, we are going to examine how Quentin Tarentino used music…some of it well known and some of it more under-the-radar, as it were…to create the world of Pulp Fiction.

For anyone who has not watched Pulp Fiction already, here is a brief synopsis of the plot. Before I even begin with that, it is important to note that one of the things that made Pulp Fiction very interesting to watch was that Tarentino’s story involves three interconnected storylines that all house characters who weave in and out of each storyline in differing combinations. The stories are not told in chronological order so there is some piecing together of the puzzle that is required in order to understand what is happening and why as the movie rolls along. However, one of the reasons why Quentin Tarentino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay is how he always manages to ensure that all scenes and all characters behave in ways that are true to their own individual story arc, even though they may be involved with different characters, in different scenes and in and out of chronological order. The construction of this film is fascinating to me.

In any case, the three story arcs are as follows:

1- A crime boss (played by Ving Rhames) demands that a washed up boxer (Bruce Willis) throw his next boxing match. Willis accepts the bribe money and agrees to throw the fight so that Rhames can place a big bet and make lots of money. However, Willis ends up accidentally winning the fight via knockout and decides to flee with the crime boss’ cash. Needless to say, Rhames vows revenge. So, story arc #1 is about the relationship between Willis and Rhames that plays out all throughout the movie.

Travolta and Jackson as hit men. This scene is an all-time classic. “There’s a Bible passage that I have memorized…”

2- Story Arc #2 involves two hit men (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) who work for Rhames. We follow them for a day as they conduct their business which involves eating breakfast in a diner that is being robbed, stopping by an apartment to retrieve a briefcase belonging to Rhames that had been stolen by petty thieves. *(This scene has become one of the most iconic in recent Hollywood history. The “Royale with cheese” scene helped make Jackson the star he is today. You can view that complete scene here. Warning: lots of violence and profanity…but, in the context of the movie as a whole, it all works). The ramifications of that apartment visit play out over the course of the movie and cause both men to re-evaluate what it is that they are doing with their lives.

3- Story arc #3 involves Travolta’s character performing another duty for his crime boss, Rhames. In this case, Rhames has asked Travolta to entertain his wife for an evening while Rhames is at the big boxing match. (Rhames’ wife is played by Uma Thurman). Needless to say, taking the sexually aggressive wife of his boss out on a date places Travolta’s character is a precarious situation. There is much chemistry between the two and much of what ends up happening after the two return home after their evening on the town fuels the remainder of the movie’s plot; especially for Travolta’s character.

All three story arcs resolve themselves at the end of the movie. Part of the fun with Pulp Fiction was re-watching the movie and figuring out how seamlessly all of the interconnected parts fit together even if you didn;t realize it the first time around. Critics have hailed Pulp Fiction as being Tarentino’s masterpiece and one of the best films of the last half century. I don’t disagree. There is a lot of good acting, good writing and excellent story structure going on in this movie. One of the things that ties it all together is the music so let’s take a closer look at that.

Forrest Gump Soundtrack track listing.

When we talk about the way Quentin Tarentino uses music in his films, it is instructive to make a quick comparison to another famous, successful film that was released around the same time…Forrest Gump. Like Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump is a period piece, meaning that it is set in a certain time period, with the music, costumes, set design and cultural references all being reflective of that period. Forrest Gump takes place in the 1960s in America.The soundtrack for this movie contains many recognizable hits from that time period. As such, many music critics have stated that there are no surprises in the soundtrack. Everything is as expected. For some, that is a strength. For others, they tale the view of only playing the popular, safe songs is a bit of a musical cliche. Tarentino has never been one to settle for cliched responses when more interesting choices exist. So, in all of his movies, he has developed a pattern of choosing music that the cool kids would have listened to; some of it well known and some of it more of an underground variety. His musical choices end up giving his films a cultural cache that other directors just can’t match. So, here are a selection of songs from the soundtrack of the movie, Pulp Fiction. In each case, I will briefly talk about the original artist who recorded the song and then I will talk about the scene in the movie in which the song was played and why Tarentino opted to do what he did by pairing that song with that particular scene. Buckle up! Here we go!

Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon by Neil Diamond (covered in the movie by Urge Overkill).

Neil Diamond wrote this song as a very young man. It was placed on his second album. Diamond says that he wrote this song specifically for the girls that he noticed were starting to come to his shows. He may have been just a young man at the time but Diamond already recognized that his music held a certain power over impressional young girls…a power that he was happy to exploit. This song was one of his early hits that helped establish him as a major player on the music scene in America.

Uma Thurman dancing to this song. Note that she is wearing John Travolta’s coat.

In the movie, this song plays as Travolta and Thurman have returned home from their night on the town. While Travolta is in the bathroom trying to buy some time so he can figure out how to make a graceful exit without offending his boss’ wife, she is dancing to this song in her living room while wearing Travolta’s coat. Wearing a guy’s coat/shirt is usually a turn-on so we all know where this scene is headed…until Thurman starts fishing around in the coat pocket and makes a discovery that changes the entire course of the rest of the movie.

Tarentino has taken a song written by a guy who has all of the power and is using it to attract women and uses it to switch positions and make clear that it is Thurman who is calling the shots in this sexually-charged situation. In writing class, newbie writers are always instructed to create scenes by showing and not telling all of the details. In this scene, Tarentino uses music to do the talking and establish the parameters for each character without either of them having to actually say what they are thinking out loud.

*(You can watch the scene by clicking on the link found in the song title above).

Let’s Stay Together by Al Green.

“Let’s Stay Together” comes from the album of the same name. It was Al Green’s biggest selling single of his career and has come to define much of who he was as a person and as a performer. It is a classic, beautiful song that describes the importance of standing by one another through good times and bad. It is a life message that has helped many a couple over the years.

Bruce Willis listens meekly as he is told to throw his next match…or else!

In the movie, this song plays in its’ entirety in the background of one of the first scenes in the movie. It is the scene in which the crime boss (Rhames) is meeting with Willis’ character and instructing him to throw his upcoming match. For most of the scene, we only see Willis as he listens silently to Rhames telling him how it is going to go. The power dynamic is clear. Rhames does all of the talking and Willis meeking accepts Rhames’ decision. It is also clear that neither man really likes or respects the other. But, for Willis, it is what it is and he feels as if he has no choice in the matter which, by extension, also describes how he views his life as a whole at that moment in time.

Tarentino uses this song as a bit of foreshadowing. As this scene plays out we, the audience, have no idea how inextricably linked both characters will become over the course of the film. Like the song says, they will have good times and bad and, for better or worse, will end up together in a way neither man could have foreseen in this initial scene. For me, this scene really captures the essence of why Pulp Fiction is such an epic movie. At first blush, this scene seems fairly straightforward but, once the movie is over and we all know what happened, to watch this scene again with wiser eyes is a revelation. There is actually so much going on here that you don’t notice at first but upon further review, the attention to detail is simply incredible!

You Can Never Tell by Chuck Berry.

This song was Chuck Berry’s last hit in the 1960s. He wrote it after completing time in jail for violating The Mann Act. This law was passed to deal with the problem of human trafficking and essentially made it illegal to take minors across state lines without permission from the child’s parents. In Berry’s case, I do not know if sexual liberties were in play or if he was targetted because he was a black man and/or a celebrity but, he was charged with taking a fourteen year old Mexican girl from Mexico and placing her to work in a night club in St. Louis, where he was from. Many of Berry’s songs prior to his incarceration had sexual elements to them but, after being released, his first song…”You Can Never Tell”…is a wholesome song about a couple finding true love and making their relationship work.

In a movie filled with great scenes, the Twist contest at Jack Rabbit Slims ranks right up there with the best of them all.

In the movie, this song is used during a classic scene that shows Tarentino’s love for nostalgia. It is the famous Jack Rabbit Slims’ dance contest scene with Thurman and Travolta early on in their date night experience. Tarentino uses this scene to pay homage to the 1960s and 70s. Jack Rabbit Slims is a diner that specializes in recreating the world of the 1960/70s. The host of the dance contest is a man playing Ed Sullivan. The dance contest trophy will be presented by someone playing Marilyn Monroe. When “Sullivan” calls for dance contestants, Thurman enthusiastically volunteers. When Travolta politely declines, Thurman reminds him, in no uncertain terms, that he is to do her bidding because of who her husband is. The power dynamic is set in stone. When they danced, they were supposed to be dancing the Twist. While it starts out that way, the duo end up dancing in almost a dozen different, easily recognizable styles that serve as a real tip of the hat to the era of the 1960s, as well as solidifying the unspoken chemistry that the couple possesses. By the end of the dance, it is plain to see that, as the song states, you never can tell when the right one will come along.

Misirlou by Dick Dale.

I have profiled this song in a previous post which you can read here.

Dick Dale was one of the originators of the “Surf Sound” of the 1960s. He was a pioneering guitar player and remains to this day as one of the most influential musicians of his era.

In the movie, Quentin Tarentino uses this song over the opening credits. It is an instrumental number but it immediately helps create an association for the viewer that this movie is taking place in the 1960s in a time where pulp fiction magazines and dime store detective novels were a thing. “Misirlou” is one of those classic Tarentino song choices because it is something that insiders know well and Tarentino is nothing if not a cultural touchstone geek.

Son Of A Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield.

The great Dusty Springfield.

This is our final song choice of this post. For a while in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, there were many people who felt that British singer Dusty Springfield was set to become the next big thing. But, while she had a huge hit with “Son Of A Preacher Man”, Springfield never really reached the lofty heights in America that many felt were waiting for her. Thus, she stands as one of those under-the-radar cool choices that Tarentino loves to make. Dusty Springfield had a soulful sound to her voice. This song was a bit of a controversial choice during the day because of the subject matter which describes a young girl falling in love with the son of a preacher. At the time, religious leaders were not often mentioned as being the source of sexual attraction but this song does that, albeit with the preacher’s son. Just the same, there was a bit of a forbidden-fruit element to “Son Of A Preacher Man” when it first aired.

Tarentino uses this song again with Travolta and Thurman. It plays as Travolta first shows up at his boss’ house to pick up his wife for their date. The song plays as Thurman watches Travolta via security cameras. She speaks to him via an intercom. It is clear, once again, that Thurman is controlling the situation. The song also helps establish the dangerous tightrope that Travolta is being forced to walk as he goes through with this date.

Overall, the way in which Quentin Tarentino uses music to add layers of meaning to the stories he is telling on screen has become one of his defining characteristics. He is one of my favourite directors. I like so many of his movies such as Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and From Dusk Till Dawn, just to name a few. He is such a great writer and creator of scenes. But, as much as I admire him for his writing skills, I also love the way he uses music to make his stories better. Hopefully you feel likewise. If you have a favourite Tarentino scene or movie please feel free to let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading my words. Have a great day.

The link to the trailer to the movie, Pulp Fiction can be found here.

The link to the official website for Neil Diamond can be found here.

The link to the official website for Urge Overkill can be found here.

The link to the official website for Al Green can be found here.

The link to the official website for Chuck Berry can be found here.

The link to the official website for Dusty Springfield can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog can be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen…Song #15/250: The Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Philadelphia.

These are the stories behind the most memorable songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

The movie, Philadelphia, was released in the early 1990s. It starred Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington as the two main characters. The soundtrack to the movie contained original work by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. That so many heavy hitters from their respective industries were involved in this movie project speaks to the larger intent behind which the movie was made in the first place. Director Jonathan Demme wanted to make a movie that would take a ground-level look at the AIDS crisis in America. Demme knew that the story of a Gay man dying of AIDS would be a tough sell for certain segments of the population so he enlisted people to support his project such as Springsteen, Washington, Young and Hanks who, he felt, would be a big enough draw based on name recognition alone to reach as broad an audience with his message as possible. That message included important information about how AIDS was actually transmitted and how much homophobia came into play in further exacerbating this painful life experience for so many Americans. Philadelphia went on to be nominated for several Academy Awards including wins for Best Actor for Hanks and Best Song for Springsteen.

The plot of Philadelphia unfolds just as the AIDS epidemic had begun to play out in America. In the 1980s, AIDS was sweeping through the US. It was a disease that was considered by some as God’s punishment against homosexuals because, for the most part, those who were contracting AIDS were Gay men. As such, in addition to the fear of an unknown disease that many Americans faced, there was the added element of homophobia that was thrown into the mix. The result of this was that those who contracted AIDS suffered physically, as the disease ravaged their bodies but, as well, they suffered emotionally and mentally due to a campaign of ostracization that took place all across the US. For many AIDS patients, during a time in their lives when they were most in need of compassion and companionship, many found themselves the object of panic and disgust. In the end, many AIDS patients died alone and lonely.

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in a court scene from the movie, Philadelphia.

In the movie, Tom Hanks played a young Gay lawyer who contracts AIDS. All throughout this career at the law firm he was working at, he hid his sexual orientation from his employers and colleagues. Then, one day a lesion appears on his forehead. A colleague accuses Hanks of having AIDS because he associated the one lesion with the disease. Not long after this incident at work, Hanks is fired for “incompetence”. Hanks believes he was fired because of his sexual orientation and because of AIDS so he decides to sue the law firm for wrongful dismissal. As Hanks begins assembling his court case, we begin to see some of the obstacles that AIDS patients faced at the time. For starters, no lawyer is willing to take on his case because they are all afraid of catching AIDS just by being with him. Hanks eventually asks Denzel Washington’s character, a fellow lawyer, for help. Washington refuses because he is fearful of getting too close. But then, a few days later, Washington sees Hanks in a law library as he attempts to conduct some research into his case. Washington watches as those around Hanks all move away from him and how Hanks is urged to work in an isolated room, away from public view. Denzel Washington’s character recognizes discrimination at play because he, himself, had experienced it as a black man in America. So, Denzel Washington agrees to represent Hanks in his suit. Needless to say, the journey of discovery that Denzel Washington takes as he learns about how AIDS is actually transmitted is the journey of discovery that Director Jonathan Demme was hoping all of America would take. In the end, Washington and Hanks become close friends and we all get to see the humanity at play as Tom Hanks progresses through the various stages of this terrible disease. Humanizing Aids sufferers, helping to destigmatize those who contracted AIDS, as well as homosexuality, in general were all part of why Philadelphia was made in the first place.

Bruce Springsteen walks alone through the streets of Philadelphia in the video that opened the movie.

The soundtrack to this movie is stellar. In addition to the songs written by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, there is music from Peter Gabriel, Sade, Indigo Girls, Maria Callas and even one hit wonders, The Spin Doctors! As with most movies, the music involved adds another layer of meaning to the story. In the specific case of the Bruce Springtsteen song, “The Streets of Philadelphia”, the story is that Demme asked Springsteen to contribute a song that would act as the opening of the film. At first, Springsteen was reluctant to do so because he had not had much experience scoring films but he agreed to at least give it a try. Springsteen’s version of a try was the song, “The Streets of Philadelphia”. In this song, Springsteen casts himself in the role of the AIDS sufferer. He describes the effects of AIDS on his body…how his clothes don’t fit him anymore because he is losing weight, how his appearance is changing and, as a result, is making him “unrecognizable to himself” but mostly, Springsteen describes how alone he feels as the rest of society distances itself from him in his hour of greatest need. Demme is on record as saying that when Springsteen submitted his “rough draft” of the song, he and his wife listened to it and cried. That rough draft was kept and is the track that was recorded and put onto the film’s soundtrack album. Not only did Bruce Springsteen win the Academy Award for Best Song but, “The Streets of Philadelphia” also won four Grammy Awards for Springsteen, too.

Princess Diana shakes hands with an unidentified AIDS patient in what turned out to be one of the most important and influential images ever in the battle against the disease of AIDS.

If you have seen Philadelphia then you know that it is a movie that is not easy to watch all of the way through. But, sometimes it is important for the general public to be asked to keep watching and to not turn away. As unpleasant as the death process can be and as ugly as racism and homophobia can also be, if we are ever to become a more empathetic and tolerant society then, watching movies such as Philadelphia is a must. There are many who point to Philadelphia as a turning point in the public battle against AIDS. After watching such respected actors as Hanks and Washington on screen and listening to such respected musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, the tone of the public discourse surrounding AIDS changed for the better. AIDS victims were less isolated and feared, it became easier to raise much needed funds for research and it suddenly became a badge of honour to participate in AIDS marches and to wear “ribbons” of support while in public. But, as we know, there are diseases of the medical kind and diseases of the spiritual kind and the battle remains ongoing. Sometimes, the most important direct action we can take is to be brave and not look away.

The link to the video for the song, “The Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Philadelphia” by Neil Young can be found here.

***This song plays over the closing scene in the movie which is the wake of Tom Hanks’ character. For my money, this is one of the best closing scenes of any movie. I always bawl whenever I watch it. It is devastating! Neil Young’s haunting song is perfect.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie, Philadelphia can be found here.

For more information about ongoing efforts to cure Aids in Canada, the link to the official website for Canadian AIDS Society can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post can be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com