Monday, January 14, 2013


Last week I kicked off a new segment for the New Year here on The Film Tome called Movie Music Moment, which I will be posting on Mondays (love all that alliteration...). I honored one of cinema's quintessential suspects, "2001: A Space Odyssey" and today I will be recognizing another. As I mentioned is last week's post, "Also Sprach Zarathusa" also appears in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia," while I am not choosing that particular "moment" I am choosing another (and surely the most memorable) from the film.

"Wise Up" by Aimee Mann
as seen in
Magnolia (1999)

P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia" is among my favorite films ever made. (I promise I'll get to showcasing other films that are no so widely beloved by myself and/or others in future editions, but let me gush for the time being.) It's an over 3-hour character-piece epic set in contemporary San Fernando Valley over the course of a single day. After spending time with each of nine sorrowful denizens of this urban landscape, many of whom's lives are at breaking points or an otherwise crossroads, the film's train-like pace slows its chugging along in the final half-hour and lets all the emotional build up hang thick in the air like the proliferation precipitation we've been getting news flashes of since the opening credits. The city grows quiet (the calm before the Almighty storm), a male nurse puts his boss to sleep at his and yet another Aimee Mann song begins to play on the soundtrack.

Besides two uses of classical music (the aforementioned use of "Zarathusa" and a fun scene played around "Habanera" from "Carmen") and some scattered pop/alternative, the entire film is scored by music from Mann. At first the appearance of "Wise Up" feels no different than the appearance of any other, that is until the character of Claudia begins to sing along with the lyrics after snorting another line of coke. A bridge is built between the non-diegetic and diegetic music. We then go through each of our nine characters, each captured in single yet vibrant as they each sing a stanza or so. It becomes a karoake of lost souls who realize they may never wise up. When I first saw "Magnolia" this scene paralyzed me. It is one of the boldest decisions I have ever seen a filmmaker make. The result could have easily been laughable or otherwise disastrous, but it somehow works in "Magnolia," a movie that often wears the medium's artifice on its sleeve while transcending trends and expectations.

This is easily one of the top movie music moments I've ever seen/heard. Have you experienced "Magnolia"? If so, what did you think of this scene? Like each of these "moments" taken out of the film, and out of context, the result is simply not what it could/should be. Please keep that in mind. I would love to hear your thoughts on this week's, last week's or any of your own personal favorite movie music moments!

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