The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #36/250…Montage by Manchester Orchestra ft. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Swiss Army Man

Daniel Radcliffe as Manny and Paul Dano as Hank.

If you are a follower of this blog then you will be aware of my interest in films that possess a certain quirky sensibility. I love a movie that makes me think and that makes me question what I am seeing on the screen. Recently I watched a movie that falls directly into this category. The movie was a 2016 release called Swiss Army Man. Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano, who you may know from his star turn as the silent teenager in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It also stars Daniel Radcliffe, who you may know from a little film and book series where he played a character named Harry Potter. Swiss Army Man was directed by two men named Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. The Daniels, as they are known in movie circles, won the Best Director prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival for this film. They also recently won three Academy Awards for writing and directing the movie Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Their awards were all well earned.

Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan: “The Daniels”.

Simply put, Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique and beautiful and thought-provoking movies I have ever seen. It is a movie about falling in love, but it isn’t a romance movie in the Hallmark sense. It is a movie about friendship in which one of the two friends is a corpse. It is a movie about loneliness in which the lead character is rarely alone. Finally, Swiss Army Man is about harnessing the flatulence we all have inside of us for the good of our souls. This movie is, at times, silly but also very poignant and moving. It is filled with love and imagination and generosity of spirit. The final ten-fifteen minutes will blow your mind and make you reevaluate what you thought you knew about the movie up until that point. The closing scene ends with a preschool-aged child laughing uproariously, her mother mouthing, “What the f*ck!?” (which stands as the closing line in the film), as Daniel Radcliffe roars out to sea like a human jet ski. I kid you not. And what’s more, it all makes perfect sense and will leave your heart filled to overflowing.

Robert McDowell and Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra.

A large factor in helping Swiss Army Man to have the emotional feel that it does resides with the musical score. There are no hit singles on this soundtrack. In fact, there were no instruments used in the creation of any of the twenty-four tracks used throughout the film. All twenty-four tracks were made exclusively for the human voice and for human sounds. By that I mean a capella singing that doesn’t often use real words, and hand made sounds such as percussive clapping and banging on found objects like plastic buckets and cardboard boxes. The entire soundtrack was scored by a band out of Georgia called Manchester Orchestra. The voices that you hear throughout all twenty-four tracks belong to lead actors Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. The resulting music sounds joyous and uplifting and aligns perfectly with the action on screen. Like the very best musical scores, the one used in Swiss Army Man can be felt in every second of action and dialogue contained in the movie, and yet, it is unobtrusive. If this movie can be considered as life, then the soundtrack is its breath. To give you a sense of how unique and glorious this movie powered by flatulence actually is, I am going to stop this post now and ask you to listen to a track from the film called “Montage”. It is not important that you understand the references contained in the middle of the track. What I want is for you to get a sense for how this music makes you feel as you listen to it. There is no story to this song and barely any lyrics, and yet it may just give you goosebumps. If that happens, then this movie is for you. Let’s stop and have a listen to the track called “Montage”. Click here. ***PS: There is no lyrics version because there are no lyrics per se in this song. It is mainly just sounds. Trust me. It is wonderful. Go. Listen.

Hank teaches Manny what happiness looks like.

Without giving too much of the movie away, the story starts on a deserted island with a man named Hank (played by Paul Dano) about to commit suicide by hanging. As he is about to step off of a cooler and hang himself, he opens his eyes one last time and discovers a corpse has washed up onto the beach. That corpse belonged to a man named Manny (played by Daniel Radcliffe). Hank, who wished to see his life unfold before his eyes as he drew his final breath, instead finds himself dealing with a corpse that has the propensity for farting loudly and with great frequency. Hank discovers that Manny’s farts have the power to propel himself through the water so Hank mounts Manny and rides him across the ocean with unbridled joy. What unfolds from this point is a buddy movie, of sorts. Manny comes back to life (Was he ever really dead? Is he actually alive? Is Manny still dead? Is Manny even real?) but does so with the mind of a small child. Hank tries to help him rediscover his identity by teaching him about life. Together, the two men travel together through the forest/jungle in an attempt to get back home, whatever “home” means. Along the way, there is scene after scene of imaginative role-playing, inventive use of found objects (trash) that litter the landscape and instances of personal growth and acceptance and of true, deep-rooted love. The core message of the film is that the path to personal happiness is found through love and acceptance of self. Combine that message with the glory of the music integrated into every scene throughout the entire length of the film and you really have something that will move you and make you look at your life a little differently afterwards.

Manny the corpse serves as a jet ski propelled by the power of his own flatulence as Hank drives him across the sea in an attempt to find “home”.

Dano and Radcliffe are alone on screen for ninety-five percent of this movie and both do a magnificent job of acting. Although Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse, this movie is no Weekend At Bernie’s. It is so much deeper and better than that. If you need a comparable, Swiss Army Man combines the absurdist imagination of a Terry Gilliam movie with the deserted island character study of Tom Hanks in Castaway, combined with a movie like Fight Club but without the bare knuckle brawling. It is a movie about mental illness and depression, love and friendship, a girl on a bus, a bear, a father’s approval, but most of all, it is about finding peace with who you actually are inside and not giving a “toot” what anyone else thinks. I watched Swiss Army Man online through a streaming service called This service was free but contained approximately a half dozen one-minute long “commercial breaks” along the way. It felt like I was watching network television from the old days. The commercials didn’t bother me at all, so if you feel like checking this movie out, you can do so via Tubi. I hope that you do give this film a chance. There are very few like it that I have seen. As bizarre as my post may make it seem to be, Swiss Army Man is easily one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. I loved the story and all of the many layers it contained. I loved the music and how seamlessly it enhanced the emotional storytelling at play. But most of all, I loved how deeply satisfying it was to watch the finale of the film and revel in the beauty of a tremendous reveal. Never has the story of a lonely man and his flatulent corpse friend been better told and enjoyed than in Swiss Army Man. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Swiss Army Man can be found here.

The link to the official website for Manchester Orchestra 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 without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Pretty in Pink by The Psychedelic Furs from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Pretty in Pink…Song #35/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The stories behind the most memorable songs found in Broadway musicals or Hollywood films

Writer-Director, John Hughes

It is really difficult to nitpick at a man like John Hughes. His filmography reads like an honour roll of the best and/or most popular films of the 1980s and 90s. For example, he wrote the script and/or directed all of the following classic films: Uncle Buck, Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and, of course, today’s featured film, Pretty in Pink. Not only did Hughes gain fame for himself as a director, but he also helped to establish the careers of many young Hollywood actors, such as Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Michael Anthony-Hall, Macaulay Culkin, Matthew Broderick, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald, just to name a few. John Hughes seemed to have a magician’s touch when it came to his ability to present the world of children and teenagers with a sense of realism and respectfulness. Through his films, Hughes was able to touch upon the childhood dream of living a life without rules and then counterbalance it with an exploration of accepting the responsibility for your subsequent actions. He was also able to take us into the world of high school and help us to understand the inner angst that comes from trying to navigate the social world of teenage life. John Hughes’ films were at times funny, action packed and often poignant, too. He is considered one of the most successful directors of the past half century for a reason. So, how did one of his movies…Pretty in Pink…seemingly get so much wrong?! In today’s post we are going to take a closer look at a film that appears to have gotten some of the character relationships wrong, needed a reshoot of the ending and uses a song as its title track that, at first glance, doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the storyline of the film. And yet, Pretty in Pink continues to be held up as a model of what a great teen movie should be. So, get your swim trunks on and come with me as I take a deeper dive into the story of one of the most misunderstood songs and films of all time. This is the story of Pretty in Pink.

For those who may not be familiar with the storyline of Pretty in Pink, here is a quick summary. The movie is set in high school as the annual prom approaches. Molly Ringwald plays a girl named Andie. She has a male friend named Duckie who is played by Jon Cryer. Duckie has feelings for Andie, but she has placed him clearly in the “friend zone”. Instead of returning Duckie’s sincere affection, Andie has her eyes set on a preppy boy named Blane played by Andrew McCarthy. Blane’s best friend is a fellow “richie” named Steff, who is played by James Spader. Steff once asked Andie out and was rebuffed. Since that time, he has made it his mission to mock her at every turn. As the movie plays out, Andie and Blane get together and agree to go to the prom as a couple, but Blane is getting ridden unmercifully by his friend Steff about it and Andie is embarrassed about Blane seeing where she lives, the state of her dress and so on, all because she comes from a lower-class section of town. The contrast between the socio-economic classes that Andie/Duckie come from compared to that which Steff and Blane come from propels the plotline forward and provides most of the dramatic tension of the film. As the movie reaches its climactic scene, those characters whose hearts were true are taken care of nicely, while those in need of a comeuppance get that, too. I won’t give away the ending except to say that when the film was officially released, it left audiences with a satisfied feeling. Thus, the reputation of Pretty in Pink as being a classic in the teen movie genre was born. However, if we go back to how this film even came to be in the first place, you will see that it is a movie that was built upon misconceptions that damaged/helped the career of the band, The Psychedelic Furs, that confused members of the cast and that caused the ending of the movie to have to be re-shot long after production had wrapped up and the actors had moved on to other projects.

The Psychedelic Furs and the somewhat unexpected and unwanted hit they had on their hands.

The movie, itself, was inspired by a song of the same name by one of the original New Wave bands, The Psychedelic Furs. In 1981, the band released an album called Talk, Talk, Talk. On that album was a song called “Pretty in Pink”. Way back in 1981, New Wave, Punk Rock and Alternative were the emerging trends across the western world when it came to music. Bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Tears for Fears, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and many more were what the “cool kids” were listening to. One of those cool kids was a young actress named Molly Ringwald. She had heard the song “Pretty in Pink” at a party. She thought that the song told an interesting story and brought it to director John Hughes to listen to. At the time, Ringwald had completed Sixteen Candles with Hughes and was wrapping up work on The Breakfast Club. As she handed a cassette of the song to Hughes, she remarked that she thought this could be the basis of their next movie together. This is where things begin to get murky. The story goes that Hughes listened to the song that Ringwald gave to him. Apparently, he agreed with her that there was the nugget of a movie contained within the lyrics of this song. So, off he went. When he came back a few weeks later, he had a draft of a script that ended up becoming the movie, Pretty in Pink. The problem with that is the story contained within the lyrics of the song is nothing at all like the story Hughes wrote for the movie. What Hughes ended up doing was akin to listening to a Christmas carol and then writing an Easter movie.

The original version of the song “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs is about a girl named Caroline. Caroline is a popular girl at school. She is popular, in part, because she is sexually promiscuous. In fact, the phrase “pretty in pink” is actually a derogatory phrase that means that a girl is prettiest to boys when she is pink or naked. Because she is constantly surrounded by the boys at her school, Caroline begins to believe that she is really “all that”. In fact, the boys regard her with disdain because she is such an easy mark, as it were. Behind her back, they are all laughing at her and about her. The song explored the question of who is really controlling the situation. Was it Caroline by taking control of her sexual experiences or was it the boys who were happy to let her believe that she was the one on top, so to speak? The 1981 version that first appeared on The Psychedelic Furs albums was rough and raw and sounded completely in tune with the sound of many other New Wave bands at the time. Through the first half of the 1980s The Psychedelic Furs enjoyed some modest success with songs such as “Love My Way”, “Heaven” and “The Ghost In You”, but they never exploded to the top of the charts the way some other bands did. Consequently, when they were approached by John Hughes about using their song as the title track for his latest movie, there was some sense that what happened to Simple Minds with the song “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” for The Breakfast Club movie was about to happen for them with “Pretty in Pink”.

Feeling that their big break was about to happen, the band agreed to lend their song to Hughes for his new movie. Immediately, they were informed that they would have to re-record their song in order to make it “more suitable” for a mass audience. Making the song “more suitable” meant polishing the rough edges off of the song and making it sound more like a Pop song. To their original fan base, going “Pop” was essentially selling out. By opting for a more commercial sound, many fans felt that the band was turning its back on its roots. But, if the members of The Psychedelic Furs had any internal debates about whether to go “commercial” or not with their song, those doubts and debates disappeared in a negative way when they finally were able to watch the movie. When the movie came out and they saw that it had absolutely nothing at all to do with the story they were telling in their song, they felt a sense of betrayal and embarrassment. There is no one named Caroline in the movie. Molly Ringwald’s character is not promiscuous at all. In fact, Ringwald has been quoted as saying that she always felt a great moral responsibility to portray her characters in a certain way because she knew that her onscreen actions would have real-life ramifications for many teenage girls. So, even though the song “Pretty in Pink” is the title track for the movie, it has absolutely nothing to do with what actually transpires on screen. This left The Psychedelic Furs in a precarious position. As predicted, the popularity of the film, along with the success of the movie soundtrack brought a level of attention to the band that they may never have achieved on their own. But, they were left with the dilemma of debating how much they valued their integrity as a band. To their credit, they have publicly disavowed how their song was used in the movie. However, they continue to play the revised version in concert and collect royalties from the song to this very day so…..

Blane, Andie and Duckie

The other aspect of this movie that sits funny is the ending. SPOILER ALERT TIME!!!! If you have never watched the movie and feel that you may wish to as a result of this post, then please stop reading now and begin again at the start of the next paragraph….off you go! Bye for now….ok, good! For those of you still with me, the ending of the movie was problematic for the cast and for test audiences as well. It is a fairly common plot line to have one character seek true love with another all the while not realizing that the one who truly loves them is the quiet “friend”-type who has been there all along and who the original character has never thought of in that way. Well, there were many who felt that Andie and Duckie were meant to find each other while the prom unfolded at the end of the movie and, in fact, that was the original ending. Initially, the closing scene had Andie and Blane having a falling out and Duckie showing up at just the opportune time to allow her to finally see that he was the one for her all along and that the preppy boy was never her true match. However, when test audiences watched the film, they were dismayed that Andie never got to be with the one that she wanted all along. So, months after production had wrapped, the final scenes were reshot and the movie now had a happy ending for Andie and Blane. In order to not leave Duckie heartbroken, a new love interest was provided for him at the last second as a bystander emerged from a crowd and asked him to dance. Because his love for Andie was true, he now let her leave for her beloved while he turned to this new girl and went with her. That is how Pretty in Pink ends in the version that most people saw in theatres and in their homes on their VCRs or on DVD.

In many ways, the dilemma over the way the movie ended is exactly what the original song by The Psychedelic Furs was about. Pretty in Pink (the movie) and “Pretty in Pink” (the original song) both pivot on the central idea of which character is getting to control the narrative. In both the song and the movie, when the story is told from the woman’s perspective, the woman gets what she wants in the end. When the story is told from the perspective of the men in the story, the men get what they want at the expense of what the woman may have really wanted deep down inside. So, even though the lyrics of the song and the script of the movie have their great differences, the central idea of allowing the story of the female character to be told in the end is what helped make the movie and the song both resonate so much at the time. John Hughes passed in 2009, so he is not around to shed any light upon the decision-making that went into his film. So, it is left to us to debate whether or not he knew all along that he was going for a figurative retelling of the song handed to him by Molly Ringwald instead of a literal retelling. Perhaps it is a case that he made a mess of things and did his best to straighten everything out in the end, which many believe he managed to do. Regardless of which take you believe, the decisions that John Hughes made along the way had consequences for many who were involved in the project.

For Jon Cryer (as Duckie), he didn’t have the big romantic lead breakout role he envisioned, which, in many ways, lead to his casting as Allan, the unlucky in love sidekick to suave Charlie Sheen’s character in the TV show, Two and a Half Men. The Psychedelic Furs had to deal with the problem of their most commercially successful song always being a version that was never their original intent and which seemed to portray the band in a way that alienated them from their fan base. As mentioned earlier, their response was to swallow their pride and accept the push to their careers provided for them by the magical hand of John Hughes. Molly Ringwald deserves credit for her taste in music back in the day. Without that, one of the best movie soundtracks of all time would never have seen the light of day. As for her career, that trio of John Hughes movies was the apex of her time in the Hollywood spotlight. But, having said that, Ringwald has had steady work over the years in all sorts of projects ranging from being the voice of Darla on the animated children’s show Doc McStuffins, to appearing as a cast member on the show Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, to making a star turn on the recent mini-series about the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. In the end, I guess that the world of Pretty in Pink did a pretty good job of capturing the ins and outs and the ups and downs of life. Perhaps, instead of nitpicking at a man like John Hughes, he is actually deserving of much credit for a job well done.

The link to the video for the original version of “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs can be found here. ***The lyrics video is here.

The link to the video for the song “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs as used in the movie, Pretty in Pink, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Pretty in Pink can be found here.

The link to the video for the entire official soundtrack to the movie Pretty in Pink can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Psychedelic Furs 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 without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim from the Original Cast Recording of Sunday in the Park with George…Song #34/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The stories behind the most memorable songs from Broadway and Hollywood.

In music, it is customary to refer to musicians or bands in terms of the genre of music they play. For example, if you went to a Black Sabbath concert you probably heard a style of music called Heavy Metal. If you went to see Tammy Wynette perform when she was alive then you, no doubt, heard Country music played. If you went today to a Cardi B. show, I am sure that Hip Hop would be on the menu. While most musicians are capable of performing in a wide range of styles, we often associate them with a certain brand or a style. The same holds true for artists who paint. Rembrandt had a certain style when it came to his portraiture work. The faces of his subjects would be clearly in light while the background would often be so dark as to be almost black. Vincent Van Gogh was known for the short, feather-like paint strokes he filled his paintings with. His brush stroke style is one of the most characteristic traits he had as an artist. This brings us to a painter who you may or may not have heard of named Georges Seurat. Georges Seurat is an artist who has become the poster boy for a style of art called pointillism. Pointillism is a style of painting in which the artist creates whole images by making a series of very small point-like marks on the canvas. The idea is similar to the way we view pixels on a screen. Pointillism works because the artist knows the viewer will not view the individual dots or points on the canvas but will, instead look at the totality of the image the points create in the mind’s eye, much as we look at a screen and see whole images as opposed to individual pixels. Georges Seurat is the most well known practitioner of pointillism. His most famous painting that employs this technique is called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (which you can see at the top of this post).

25th April 1985, American composer Stephen Sondheim, left, and playwright James Lapine pose in front of the marquee of the Booth Theatre on 45th Street, New York City, where their Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical, ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ is playing. (Photo by Sara Krulwich/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

The story of today’s song begins with this very painting. One day a writer named James Lapine was visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and happened upon Seurat’s painting. He found the painting to be captivating. As he studied the scene before him, two things popped into his head: 1- he noticed that the many people who were incorporated into the scene were all looking away from each other. Not one single person in the park was interacting with another. They were all a collection of individuals in a group setting, all staring off into the distance. 2- Lapine noticed that Seurat, himself, was not represented in the painting. The longer Lapine stood before A Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the more he found the painting speaking to him about the artist, Georges Seurat. As a result, Lapine decided to look more into the life of Georges Seurat. In doing so, Lapine believed that a special story was waiting to be told. So he wrote a story treatment that he called Sunday in the Park with George. This story was not a biography in the true sense of that genre but was a fictionalized account of the artist and his life. James Lapine was a frequent collaborator on Broadway with Stephen Sondheim. After showing Sondheim his story about Seurat, Sondheim agreed that it was a tale worth telling. So the pair adapted Lapine’s work for the stage, with Sondheim creating the music and song lyrics. In 1985, Sunday in the Park with George debuted on Broadway. It ended up winning two Tony Awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Mandy Patinkin as George and Bernadette Peters as Dot from the original cast of Sunday in the Park with George.

The story that Sunday in the Park with George tells is essentially about the vision that people have about their life and how they wish it to unfold. The play centers upon the two main characters of George (painter Georges Seurat) and his mistress, Dot. The short strokes of the story are that Dot has agreed to be George’s mistress because she admires his skill as an artist. However, Dot has dreams that go beyond merely being a mistress to a successful man. She envisions a fully-formed life with George. Dot wishes for romance and attention and fame-by-association. However, the very thing she admires most about George…his skill as a painter…is the one thing that makes such a union impossible. George is such a successful artist because he has skills, for sure, but more, because he is driven to perfection. He has set impossibly high standards for his art and therefore, never feels as though he is ever truly finished with his work. Thus, he works tirelessly on each painting, devoting all of his being toward the canvas and never toward Dot. When the play debuted on Broadway, Mandy Patinkin played George and Bernadette Peters played Dot. At a certain point as the story unfolds, the audience begins to sense that both parties have different desires and priorities. This sense of foreboding is confirmed in a song entitled “Finishing the Hat”. As the song is sung, George has promised to take Dot out on the town. Dot is very excited because she believes her dreams of the two of them becoming a real couple may be about to happen. But as the scene goes on, we see that George cannot seem to pull himself away from his painting because he needs to “finish the hat” on one of the character’s heads. However, the audience soon comes to learn that George can never actually finish the hat because of his perfectionist nature. He will never be fully satisfied with the hat he is painting and therefore, he can never leave his easel. In time, as this scene unfolds, Dot comes to recognize that she will always be second to his art in George’s mind. “Finishing the Hat” is a simple song about a small moment in the lives of two people, but, like all good art, it captures a much deeper and more profound layer of emotion and meaning between them. It may be a song about painting a hat, but in the end it is a song about dreams dying and love ending in a way that both people seem powerless to stop.

There is no other hand I wish to hold.

Sunday in the Park with George is a musical in two acts. The storyline involving George and Dot ends with the conclusion of Act One. Many people feel that the musical could have ended there, too. However, Act Two opens two generations later and focuses upon George’s grandson. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you how it all wraps up, but I will say that generational trauma takes many forms, and if you ever go to watch this musical being performed, you will be able to recognize George in Act Two because of some of the behaviours and attitudes possessed by his grandson. Whether the grandson has better luck with finding a balance between love and his career is something that you will have to discover for yourself. As many of us understand, it isn’t always easy to strike that perfect balance between having a successful career, a loving relationship with someone, raising a family and so on. Some people equate balance with mediocrity and feel that to be successful requires uncompromising commitment and drive. At the end of the day, the question this musical really asks is what do you value most in life and are you prepared for the costs associated with experiencing that version of your dream life? For me, I have chosen love and I have chosen my family. I will probably never make the best seller lists with my writing because I am more than willing to “finish the hat” as it were and move on to spend time with those I love and hold dear. A long time ago I was like Dot and George were at the beginning of the musical. I had a clear vision of what was important to me in life and what I considered to be the true measure of that success. I wanted to be a father and I wanted a hand to hold as I grew older. I have been blessed to have had both parts of my dream come true. I can’t imagine how different life would be if, early on in our courting days, I had turned my back on Keri because I had a novel to write that I just couldn’t seem to finish. We all make our choices in life. In the musical, George chooses his art. In real life, I chose family and true love. I’m OK with my choices. I hope that Georges Seurat was OK with his choices in his own life, as well.

The link to the video for the song “Finishing the Hat” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Sunday in the Park with George can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the Musical Sunday in the Park with George can be found here.

The link to the Art Institute of Chicago, where Seurat’s famous painting is on display, can be found here.

The link to the official website for artist Georges Seurat 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 without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Truman Sleeps by Philip Glass from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, “The Truman Show…Song #33/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

In my previous post concerning The Big Lebowski, I mentioned that the movies I find most interesting are ones that make me think and that have a quirky element to them. Today’s cinematic selection is a perfect example of what I was talking about. The Truman Show was released in 1998 and starred Jim Carrey, Laura Linney and Ed Harris in the main roles. Originally written as a science fiction movie about alternate realities, The Truman Show is most noted for accurately predicting the reality TV show trend that would come to dominate the airwaves in the decades since. It also predicted our fascination with social media and living our lives in the spotlight’s glare, even if it is just to share photos of our cats on Caturday each week. Much like how The Big Lebowski was made, The Truman Show is a movie told in layers. It is the attention to detail that helps to elevate this movie from merely being good to being a great film. One of the keys to understanding the organizational structure of the storyline is by how music is used throughout the film. So, grab your popcorn, put your cell phone on silent and get ready to learn all about one of the most thought-provoking films of the last quarter century, The Truman Show.

Seahaven, Florida

In the movie, Jim Carrey plays a man named Truman Burbank. Truman has lived his entire life in the idyllic community of Seahaven, Florida. Everything is perfect in Seahaven. All of the homes are neatly painted and have manicured lawns and small gardens in the front. Everyone who lives in Seahaven is friendly and neighbourly. Truman has grown up surrounded by love and the friendship of many other children. He has found love and gotten married (to Meryl, as played by Laura Linney). He has a good job. His colleagues are all pleasant. The weather is consistently good most days, only raining when the “lawn needs a drink”. The only thing about life that has created a bit of an empty space in Truman’s heart is that he had always wanted to travel and seek adventure. But, no matter how hard he tries, who he talks to about it or where he turns for help, he is always told that he is best off staying exactly where he is in Seahaven, Florida. Eventually, as Truman settles into adulthood, he begins questioning certain aspects of his life. SPOILER ALERT!!! At a certain point, he begins to realize that something is actually wrong with the people in Seahaven, which leads him to attempt a dramatic escape from there to anywhere else beyond the limits of his town. This escape attempt leads him to learn that Seahaven isn’t actually a real place. It is a television studio set and that his entire life has been staged for television audiences and controlled by a director named Christof (played by Ed Harris). Everyone he thought he knew…his parents, his childhood friends, his wife, his work colleagues, his neighbours, the citizens of Seahaven…were all paid actors! Everything he thought was real was revealed as being fake. Every aspect of his life was a lie. And now, at the end of the film, Truman has learned the first real, true thing in his life, and it leaves him shattered and disappointed, and yet he is now free, so those emotions are at play as well.

Behind the scenes, Philip Glass plays the piano while Ed Harris caresses the onscreen face of a sleeping Truman, whose face was airing “live” on TV.

When you watch the movie The Truman Show, you are really watching a play within a play. We are a movie audience who, in turn, are watching other people (a television audience) watching characters on a TV show. The entire storyline is built upon a foundation of how we perceive reality. What is real and what is fake, and how can we be sure that we know the difference? Twenty years before a reality TV star named Donald Trump cried about “fake news” and successfully blurred the lines of what the media promotes as news, The Truman Show was taking us behind the scenes and showing us how easy it was to trick people into investing their hearts and minds into something that was manipulative and phony in all regards. Not long after The Truman Show aired, Fox TV aired one of the very first reality shows entitled The Joe Schmo Show which was a Big Brother-style competition set in a house in which all of the competitors competing for a prize turned out to be actors and only one person….Joe Schmo…turned out to be really playing the game. From there, we had the debut of Survivor, Big Brother, The Bachelor, The Real Housewives series, The Kardashians and so on. All of these shows are completely staged and totally fake, and yet we have willingly become that audience shown in The Truman Show. We are no longer one step removed, as we were as a film audience for a movie. Now our perception of real life comes to us from staged shows and from social media “friends” we have never met and from online influencers who act as the new “Christofs” of our time.

When we watched the actual movie in 1998, the producers knew that they had to let audiences in on the secret of what was going on. We weren’t just seeing the movie unfold in Seahaven through Truman’s eyes, we were shown the television control room where Christof presided over Truman’s world. We saw the building facades. We listened as the television director voiced instructions to the onscreen actors. We knew what Truman didn’t know. What helped us to be able to differentiate between the movie we were watching and the fake television show being aired within the movie was how music was used throughout the entire film. The Truman Show movie employed two different composers named Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz. These two composers were tasked with the job of using music to create two versions of reality. So one composer (Burkhard Dallwitz) wrote music for the onscreen, in-movie “TV show”. His compositions tended to reflect the inner emotions of what the character of Truman was feeling or experiencing at any given moment in the reality show that was his life. Philip Glass, on the other hand, composed the music used in scenes in which we, as a film audience, are taken into the confidence of the movie’s producers and allowed to know that we are watching a play within a play. One of the most touching of Philip Glass’ compositions was one entitled “Truman Sleeps”. It is an instrumental composition that is played as we watch Christof, in the control booth, watching Truman sleep in his bed. The scene is relatively short, but it allows us, as an audience, to realize that even though Christof has dedicated his life to manipulating the existence of another human being, he still possesses an ounce of humanity because we can clearly see that he has come to care for Truman based on his actions while Truman sleeps (much in the same way that a parent lovingly looks in on a sleeping child at night).

Because he was constantly being observed in real life, Jim Carrey felt that he understood the character of Truman Burbank.

The Truman Show was a major career turning point for Jim Carrey. Leading up to this film, Carrey had starred in a series of comic hits including The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. He had gone from being a comedian on television to a major Hollywood movie star. He was making millions of dollars per movie and was living a pretty wild life at the time. However, Jim Carrey was always more of a cerebral guy than he was being given credit for. While his career was exploding, and he was on his way to becoming one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, he agreed to play Truman Burbank for one particular reason. Having read the script prior to signing on to join the cast, Carrey knew how the movie was going to end for Truman. Carrey understood that the adulation, the talk show appearances, the social media gossip, the paparazzi…all of it, was making his own life not that much different from the staged world inhabited by Truman Burbank. So, Carrey decided to pull a “Truman” and opted away from the bigger budget movies going forward. His next movie was another quirky movie called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jim Carrey was now a dramatic actor. He felt freer to follow his heart and be who he really wanted to be…just like Truman Burbank did, too.

I will close by relating a discussion my wife and I had on the weekend. Like many people in the world, there was a time in our relationship when there was no social media. When we first met, if we wanted to know how someone was doing, we picked up the phone, we wrote a letter or we went for a visit. Since 2007, when I joined Facebook (Keri signed on a few years later), we have been immersed in the social media scene. In the past year, I have begun to deal with my own social media addiction by deleting my Twitter account. I used to have an Instagram account, too. Both are now gone. This past weekend, my wife and I talked about the news that Facebook may start charging to use its service. We agreed that if/when that time comes, we will say goodbye to Facebook, too. As part of that discussion, we both agreed that since we were actually able to maintain friendships with real people prior to the introduction of social media into our lives, that we assumed the same would be true for us in a social media-free world, too. That social media has become so integrated with our version of what real life is all about says a lot about how fully we have been pulled into the world portrayed in The Truman Show. I have lots of online friends that I chat with and support with my words. However, I would probably not be able to recognize most, if any, of them if they sat beside me on the bus. I have never heard the sound of their voice. I have never shaken their hand or had a hug. Are they real people or have they been computer-generated entities all along? I would like to say that I know the answer to that question, but do I? Truman Burbank didn’t know the answer to that question until the very last moments of the film. Then he walked away into a completely new and uncertain future. Perhaps that is what awaits all of us, too. Good luck with your decision-making process as your boat hits a wall that you always believed was sky.

The link to the video for the composition “Truman Sleeps” by Philip Glass can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Truman Show can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post shall remain the sole property of the author. No portion of thispost shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film The Big Lebowski…Song #32/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

When people ask me about what kind of movies I like to watch, I never reply with a genre like horror or comedy or drama, instead I always reply with a single word, “quirky”. I like movies that are slightly askew when it comes to the storyline. I appreciate being challenged to piece together what is actually happening as a movie unfolds. I enjoy mulling over the implications of what I have just watched long after the final scene has ended and I am alone again with my thoughts in the dark. Movies that flip convention on their ear such as Memento, Alien or Apocalypse Now are favourite movies of mine for this reason. I have watched each movie multiple times and still am finding new details or filming techniques that give me pause to think.

Another favourite film that falls into this category of being unique and highly original is Barton Fink. This movie was my introduction to the cinematic creativity of the Coen Brothers. Without going into too much detail, Barton Fink was a movie filled with contradictions that caused me, as a viewer, to question whether what I was seeing on screen was real or not. The contradictions were integrated everywhere into the fabric of the movie. The attention to detail by the Coen Brothers impressed me. This movie starred John Turturro and John Goodman which, in turn, introduced me to the fact that the Coen Brothers like to work with a familiar company of actors because in today’s movie, The Big Lebowski, Turturro and Goodman play prominent roles again. As with just about all Coen Brothers movies, The Big Lebowski defies convention when it comes to plot structure and character arcs. Most importantly, The Big Lebowski is built upon a foundation of contradictions and misdirections. The Coen Brothers don’t even attempt to hide the fact that they are deceiving you. Here is a simple example: Jeff Bridges is the star of the movie. His character’s name is Jeffrey Lebowski, but everyone calls him “The Dude”. If you were to conduct a Google search for this movie, I am certain that you would find movie posters or stills from various scenes that all show Jeff Bridges. All of these images would lay beneath the movie title of The Big Lebowski. So, you have the star of the movie playing a character named Lebowski smiling from beneath a title that says The Big Lebowski, which would lead one to the conclusion that Jeff Bridges’ character IS The Big Lebowski…but, he is not. The real “Big Lebowski” is someone else in the movie. The confusion over the identity of which Lebowski is which is the plot device used to start the action in the movie. But, if The Big Lebowski movie title isn’t actually referring to the “Big Lebowski” character, then what else about the movie is being made to seem obvious and upfront but is actually fake or a conman’s shell game? As it turns out, much of the movie is that way.

When The Big Lebowski premiered, it did so to mixed audience reviews. Part of the reason for this was that audiences were confused by the storyline. However, what this movie really needed was time. In the decades since its release, The Big Lebowski has become one of those movies known as a “cult classic”. One of the reasons that it has dramatically improved its popularity with movie goers is that people have had the time to study the film, peel back the layers of deceptions that are everywhere and discover the thematic truths that pin the whole premise of the movie together. So, let me illustrate the length the Coen Brothers went to in order to build a world riddled with deception. I will do so by talking about how music is used in two iconic scenes from the movie. At the end of the post, I will give my take on what I think The Big Lebowski is actually about, and we can see if you agree or disagree.

John Turturro….your own personal Jesus!

Scene one tends to be known as the “Bowling with Jesus” scene. Bowling plays a central role in the movie. In this scene, we discover that The Dude, his friend Walter (John Goodman) and their friend Donnie (Steve Buscemi) are on a team in a league tournament. We meet a rival team led by a man named Jesus (John Turturro, in a scenery-chewing scene if there ever was one). The contradictions start right away. In Southern California there is a strong Spanish influence based on its geographic proximity to Mexico. Almost every man named “Jesus” who lives there pronounces his name the Spanish way, with an “h” sound for the “J”, which causes the name to be pronounced in English as “Hay-seuss”. In this scene, Turturro plays a man who pronounces his name as if he was the Son of God. Unlike the biblical character, Turturro is a foul-mouthed convicted pedophile who talks tough to The Dude and his friends but who never actually does anything to back up his words. While Turturro struts in front of Bridges, Goodman and Buscemi, the song “Hotel California” written by The Eagles plays in the background. However, this version is a cover in Spanish by the band The Gipsy Kings. So, let me peel back the layers of deception that The Coen Brothers have built into this one scene by using this one song as they have, which again, I repeat, only plays in the background.

The Gipsy Kings

First of all, I am going to start with the assumption that you know the original version of this great song. (If not, click here to read a previous post about it). The Eagles are synonymous with the West Coast/California sound that took hold during the 1970s. But did you know that none of the original members of the lineup were actually from California. All were midwest boys who came to California in search of the mythical west coast laid back lifestyle. The song “Hotel California” is about the lifestyle they found themselves in once they started playing music there. It concerns addictions and false friendships and losing touch with the real world as it was once known. All throughout The Big Lebowski, there is a running gag in which The Dude hates on The Eagles because he views them as a fake California/fake rock n’ roll band. And yet, there is their biggest hit playing in the background of this iconic confrontation at the bowling alley. But wait, the layers of deception deepen further. The version used in the movie is sung in Spanish by The Gipsy Kings. The Gipsy Kings are an internationally known flamenco band who are not Spanish at all, but who actually come from France! So, in this one minor background moment, you have a French band that is often taken for being Spanish singing a song that is not their own about living a fake lifestyle as experienced by musicians in The Eagles who are not from California but are often credited with being one of the main bands that drove the momentum for the California sound back in the day. Now that is commitment to detail on the part of The Coen Brothers.

Here is just part of the set for the elaborate “Gutterball Dream Sequence”.

The second scene that illustrates this point is called “The Gutterball Dream Sequence”. On the surface, this scene starts when The Dude passes out after having consumed a spiked White Russian drink and evolves into a send-off of the old Busby Berkeley musical dance scenes from the 1940s and 50s. However, as always with The Coen Brothers, there is much more going on than meets the eye, and it all starts with a layer of musical duplicity compliments of The Gambler, himself, Mr. Kenny Rogers. In this fantasy scene, Jeff Bridges finds himself in a heavenly bowling alley filled with scantily-clad beautiful women whose costumes all have something to do with bowling. One of the women there turns out to be Julianne Moore, who plays the sister of the man who actually is The Big Lebowski in the movie. She is someone that The Dude is attracted to but who, so far, has completely rebuffed him in the film. However, in this drug-induced dream, The Dude teaches her how to bowl.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

Throughout this dream sequence, we hear the song “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by The First Edition. When this song was first released in the mid-1960s, it was believed that it was a song about the dangers of LSD. It was also a song that stood out for the band because it was a psychedelic rock song at a time when The First Edition was mainly known for folk and country music. But again, let me peel back the layers of deception that form the foundation of this movie scene. The First Edition was composed of members who mainly came from another well known band called The New Christy Minstrels. The New Christy Minstrels were a band that was inspired by a 1940s act called The Christy Minstrels, which was a group that performed in blackface. The New Christy Minstrels formed in 1960 and were meant to be a side project, mainly for session singers, as a way for them all to earn a few dollars while waiting for other projects to appear. On their debut album, they covered the famous Woody Guthrie tune “This Land Is My Land”, which unexpectedly became a hit for them. The record label who had released the album demanded that they go on tour to promote the single. Suddenly, this band, which really wasn’t a band, had to quickly become one. Many of the original members of The New Christy Minstrels dropped out because touring wasn’t something they had signed on for when they recorded the album. Thus, over the next few years, numerous members were added and deleted as time went on. Some of those members who quit went on to form The Byrds or, like Kim Carnes, to have a Grammy Award winning solo career or, as in the case of Kenny Rogers, drop out with several other New Christy Minstrels and form a new band called The First Edition. As many of you will know, Kenny Rogers emerged from The First Edition the same way that Diana Ross became the face of The Supremes. Soon the band was called Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, which had hits such as “Reuben James” and “Don’t Take Your Love To Town”. Again, like Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers eventually became a solo artist with dozens of chart-topping hits and Grammy Awards to his name. So, in this movie scene from The Big Lebowski, you have The Dude dreaming of sharing the thing he loves most (bowling) with the woman he desires most (Julianne Moore) all the while a song plays by a band who came from a band that was inspired by blackface actors pretending to be people they were not, all the while singing a song about the dangers of drugs in a musical style that was unusual for them in the whole course of their history.

It is a time, no doubt.

The Big Lebowski is a movie that has transcended Hollywood. In the time since its initial release, The Big Lebowski has become studied and analyzed by academics of all subject areas from Feminist Studies, to English Literature, to Economics and History, too. There are yearly conventions in which academic papers are presented and debated as to the underlying message The Coen Brothers were attempting to give with this movie. The Coen Brothers have stated that they were only creating a comedic send-up of Raymond Chandler-esque film noir movies. But I took a different message from it. I think the main message of The Big Lebowski is about masculinity in these times of ours. Throughout the movie, the male characters are presented in ways that give viewers distinct versions of what being a man is like. The Dude is passive and avoids conflict and only seeks to bowl and get his rug replaced. His friend Walter is a Gulf War vet who presents as a right wing, hardcore rules enforcer for others but not for him. Their other friend, Donnie, represents those faceless, voiceless people whose opinion is never asked for nor is it respected if it happens to be given. Jesus turns out to be like those “Karens” of the world who threaten and shout down others to hide their own emotional deficiencies and lack of life successes. The Big Lebowski turns out to be a millionaire who measures his self worth in the form of the pretty/shiny things he surrounds himself with, including a trophy wife, but who, at his core, remains unhappy. There is also a mobster who is a porn movie director who spends his days making movies about fake intimacy that go straight to video when all he wants is to be a real filmmaker and tell real stories again. None of these men are truly happy nor feel complete. So, what is the nature of being a man? How does the answer to that question impact the women in their lives, as well as people of other races, religions and ethnic backgrounds that they come into contact with? I will leave the answer to that question to Sam Elliott, who stars as The Cowboy, an all-wise, all-knowing man who appears throughout the movie to offer clarity and point us in the right direction. He ends the film with his thoughts on this matter and on the story as a whole. All that I know for sure is that I have watched The Big Lebowski and thought it was a take on the state of masculinity in our world. But, I could be wrong and it is simply a comedy about a man whose rug gets peed on in a wacky case of mistaken identity. Therefore, let the hijinks ensue!

If you have watched this movie, what is your take? I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer to that question. In any case, I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment box below. Have a wonderful day. Thanks for reading my words. I appreciate your presence on my blog.

The link to the video for the “Bowling with Jesus” scene featuring the Spanish version of “Hotel California” as sung by The Gypsy Kings can be found here. ***Please note, NSFW.

The link to the video for the “Gutterball Dream Sequence” scene featuring the song “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by The First Edition can be found here. ***Again, viewer discretion advised.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Big Lebowski 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 without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Music of the Night from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical The Phantom of the Opera…Song #31/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

If I were to conduct a survey that asked random participants to name any three to five musicals that they have heard of, I am willing to place a very large wager that The Phantom of the Opera would easily be one of the top responses. Opening on Broadway in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera has gone on to become the longest running musical in Broadway history with well over 10,000 performances. In London’s West End, it is the second-longest running musical after Mousetrap. Phantom has worldwide sales of over 6 billion dollars, trailing only The Lion King in that regard. It has won every conceivable award including Best Musical, Best Actor (Michael Crawford), Best Set Design, Best Director (Harold Prince), Best Musical Score (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Best Costume Design, Best Lighting…you name it, The Phantom of the Opera has won it. Beyond any debate, it is one of the most popular and successful musicals ever created anywhere in the world. Here is the story of The Phantom of the Opera.

The smash hit musical Phantom of the Opera is based upon a 1910 book of the same name by French writer Gaston Leroux. His book was, in fact, inspired by a mid-1800s German opera called Der Freischutz or “The Marksman”, which is considered to be Germany’s first romantic opera. The original opera centered around a love triangle that involved hunters and marksmanship and “magic bullets”, one of which was cursed by a spurned lover named Kaspar. In the end, the “evil” final bullet that was intended to be fired via trickery into the heart of a woman named Agathe by her true lover Max ends up deflecting into the body of the nasty Kaspar, who dies and is cast away to reside in the underworld. Max and Agathe fall in love and get to live happily ever after. In his book, The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux took this storyline and changed the setting to be the Paris Opera House. But, he took great pains to keep the vital love triangle intact. Instead of a shooting contest being the mechanism that moves the story along, Leroux set his story on the opera house stage and had it revolve around the world of musical performance. His book was well received at the time and spawned a popular movie version that starred Lon Chaney in the 1920s and another in the 1940s that starred Claude Rains as The Phantom.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber

However, it was the magical touch of Andrew Lloyd Webber that launched this well-known tale into the stratosphere of cultural consciousness when he sought to adapt Leroux’s literary work for the stage. By the time Webber got around to thinking about turning The Phantom of the Opera into a musical, he was already one of the most successful creators of musicals in the world, having previously launched Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats and Starlight Express on Broadway and the West End. The songs for the new musical were written by Richard Stilgoe (who wrote the songs for Starlight Express), along with Charles Hart. Andrew Lloyd Webber then created a musical score that was, at times, more operatic than purely a musical. In this way, he was able to tip his creative hat toward past geniuses of opera such as Mozart and Puccini. Much of this was done via the creation of a play-within-a-play, which occurs during the second half of the musical when The Phantom’s own musical, Don Juan Triumphant, is used as the vehicle that brings the story to its riveting conclusion. Overall, Webber felt the time was right for a huge romantic musical and he was correct. The ending of The Phantom of the Opera has gone on to form part of the western world’s idea of what true love and selflessness really look like in action. The Phantom, himself, has gone on to be viewed as the archetypal anti-hero for movies, literature and musicals that have followed in The Phantom of the Opera’s wake.

Michael Crawford (as The Phantom) and Sarah Brightman (as Christine)

Without giving away the plot and ending of the musical for those who haven’t seen it and may wish to after reading this post, let me simply say this about the storyline…Andrew Lloyd Webber has successfully created his own love triangle on stage featuring the disfigured anti-hero known as The Phantom, a beautiful understudy named Christine and her childhood friend and true love, Raoul. And just like how the ending of Der Freishutz plays out, in Webber’s musical The Phantom has set a series of traps that will seemingly lead one true lover to hurt or cause the death of the other. In the climactic closing scene, Christine first and then the Phantom, soon thereafter, both make decisions from the heart that cause the storyline to veer off into the stars and cause the musical to veer away from being a morality play (as the original opera tended to be) and steer toward becoming one of the most romantic stories ever told on stage by anyone. There is a reason that The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running musical of all time. That reason is love.

The score of the musical had two big songs that rose above the rest and they were the theme song, “The Phantom of the Opera”, and today’s song choice, “The Music of the Night”. Both tunes first appear toward the end of Act . “The Music of the Night” is sung by The Phantom. At this point in the story, he has kidnapped Christine and taken her to his lair below the opera house. As he sings, he appears to exhibit many facets of his personality at once: he is scary, unpredictable, and yet tender and loving, too. For many people, it was Michael Crawford’s performance during this song that won him the Best Actor awards on both sides of the ocean. Not many actors could pull off that delicate balance that exists between madness and love but Crawford did, as you shall soon see when you click on the link to the song below.

That time The Phantom came to town.

I will close this post by betraying my age a bit. I spent much of my adult life living in and around the city of Toronto. Toronto has played an important part of the story of this musical. Initially, Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted The Phantom of the Opera to premiere in Toronto. But, untold “political pressures” caused the premiere to be held on the Great White Way in NYC. But that didn’t stop The Phantom of the Opera from eventually coming to Toronto and having a long, multi-year run. For most of that run, Colm Wilkinson played the role of The Phantom to great acclaim. But what I remember most about it is the marketing campaign for the musical and how it became interwoven into the cultural identity of the city. The tagline of the campaign was spoken in the deep, dulcet tones of The Phantom, who simply implored us all to Buy Phantom by phone. As long as The Phantom spoke out over the airwaves and in print in newspapers, on billboards and in magazines, we were always part of his world. Rarely has a fictional character managed to become so intertwined with the identity of a place as did The Phantom with the city of Toronto. In the end, I truly believe that The Phantom of the Opera was as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was a musical. Andrew Lloyd Webber helped to create something that has transcended the boundaries of the stage and has become part of all of our lives. Whether or not we ever bought a ticket to see this musical in person, we all know some aspect of this show in the same way that we all know of Hamlet or Elvis or Star Wars in some way, too. It is rare when a story becomes more than just a story but that is certainly the case for all involved in The Phantom of the Opera. Take a bow, everyone! You are all part of something that you can be very proud of. Well done, all! The stage is yours.

The link to the video for the song “The Music of the Night” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical The Phantom of the Opera can be found here. ***The lyric video is here.

The link to the official website for The Phantom of the Opera can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber 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. ©2023

All Is Love by Karen O. and the Kids from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Where The Wild Things Are…Song #30/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

In 1973, Hans Fenger was hired to teach music in Langley, British Columbia. The only problem with that was that Mr. Fenger had never taught music before and had no idea how it should be done. But the 1970s were a time of experimentation in education, so Mr. Fenger decided to teach his curriculum topics by introducing his students to popular songs of the day. The longer he worked with his students, the better he got to know them as fully-formed human beings. He started getting a better sense of their fears, their dreams and the whole kaleidoscope of emotions they possessed. As a result, he was better able to tailor his song-based curriculum to suit the personalities of his students. That gave him an idea. He worked in collaboration with the students and their families to record a series of choral renderings of famous songs. All of these songs were recorded in school gyms scattered through Langley. Enough material was recorded to produce two separate full length record albums. The two-album set was called The Langley Schools Music Project. Needless to say, these albums were hits primarily with the families of the students only, but just the same, when all was said and done, Hans Fenger felt that he had captured a realistic version of how children view childhood via the songs they sang. These songs ranged from “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings, to “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by Klaatu, several Beach Boys songs such as “God Only Knows”, “Desperado” by The Eagles and much, much more.

The story would have ended there except for a bit of fortuitous luck in the year 2000. A record collector who focussed on finding musical oddities and rare recordings stumbled across one of the Langley Schools Music Project albums in a thrift store. Excited by the haunting quality of the music that was recorded, he searched for the other album and eventually was able to find it, too. Together, they were brought to various record labels in the hope that they could be re-recorded and re-released. Bar None Records agreed that there was something special about these albums and re-packaged them as a double CD set. It was this CD version that ended up having the greatest impact. For starters, it was what inspired the making of the movie (and subsequent TV series) School of Rock starring Jack Black in the role of Hans Fenger. The CD set also fell into the hands of one of music videos’ hottest producers, Spike Jonze. Jonze had worked with just about every band of note during the 1990s and into the 2000s. He had just finished producing his first movie, the quirky Being John Malkovich. At the time that he discovered the Langley Schools Music Project CDs, Jonze had just been hired on to produce the ambitious movie Where The Wild Things Are, which, as you may know, was based upon the famous children’s book of the same name by Maurice Sendak. The CDs had been re-titled and now went by the name Innocence and Despair. In Jonze’s mind, the title of these CDs, along with the amateurish sound of these children working their way through some of the famous songs in the world that dealt with topics such as longing, heartbreak and hopefulness was exactly what he imagined childhood to be from a child’s perspective. Because he felt that Sendak’s book also nailed the idea of childhood as seen and experienced by real children, he decided that the Langley Schools Music Project would guide the making of his new movie, Where The Wild Things Are.

Where The Wild Things movie director Spike Jonze.

Spike Jonze knew the world of modern music extremely well. So, when it came time to hand the music score over to someone who would understand his vision of what childhood from a child’s perspective was like, he immediately thought of the lead singer of the group Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O. As the 2000s dawned, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the freshest and most original music acts in the world. Jonze was most impressed by a music video called “Cheated Hearts” (which I highly encourage you to read about and watch here). Not long after that, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released the groundbreaking music video for the song “M.A.P.S.” (which, again, I highly encourage you to read about and watch here before going on with this story). In both cases, it was clear to Jonze that Karen O. knew how to allow her audience to express their true selves without shame or inhibition so he asked her to score his film. Once Karen O. came on board with the film project, she gathered her Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmates together, along with other musicians from Alternative/Indie bands such as Queens of the Stone Age and others. These extra musicians became the “kids” who, along with Karen O., wrote the soundtrack for this film. The big song that came from the movie was written by Karen O. and was called “All Is Love”.

Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote “All Is Love”.

“All Is Love” never became a huge hit because it was never intended to be a stand-alone song. It was also never intended to be a song about adulthood. “All Is Love” was written to capture the idea that one of the most important and sad things that happens as we progress through our childhood years is that we learn that we have to temper our emotions. Rarely do we, as adults, allow ourselves to simply “let it all hang out”. How often do we laugh so hard we wet our pants or lose our breath? How often do we run and run and run just to feel the wind on our skin as our hearts pound almost completely out of our chests? How often do we scream cathartically at the top of our lungs in public places? The answer to all of these questions is rarely, if ever at all. Part of the process of growing up requires the reining in of our emotions. The need to fit in, to get along, to know how to properly behave in society means taking the edge off of our most basic instincts and desires. In a world where being good citizens and neighbours has value, this isn’t the worst thing. But, it is a bargain we are forced to make, whether we like it or not. Much of the rationale behind the original storybook version of Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was to allow children to be children for as long as possible because that was when we are in our purest form. Childhood, in all of its uncontrollable emotional moments, is that time in all of our lives before the social negotiations begin and the tradeoffs take root and we become, not necessarily who we want to be, but the version of ourselves that we have to be in order to be accepted by others. The point of the book was that in childhood, we are our true selves and yet, despite how that sometimes plays out, we are loved unconditionally by our parents and grandparents anyway. It can be exhausting but sometimes that’s just the way love is. The song “All Is Love” by Karen O. and the Kids captures that dichotomy extremely well. As stated, this song was never meant to stand alone so I recommend watching it as it was used in the movie. I will link to that below.

The film Where The Wild Things Are by Spike Jonze was met with decidedly mixed reviews. Much of the reason for this was because people simply didn’t know what to make of a movie that wasn’t told from the perspective of adults and yet, wasn’t a children’s movie, either. Where The Wild Things Are was a movie about childhood in all of its warts and bruises. It was a cinematic rendering of what it is like to be a child and experience the wild swings of emotion that come with it. For what it is worth, in my opinion, Spike Jonze managed that rarest of rare feats…he treated children and childhood with respect. Not many adults accept children for who they actually are. They often believe them incapable of serious thought, and as such, deny them the opportunity to chart their own course and make their own decisions which, in turn, lead to consequences that help fuel future growth. In the book and the movie, it is only when young Max has his tantrum at home and then journeys to the land of the Wild Things in his imagination that he comes to realize that he can be who he truly is and will still be loved by his mother (who has a hot supper waiting for him…the hot supper being symbolic of a mother’s love). Helping children to realize that who they truly are is all that they need to be has immeasurable value to their future wellbeing. It is the reason that Where The Wild Things Are was recently rated as being the children’s picture book of all time and the most checked out book in American Public Libraries (and that includes all adult books, too).

I will conclude by stating that nothing I have written in this post is meant to suggest that children should be allowed to run amok, to do whatever they please whenever they feel like it. Part of being a parent is the responsibility to sometimes limit your child’s desires due to safety reasons or economic ones or dozens of other things, too. However, another part of being a parent…in my opinion, by far and away the most important part…is helping your child to become the best version of themselves that they are capable of being. Part of doing that is respecting your child for who they really are and loving them no matter what. At the end of the day, your child’s formative years are the foundation of the rest of their life. We would be wise to help them build as strong a foundation as possible because, as we all know, being an adult isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Let the wild rumpus begin anyway! Let’s all go and have our very best day!

The link to the video for the song “All Is Love” by Karen O. and the Kids from the Original Soundtrack to the film Where The Wild Things Are can be found here. ***Lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the film Where The Wild Things Are 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 without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Gladiator…Song #29/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Emperor Commodus as he appeared in a bust and as a computer-generated version of what he may have looked like in real life.

When we examine the whole of human history, it is safe to say that the Holy Roman Empire was one of the most powerful and impactful of all time. At the height of its rule, that Empire counted 70 million people strong. For almost two full centuries, its laws and customs were the laws and customs of a majority of people living in all developed countries on the planet. This period of Roman rule is known in history as Pax Romana or Roman Peace. For the sake of this post, I will not go into the entire history of the Holy Roman Empire but will, instead, focus on how it ended. The 200-year historical period known as Pax Romana was marked by the rule of five Roman Emperors known as the Five Good Emperors. Of those five good emperors, the final one was Marcus Aurelius. During his lifetime, Marcus Aurelius fathered several children, all of whom passed away during childhood except one: a son named Commodus. Being the sole heir to the throne, Commodus received the best in terms of education and opportunity. As a young teenager, Commodus rode off into battle with his father and earned many honours. As he rose in influence, Commodus eventually joined his father as co-emperor and then, a few years later upon Marcus Aurelius’ death, Commodus became the sole Roman Emperor in his early twenties. The reign of Commodus is noted mainly for two things: 1- he negotiated several peace treaties with warring neighbouring countries that led to the final period of stability and peace in the Pax Romana era. 2- Commodus never showed an interest in running the day-to-day affairs of state. He delegated those to subordinates. Instead of being a statesman, Commodus began to rule as though he was a God. He fought gladiator-style in the Coliseum and, among other things, changed many laws to honour his name and protect his place on the throne of Rome. Because of his unsteady leadership, he was the subject of a coup and was assassinated at the age of thirty-one. The death of Commodus ended Pax Romana and ushered in the Year of the Five Emperors and initiated the start of the decline of the Holy Roman Empire across the world.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in the movie Gladiator.

The movie Gladiator is a work of historical fiction that was inspired by the true story of the reign of Commodus. In the movie, Joaquin Phoenix played the role of Commodus to great effect. Veteran actor Richard Harris played his father, the last great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. As you may know, Gladiator won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. Crowe’s character of a military leader turned slave turned gladiator named Maximus was a composite of several historical figures. While Gladiator played loose with the historical facts, as most movies do, overall it was lauded for its generally accurate depiction of how Commodus behaved personally and politically up to and including his decision to meet Maximus in combat in the movie’s climactic scene. All throughout his twenties, Commodus regularly climbed into the combat arena to battle with select gladiators. As was to be expected, he never faced a serious challenge and always emerged victorious. One of his customs was to inflict one or more cuts into the flesh of his opponents. He would then “show mercy” and allow his opponent to live if the opponent agreed to bow down and surrender to him in the arena. All did. Then, as these gladiators went about the rest of their lives, they would bear a “battle scar” that told the world of their indebtedness to Commodus. It was much the same idea as when slave owners branded slaves with their mark as a way of showing ownership. So in the movie’s final scene, it was historically accurate to depict Joaquin Phoenix climbing down from the Emperor’s viewing stand and agreeing to fight to the death with Maximus (who the movie implies was Marcus Aurelius’ favoured choice of successor). If you have not seen the movie then I will not spoil the ending by telling you how the battle turned out. However, I will say that as the scene ended, a most beautiful and unusual song began to play. This song is called “Now We Are Free”. It was written by a woman named Lisa Gerrard. The musical score was created by the legendary composer Hans Zimmer. Before I go any further, I want you to stop reading this post so that you can go and listen to a live rendition of this song. I would like to see if it makes any impressions upon you (aside from the fact that it is lovely and epic in scope). Can you spot what is unusual about this song which makes it completely original in terms of the vast majority of songs used in movies. So, take a moment and listen to the song here. Come back when you are finished and I will let you in on a little secret.

Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard at the Golden Globes where they won for Best Song for “Now We Are Free”.

I hope that you gave this song a proper airing. What did you think of it? I have listened to several different renditions by several different female singers and they all sound similarly beautiful and ethereal. The thing that makes “Now We Are Free” so unique has nothing to do with the music of Hans Zimmer. It is entirely something to do with the writer Lisa Gerrard. While you were listening to the singer, did you hear her use words? It seems as though she does but, in truth, there are no words from any discernible language used in this song at all. Not one. Apparently, from the time she was a child, Lisa Gerrard believed that she could talk directly to God. I kid you not. As part of this communication conduit, Gerrard spoke in a made up language which she believed was given to her by God in order to facilitate their communication. Thus, in “Now We Are Free”, the female voice is using Gerrard’s invented speech patterns. What Hans Zimmer did was match his musical notes so that they amplified and/or complemented the sounds that Gerrard’s utterances were making in such a way as to make beautiful music. It is the same technique that Earth Wind and Fire used in their hit song, “September” when they sang the nonsense line “Ba De Ya” over and over again. Initially that was just a placeholder phrase when the song was still in the formative stages of development but once the music was composed, Maurice White decided to keep the nonsense phrase “Ba De Ya” in place because the cadence of it matched the musical notes perfectly. So, whether it be an uptempo number like “September”, or a passionate, dramatic piece such as “Now We Are Free”, sometimes the sounds made by a human voice are more important in the form they take rather than any actual words being used. This lends credence to those who say that instrumental music, or more specifically, wordless music is still a form of language just the same.

And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to….Russell Crowe as Maximus from the movie Gladiator.

In any case, “Now We Are Free” stands out as one of the most unique cinematic songs ever created. For a song without intelligible lyrics, “Now We Are Free” says so much. By now you will have listened to a live recording of the song. Below, I will provide a link to how the song was used in the movie. If you have never watched Gladiator and think that you might as a result of this post, then don’t click on the link because it gives away the ending of the movie and I would hate to spoil that experience for anyone. However, if you have watched the movie or just don’t really care, then by all means, click away and enjoy. In any case, the movie Gladiator launched a resurgence in historical fiction in Hollywood with movies such as Troy, King Arthur, The Last Samurai, 300 and Alexander being just some of the movies made in the 2000s that sought to replicate the success of this historical epic. However, even if history isn’t your thing, it is still important to know some of the most important and well known aspects of it. Movies such as Gladiator provide a gateway into the political world of empire building in a way that makes it seem interesting. The desire of megalomaniacs to create empires has been something that has happened repeatedly throughout human history with England and the US and Russia and Hitler’s Germany and WWII-era Japan all being recent examples. Stories of conquerors and the conquered are, in fact, more than works of fiction that fuel novels and movie scripts. This is the real world in which we all live. The real fiction may, in fact, be that any of us truly believe that we are free.

The link to the video for the song “Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Gladiator can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the film Gladiator 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 without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Luck Be A Lady from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical, Guys and Dolls…Song #28/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

As a young and very nerdy boy, I attended this high school from 1978-82.

Way back in the day, I went to high school at a place known as Morrison Glace Bay High School. Back home, the school was simply known as Morrison. In the 1970s, Glace Bay was still a town that was fairly divided along religious lines: Morrison became known as the Protestant or public high school while across town, St. Michael’s was where the Catholic kids in town went. Needless to say, there existed a fierce rivalry between the two schools. Every sporting tournament contained elements of a Battle of Glace Bay. Like all intense rivalries, sometimes my school came out on top and sometimes we didn’t. But one thing that I think Morrison did better than St. Mike’s, year after year, was our production of a full-blown high school musical. We were lucky at Morrison to have a teacher on staff who championed this cause and was highly proficient at shepherding everyone through the dramatic process involved in putting on a quality play. Because of a lady named Harriett Townsend, our school became known for the quality of our theatrical productions. While Miss Townsend helped to put on several musicals over the course of my time there, the one that made the most impression on me was Guys and Dolls.

Author, columnist, screenwriter Damon Runyon.

Guys and Dolls is a musical that is based upon a series of short stories written by one of America’s most colourful writers, Damon Runyon. In the first half of the 1900s, Runyon wrote for newspapers that were run by mogul William Randolph Hearst. Runyon was a gambling man, a drinker and a smoker, too. He ran with a crowd that many would consider to be unsavory, such as mobsters, politicians, homosexuals (at a time when homosexuality was still considered a crime in many jurisdictions), “women of the night” and so on. Runyon’s newspaper columns routinely featured stories on the sporting world (particularly boxing and horse racing), along with the world of Broadway musicals. Damon Runyon wrote with a style that became known as Runyonese, which meant that he usually called his characters by imaginative names, his stories often took place in the underbelly of New York society circles and he was known for his use of made up language or slang terminology. In 1932, he wrote a short story entitled “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”. In that story, he wrote about the unlikely romance between a habitual gambler and the wholesome church lady who viewed him as a sinner worth saving. Two decades later, that short story was adapted for Broadway and became known as Guys and Dolls.

When Guys and Dolls debuted on Broadway, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The script for the musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. The world beyond the Big Apple was introduced to the vernacular of Damon Runyon where the men were all known by nicknames such as Lefty or Shorty or Skinny, and the women were all known as dames or broads or dolls. The story of Guys and Dolls revolves around gambling, but at its core, it is about redemption and love. The original cast recording of the musical won the Grammy Award for Best Recording by a Group or Ensemble. The most famous song, among many from this soundtrack, is “Luck Be a Lady”. This is a song that is sung by a group of gamblers all hoping to have the cards fall their way or the dice come up with anything other than snake eyes.

Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and fellow cast members looking sharp!

What I remember most about Guys and Dolls appearing at Morrison Glace Bay High School was how the costumes completely transformed those who appeared on stage. Boys who normally wore jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers every day suddenly appeared on stage in the sharpest of suits, the shiniest of shoes, all topped off with slicked back hair and fedoras. These boys became men as they sang of their hopes for making it rich on the roll of the dice or the speed of the ponies. And the girls…my word…these girls who I had sat beside in class for years appeared on stage in make-up, in heels and form-fitting dresses that sashayed when they moved. These girls of my youth transformed into women before my eyes in a way that I never had thought them capable of doing until that moment. The story of Guys and Dolls was all dressed in stylish garb and grownup language and allowed the students and citizens of Glace Bay to catch a glimpse of a part of the world that only New Yorkers had known up until then. It was gritty, dangerous and filled with virtue and tenderness at the same time. Guys and Dolls had it all. No wonder it is one of Broadway’s most honoured and respected musicals of all time.

Guys and Dolls became a movie, with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando starring in it. The musical has also been performed by all manner of touring companies from the four corners of the world. But for me, Guys and Dolls will always be a high school musical. Without question, the time one spends in high school helps to shape the rest of your life. While the academic studies help to prepare you for your post-secondary career and/or the world of work, there is so much else that goes on beyond the walls of those classrooms but within the walls of the school that adds so much colour to one’s life. Whether those extra-curricular experiences come on the playing field or on the stage doesn’t matter. What does matter is that kids, some of whom are going through the most confusing and pressure-filled times of their lives, get to don uniforms of one sort or another, step out of their lives for a while and become someone different, if only just for a short time. But, in that short time, they can grow in ways that just aren’t possible sitting at a desk in a classroom taking notes. So, kudos to all high school adults who willingly volunteer to provide such rich experiences for our children: experiences that go beyond academics and help our children to forge a sense of identity that is necessary to take on the world that awaits on the other side of graduation. Extra applause for those young people who step up and grasp those opportunities being presented to them. Taken together, extracurriculars enrich us all.

The link to the video for the song “Luck Be A Lady” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Guys and Dolls can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Guys and Dolls can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie version of Guys and Dolls 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 blog post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Linus and Lucy from the original Soundtrack Recording of the Television Show, A Charlie Brown Christmas…Song #27/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Jazz was the first genre of music I ever really liked. At the time, I had no idea it was called Jazz. All that I knew was that the opening theme to A Charlie Brown Christmas made me happy. I was all of one year old when A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on national television in the United States. I had no idea how groundbreaking it was for there to be a prime time animated television show voiced by children for children. I didn’t bat an eyelash when the character of Linus gave his famous speech about the Nativity scene using language taken directly from the Bible. I also guess I figured out when to laugh and when to listen quietly without the need for a laugh track, which was something Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schultz demanded I be allowed to do. But, more than anything, there was just something about the tinkling of the ivories all throughout this TV show that gave it the feel of being in a nightclub or a piano bar all the while being just the perfect soundtrack to a story that everyone can relate to about life during holiday time. Failure and redemption. Loneliness and friendship. The bullying sound of mocking laughter directed your way and the joy of lifting your head to the Heavens in song. A Charlie Brown Christmas had it all. It had it all then and it still has it all today. It remains my favourite holiday show to watch at this time of year. This is the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time in 1965. The characters in the show all came from the comic strip called Peanuts. The Peanuts comic strip was created by Charles M. Schultz. It was already a huge hit as it was syndicated in newspapers all across North America. The world was different in those days. Back in 1965, most people got their news and information from radio, television and via daily newspapers. One of the features of newspapers back then was that there was always a page or two devoted to comic strips. These comic strips would be used to tell jokes, to tell stories in serial form, and in some cases, to teach lessons and/or to offer some sort of morality tale as told in three or four panels. One of the most popular comic strips at the time was Peanuts. So when CBS Television decided to create original family programming for the holiday season, bringing the Peanuts gang to the small screen seemed like a logical idea. When the Coca Cola company signed on as sponsor, the wheels were set in motion to make the very first prime time animated television show in broadcasting history.

Charles M. Schultz

Charles M. Schultz only agreed to participate in the project if certain criteria were met. First of all, because he was a staunch ally of children everywhere, he insisted that they be treated with respect every step of the way through the planning and production process. Schultz was very fearful that if left in the hands of studio executives, his beloved characters would be used to talk down to children viewing the show from their homes. Schultz insisted that the show would resonate more with children if real child actors voiced the roles of each character. This was unheard of at the time. The studio heads initially thought that the likes of Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke would become the voices of Charlie Brown and Linus, for example, but Schultz had other ideas. So, child actors were hired to speak for all of the characters who appeared on screen. The second thing that Charles M. Schultz argued successfully for was the elimination of a laugh track. Almost every standard thirty-minute television show being made on soundstages in America was produced with a laugh track (for comedies) and musical soundtracks (for dramas) that would help audiences know how to react to what they were seeing on screen. In Schultz’s mind, he believed that children were much more intelligent than many adults ever gave them credit for. He trusted that children watching from their homes would know which parts of his show were meant to be funny and which were meant to be more reflective and serious, and that they would know how to act accordingly. The lack of a laugh track is one of the defining features of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It helps to give the show a more quiet and cerebral feel. In addition, it allows viewers to appreciate those moments, such as when everyone is skating on an outdoor rink or catching snowflakes on their tongues. In real life, those moments outside in the winter time are often experienced in silence, as the snow muffles the usual hubbub of everyday life for a short while. Charles M. Schultz insisted that his show be more quiet than loud, and because of that the other big thing that happened was that the musical soundtrack of the show was allowed to shine through.

Vince Guaraldi and his animated companion, Schroeder.

When a musical soundtrack is done correctly, it adds layers of atmosphere to the onscreen visuals, but it does not detract from or compete against what you are watching. When Charles M. Schultz removed the laugh track and insisted upon telling a quiet morality tale, he also wanted to give a gift to those watching at home…that gift was an introduction to Jazz. The show’s musical score was created by a man named Vince Guaraldi and his band The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Prior to creating the music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi had never created a musical score before. In many ways, this lack of experience freed his mind and left him more open to try things that went against the conventional wisdom of the entertainment industry experts. In speaking with Schultz and understanding that he wanted the entire show to feel intimate and quiet, Guaraldi immediately thought of those smokey, dimly lit Jazz clubs where the music plays in the background while the swingers swing and the lovers conspire in whispers. To bring that vision to the Peanuts gang, Guaraldi made good use of the piano-playing character known as Schroeder. While Schroeder had usually been known as a classical pianist in the comic strip, Guaraldi postulated that it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to think that Schroeder would like other genres of piano music, too. He also thought it would be good for viewers to see the serious Schroeder cutting loose. So, Guaraldi created a song called “Linus and Lucy”, which acts as the thematic opener of the show. Completely instrumental, “Linus and Lucy” introduces the setting, most of the main characters, and does so with a peppy, uptempo Jazzy beat. By the time the opening credits had finished rolling on the debut showing, most of America had heard a Jazz song for the very first time…and they loved it! A Charlie Brown Christmas won the Emmy that year for Best Animated Feature and Guaraldi won for Best Song for “Linus and Lucy”.

Not all heroes wear capes. Some carry blankets instead. This is Linus giving his famous speech during A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The final aspect of A Charlie Brown Christmas that set it apart from anything else that was airing at the time was the quality of the storyline and the lessons that poured out of it. One of the things that Charles M. Schultz understood most of all was the complex social journey that children all make as they grow up. Peer pressure is a very real part of adolescence, and Schultz nails it with how he portrays the stressful nature of accepting a social role that forces you into the spotlight. Charlie Brown had many opinions about the state of the holidays, as we all do. But, being convinced to act upon those opinions is not something many of us choose to do in the end. It is far easier to sit quietly by and stew in your own discontented juices than it is to stand up and take action in a public manner. The easy thing for Schultz to have done would have been to have let Charlie Brown enjoy a moment of easy triumph as a reward for agreeing to run the Christmas pageant at school. But Schultz is nothing if not true to his characters, because instead of allowing Charlie Brown to become the hero, Schultz did something to a main character that is rarely allowed to happen on prime time TV: he allowed Charlie Brown to fail. Not only that, he allowed Charlie Brown to fail in a very public and humiliating manner. As anyone who has ever been bullied can tell you, the sound of mocking laughter is what stays with you long after the bruises have healed. But then, with that laughter reverberating in our ears and Charlie Brown shrinking under the weight of it all, Schultz swept in with a moment of redemption in the form of a bystander stepping up, as one should in such a situation. Having Linus come to centre stage and give his Nativity speech is much more than the endorsement of the Biblical story of Christmas than it may seem at first blush. When Linus came to centre stage he, essentially, saved his friend Charlie Brown. He stood up and stopped the mocking laughter of his friend in its tracks. That is such a hard thing to do in real life, as we all probably know, to our own personal shame. It takes such courage to not only protect a victim in public, but to rehabilitate their image at the same time, which is what Linus did for Charlie Brown. If the ultimate lesson from this television show was to reject commercialization and return to what the true meaning of Christmas is all about…love, family, friendship, peace…then Schultz accomplished that in one brilliant scene. It is not surprising that the scene with Linus is immediately followed up with the scene where everyone stands around Snoopy’s doghouse and sings “Christmas Time Is Here”, which is a lovely song that is made better because it requires many voices singing in harmony to make it right.

I was just a toddler when I first heard Jazz, but I have loved music my whole life since. I have also lived my life in the warm embrace of those I love and who love me in reply. So, as we wend our way ever closer to Christmas Day, my wish for all of you is to be next to those you love most, to share a thought or two for those you love who cannot be with you and most importantly, to do it all with a great holiday soundtrack like the one for A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the background. Peace be with you all. Merry Christmas.

The link to the video for the song “Linus and Lucy” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio from the Original Television Soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Christmas Time Is Here” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio from the Original Television Soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer to A Charlie Brown Christmas can be found here.

The link to the official website for the comic strip Peanuts 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

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