Wednesday, March 18, 2009


For my first entry into this month's quickly-written SIDE ORDERS, we have the opening scene of Morton DaCosta's 1962 musical masterpiece The Music Man. If one were listing great opening scenes of any movie or stage production, one would have to include "Rock Island," the incredible white-rap penned by Meredith Wilson. The amazing thing about this scene is that only two of the characters on this chugging train will ever be seen in the movie again (and you only see the film's lead character, Robert Preston's Harold Hill, very quickly). It's a whiz-bang opening, filled with glib turn-of-the-20th-century references that now sound like otherworldly gibberish (though if you know what these guys are talking about, it deepens the piece). When I was a kid, I used to listen to the soundtrack of The Music Man on a cassette I recorded off of TV. Thus I can recite "Rock Island" (and the rest of the movie) completely by rote; I'm apparently the only one in the world who considers it one of the most notable movie musicals. I'd love to do "Rock Island" in kareoke one day, but, alas, I think this is simply a beautiful, unattainable dream.
I was talking to my friend Stacy McClendon in Atlanta today, and she admonished me for not including the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy on my recent list of the 170 best soundtracks ever. I do think John Barry's theme to the Oscar-winning movie is brilliant, but the soundtrack as a whole--excepting Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'"--seems packed with filler (Midnight Cowboy is just one of scads of films that sport a catchy title theme which fails to take deep root in the score's body). Anyway, me and Stacy kept chatting, and I mentioned that I thought Ferrante and Teicher's version of the song was one of the 100 greatest singles of the rock era. Stacy then revealed to me that she was a Ferrante and Teicher uber-fan. See, this is why Stacy is my friend; she knows what's cool. Ferrante and Teicher, the piano-playing pair that cornered the market in 60s/70s-era elevator music, are the shit--just take a look at them performing John Barry's Midnight Cowboy theme in frilly tux shirts and cool sideburns. Then you can consider yourself edumacated.
One of the greatest of recent credits sequences: Kuntzel and Deygas's wonderfully retro title sequence to Steven Spielberg's Catch Me if You Can, from 2002, with astonishing music from John Williams.
Bugsy Malone's "My Name is Tallulah," written by Paul Williams, was crafted as the intro for the film's star, Jodie Foster, who in this same year, was nominated for an Oscar for a similarly precocious role as the underaged NYC prostitute Iris in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. As fine as she is here, Foster doesn't do the vocals (all the singing in Bugsy Malone was overdubbed by adults, to surprisingly laudable effect). Pay close attention to the background players here, as well as to the expertly scaled-down sets and costumes: though it's a 30s-era gangster movie, there are nothing but kids in the cast. It's really a one-of-a-kind movie, Bugsy Malone (directed by Alan Parker, who also did four more musicals: The Committments, Pink Floyd The Wall, Fame, and Evita).
Finally, just because I love the film, the original trailer to Dan O'Bannon and John Carpenter's perfect sci-fi spoof Dark Star. Somehow, this movie's dread-filled atmosphere still gives me chills, even while it delivers uproarious laughs.
And now, finally, speaking of uproarious laughs, the famous "vessle with the pestle" scene from The Court Jester (Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, 55). Courtesy of Danny Kaye, has there ever been in cinema a more impressive diplay of verbal gymastics? I don't think so. (By the way, that's Glynis Johns as Maid Jean, and on the throne, Angela Lansbury and Cecil Parker, with Basil Rathbone off to the side).

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