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February 17, 2006

The Song Remains the Same


Girish discusses The Beatles' Let It Be today. My own take is that it's of interest to watch in witnessing The Beatles in their final days. The high point for me was the concert they performed on the rooftop to a surprised audience of pedestrians until the police intervene. My preference for The Beatles on film is firmly with their collaborations with Richard Lester, A Hard Day's Night and Help!.

Both films were commercial and critical successes. Richard Lester's style appropriated both the nascent direct cinema and French Nouvelle Vague for a wider and younger Anglo-American audience, and has been influential on filmmakers forty years later. In spite of the fact that the songs used in A Hard Day's Night and Help! were original compositions written for their respective films, none of the songs rated Academy Award nominations. Talk about Hollywood squares!

In 1964, the Best Song was "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins. I will admit that this was the high point for Disney musicals, and have no grudge against the Sherman brothers. "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" wasn't bad, but I think most people remember Bruce Dern's head rolling down the stairs than Patti Page's singing. "My Kind of Town" has grown to be a beloved Frank Sinatra song. I even remember the melody of "Dear Heart", an inoffensive tune, although beyond the title, I can't remember the lyrics. That leaves "Where Love has Gone". Does anyone remember the song or the film? Left out in the cold were not only Lennon and McCartney's title song, but the best song in A Hard Day's Night, "Can't Buy Me Love". Maybe I sound like an old baby boomer, but the best moment in the film is when John, Paul, George and Richard sneak out the back of the theater and onto the field. As far as I'm concerned, this may be one of the most joyous scenes in cinema. As far as the Academy was concerned at that time, James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn still rocked their world.

The Academy was marginally hipper in 1965 with the nominations of "What's New Pussycat?" and "I Will Wait for You", Michel Legrand's first nod. "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" was kind of cute, as was the film, but I think the nomination was really for the inspired pairing of Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye. The winning song, "The Shadow of Your Smile", seems to have faded to cocktail lounge muzak. "The Sweetheart Tree" probably got nominated on the strength of Henry Mancini's name. Aside from another title song by Lennon and McCartney, the Academy ignored "You're Going to Lose that Girl", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket to Ride". Help! is arguably the better of the two soundtracks. On the bright side, we've been spared the spectacle of Beatle songs treated by the stylizations of performers like Vic Damone or Robert Goulet, which was how nominated songs were presented on the awards show.

The Academy's choice for Best Song didn't resemble anything close to the current state of popular music until Isaac Hayes won for Shaft (can you dig it?). I assume the songwriters who nominate each other must have felt some remorse for overlooking A Hard Day's Night and Help by nominating Sir Paul a couple of times. Without John Lennon, we were given the silly "Live and Let Die", and the wretched "Vanilla Sky". Maybe it's axiomatic that the songs nominated are usually not the best songs of the song writers or the best songs of their given years. I am somewhat gladdened that Bruce Springsteen, U2, Prince, Neil Young and even Eminem make the list of nominees and winners.

I do get a chuckle about the 1984 winner, "I Just Called to Say I Love You". Stevie Wonder never had to actually see The Woman in Red.

Posted by peter at February 17, 2006 06:22 PM


It used to be a truism that in order for a song to win the Oscar, it had to be something you could play at a wedding. Well, horrible choices in that category are nothing new. "They Can't Take That Away From Me," one of the loveliest songs Gershwin ever wrote, lost to "Sweet Leilani." Is there anyone who can hum the winner?

Posted by: Campaspe at February 19, 2006 07:57 AM

A Hard Day's Night is a mighty film, joyful unbridled fun. That scene in the field is great, and the performances are ace too.

Posted by: Tuwa at February 19, 2006 03:49 PM