This is day 2 of the movie meme, where we list our favorite movie scenes. The first day can be found here.
Today’s theme: music and musicals!
Pulp Fiction – The Dance (youtube)
Pulp Fiction is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film for me. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. Especially since it’s divided into three distinct films, one of which I love and one of which I hate.
This scene comes from the one I love, the first one starring John Travolta as a hitman charged with taking his murderously overprotective boss’ new wife on a date. The wife, played by a young and exotic-looking Uma Thurman, is pushy and seductive in all the ways John Travolta wishes she wasn’t, and plays him like a harp as she brings him into the world’s best themed restaurant. The restaurant, a 50’s themed diner with star and starlet look-a-likes and modified classic cars for booths, is an amazing setpiece for the awkward, self-aware back and forth that plays out between the two as they feel each other out.
But suddenly they’re pushed into a dancing competition by Thurman’s character, who teases the lazy, bumbling hitman that he can’t dance but that he better do a good job if he’s to get a good report with the boss. On the hook, John Travolta steps up, and with all the flair that John Travolta has, creates one of the most iconic dance scenes in Hollywood history (certainly in the past two decades).
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Youtube is up above! The pacing, the dancing, the truthfulness the characters express that all their earlier posturing belied. It’s an amazing character piece and just a damn fun set piece.
Singin’ in the Rain – Singin’ in the Rain (youtube)
Oh, Gene Kelly, how many things I could put up here as some of my favorite scenes in movies. A close second was his dance with an animated Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh. Also up there was his tap routine with a newspaper in Summer Stock. But this, this is the most iconic image of American musicals.
You’ve all seen it, and if you haven’t the youtube link is up there. Gene Kelly, newly in love, so full of emotion that he can’t help but let it out, singing and dancing in the rain. The dance is, as it always is with Kelly, emotional and clever. The song is so full of genuine good cheer that just watching it brings a smile to the face. There’s a reason this scene is so historically significant. It’s everything good and pure about the musical, distilled into a single, soggy song and dance.
Happiness of the Katakuris – Minna Koishiteru (youtube)
I already devoted a post to Happiness of the Katakuris, but this is still one of my favorite scenes. The thing I appreciate about musicals is their disregard for normal logic in favor of making a scene work. Some movies shy away from that, usually to their detriment. Other movies dive in and become all about the scene.
When depressed and shy single mother Shizue is out with her young daughter, she comes across and overenthusiastic, if somewhat strange, suiter–Richard Sagawa. What follows is his efforts to woo her, sweep her off her feet and away from her boring, unhappy everyday life. And if that involves group dancing, wire work, jazz hands, and a final psychedelic scene, so be it.
Takashi Miike is a director known for his amazing style. I could put most of his more recent movies up here without hesitation, but this is the one that I think best demonstrates his ability to play with reality, so long as it serves the story of the film.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – The Boat (youtube)
Now look, I know that you’ve seen this movie. This is one of those films that nobody gets through life without seeing. It also happens to be one of the most uneven films ever, with scenes that I adore and scenes that I can’t even watch (do we really need the gloomy, overlong Cheer Up Charlie?)
But this is the best part of the movie. Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is sublime, and after he’s charmed everyone in the room with the Pure Imagination (which almost found its way onto this list instead) he pulls up a boat. Which is exactly when all hell breaks loose.
See, the genius of Willy Wonka is that he is completely, irrevokably insane. He has the peculiar fairy tale quality of being both helpful and dangerous, but the line between them is nebulous and you’re never really sure where the good cheer begins and the dangerous irresponsibility begins. So when he piles all these children and parents aboard the boat ride from hell and reveals something of his darker side, the cheerful candymaker facade falls away and you’re left with the kind of mad passion that brought him to such a unique position as the world’s greatest candymaker.
The Fifth Element – The Diva Plavalaguna (youtube)
The Fifth Element is one of the best and–though it’s increased in popularity in the past few years–one of the most underrated sci fi films of all time. It’s vibrant, expansive, full of great actors in weird places and the kinds of amazing scenes that could only exist in a world as crazy as the one the film paints for us.
Towards the 2/3 point of the film, things begin to build to a point. Bruce Willis’ character, Korben Dallas, is hired on by the government to meet the Diva Plavalaguna, an alien opera singer who has artifacts that can stop an evil energy heading to earth to destroy it. At the same time, the agents of the dark energy are on board the cruise ship to steal those artifacts to prevent their use.
Good thing that Bruce Willis brought with him the perfect being, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), who happens to be there at the perfect time to intercept the bad guys.
The scene itself is strange, with the opera singer a bizarre alien with a voice that at times sounds nearly electronic. But during her performance, we’re punctuated with Leeloo’s battle with the bad guys. It plays out with the energy and inventiveness that is Luc Besson’s strength, turing something that sounds crazy on paper into a truly amazing scene.
BONUS MUSICAL SCENE
Blue Skies – Puttin’ on the Ritz (youtube)
The bonus scene is Fred Astaire at, I feel, his best. Blue Skies was right before his first temporary retirement, and the film is a solid affair–some great moments, but goes on a little too long. Of note is Bing Crosby being his perfect, crooner self, and this amazing scene from Astaire. The scene itself starts out slow, with a casual, lazy, worn out shuffle. But it slowly builds into an amazing tempo, with cane tricks and a certain savagery to the dancing. Then, finally, it peaks as Astaire throws back the mirrors in his room to reveal a chorus line of … Fred Astaires, which all dance the final bit of the number in sync.
It’s an amazing production, and a testament to perhaps the most famous dancer in all of film. It’s a titan, and only Mel Brooks ever hoped to nudge against it with the version in Young Frankenstein. It’s linked right up there, so go watch it.