Monday, February 25, 2013

MOVIE MUSIC MOMENT: RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ON MY HEAD / BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID



"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" by B.J. Thoms
as seen and heard in
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance (1969)

First and foremost, I must apologize for the video. Not only does it force you to watch it on YouTube, the quality is the worst I've ever had in one of these Movie Music Moments. Alas, it's the moment that dictates, not what moments are accessible. I'm guessing the copyrights for this track are still being held fairly tight.

I remember watching my Korean roommate (this was a couple of years back) watching a foreign TV show that teaches English. In one episode they were studying the lyrics of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." It was amusing to watch and hear as teacher and pupil took a stab at each word and then strung them all together in an attempt to sing. Okay, that has nothing to do with the film it debuted in.


Back in 1969 audiences first heard this song as it appeared in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (Hal David and Burt Bacharach won an Oscar for Best Original Song). It's use is out of the blue and utterly bizarre. The scene features Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) taking his titular partner's girl (Katherine Ross as Etta Place) out on a day-date. He's acquired a funny new contraption in this 1890s setting: a bicycle. He takes her for a spin while beginning to serenade her with a folk song of his own. In the very next shot the soundtrack takes over and the song in discussion plays for their merry little montage. In contrast to the lyrics it's a sunny day in this rustic country setting. 

The song draws all the attention in the world to itself, it feels like it would fit in more with a romantic picture of the era than in a Western. Many are critical towards this sequence, I seem to recall the hosts of Filmspotting calling it the worst part of the film. To make matters more distracting the song is interjected with a circus tune while Butch performs some tricks on his bike in order to impress Miss Place. It switches back to "Raindrops" after Butch crashes into a bullpen and the two would-be-lovers hightail on out of there... and back to the movie as it seems.

When I first saw "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" I didn't know what to make of this sequence. Revisiting today I am adamantly for and impressed by it. The diversion makes for a strong signal of the Revisionist Western, a welcome branch off the sometimes overly formulaic genre. As much as the railroad (Iron Horse) - which makes abundant appearances in this film - equaled progress in the Old West, the bicycle remains the means of transportation that most signifies that of the horse. It belonged in a city or town, prohibiting men from riding too far in search of whatever the horizon holds in store. Like the bicycle, this song was a message from the future. A contemporary pop song placed in a period piece? The decision is iconic and unforgettable, and I'd argue truly fitting in this American classic. Song choice can be divisive, sometimes it's the vision of a single person. All sequence are constructed in the editing room, but this one especially so. To me it's a bold move and I fancy the novelty of the result. There's moments within this moment and I hope after this analysis you'll give it another try, especially in context of the entire picture.

There's plenty of other soundtrack choices in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to discuss, but that'll have to wait for editions of Movie Music Moment still on the horizon. What other films feature this song? I remember it being used in "Spider-Man 2" and my cousin not liking it's use therein. Maybe this song just irks folk? Please share your thoughts about this Movie Music Moment or tell us one of your own in the comments below. Check out more of these by searching the "Movie Music Moment" label. Happy watching!

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