Cinema and music are the two biggest passions of my life. Put the two of them together and the combination is explosive. Below is a very small list of five diegetic songs that make characters dance (“diegetic” is a very academic word meaning that the song is played within the film, and that it’s audible to the characters). But it isn’t just the characters that these songs have affected. They have literally changed my life.
These are not mainstream movies, and you may have not even heard of some of them. What they have in common is that they got me straight to the music shop to investigate and to buy the record. These films and songs have since become an integral part of my life.
This is a very personal list, which I’m honoured and thrilled to share with our amazing dirty readers. They are intense moments of catharsis and bonding. Either the characters connect with their inner selves or with other characters through music. Compiling this list and rewatching these vids was an extremely emotional experience to me. These songs are so deeply ingrained in my mind and heart that they came back to me almost instantly as soon as I decided to write this piece. I suggest that you turn the volume up and glue your eyes to the screen while you watch them!
What about you? Are there songs that had a similar effect on you?
1. My Summer of Love (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004):
I remember watching this at the Curzon Soho when it came out nearly 15 years ago. I always liked Edith Piaf, but La Foule was never amongst my favourite songs. This changed immediately after watching Pawel Pawlikowski’s very British and Lesbian romance My Summer of Love, where the two lovers divided by class finally bond in a very personal dance. Another key moment of the film includes Goldfrapp’s Lovely Head in a disco dance. Truly dizzying stuff. The Polish born and London-based director Pawlikowski has since a become a wizard of film music. His latest feature Cold War (2018) is almost entirely constructed around music. To astounding results.
2. Beautiful Thing (Hettie MacDonald, 1996):
I was 19 years of age when I watched the British movie Beautiful Thing. I was still living in Brazil, and I had never been to the UK. It made me want to be 15 years of age and experience love for the first time again, but obviously that wasn’t possible: I was already a rather “experienced” gay man at the time. This tale of young homossexual love is a small masterpiece of LGBT cinema, and it catapulted many young actors to fame (including Tameka Empson). It made me run to the shop the next day in order to buy Mama Cass’s greatest hits (the film soundtrack consists almost exclusively of Mama Cass songs). The very public gay dance to the sound of Dream a Little Dream of Me at the end of the film became synonymous with unabashed coming-out (also pictured at the top of this article).
3. Our Children (Joachim Lafosse, 2012):
This is a far less rosy film. This French-Belgian production is based on a real-life incident involving a woman (Genevieve Lhermitte), who killed her five children. It is impossible not to be moved by Émilie Dequenne playing the film protagonist (here called Murielle), as she cries, moans and sings along to Julien Clerc’s Femmes, Je Vous Aime inside her car. After this sequence, she proceeds to kill her offspring, one by one and at home. Her motive is never entirely clear, which makes the sequence far more ambiguous and powerful, as audiences attempt to decipher what’s going though the mind of the deranged lady about to commit such an unthinkable crime.
4. Cría Cuervos (Carlos Saura, 1976):
Carlos Saura’s masterpiece is also the Spanish film that most accurately translates the transition back to democracy immediately after Francisco Franco’s death, and all from the perspective of a child. Eight-year-old, stoic and stern Ana observes the fast changing family and nation around her in 1976. But she’s no innocent child. She believes that she has psychic powers and can kill those around her with her thoughts. Ultimately, this is a film about suspicion and lack mutual trust at such turbulent times of fast change. The most striking moment of the film is when Ana dances with other children to the sound of Jeanette’s Por que Te Vas – this is probably the most puerile moment of authentic bonding in the film. The song became a hit in Spain, catapulting Jeanette’s vulnerable and frail voice with a slight British accent to fame (Jeanette was born and raised in London). Since watching Cría Cuervos, Carlos Saura became my favourite Spanish filmmaker and Jeanette a recurring guest in my lounge, my car and my earphones.
5. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999):
Claire Denis will be forever remembered for penetrating an all-male military world with an acute sensibility. Beau Travail is loosely based on Herman Melville’s lesser-known 1888 short novel Billy Budd. The action takes place in the tiny African nation of Djibouti (between Eritrea and Somalia), where French Foreign Legion soldiers are stationed. Parts of the film soundtrack are from Benjamin Britten’s opera based on Herman Melville’s novel. But the most beautiful and cathartic moment comes at the end when masculinity is expressed in a very solitary dance in front of the mirror. This happens to the sound of the well-known hit The Rhythm of the Night, performed by Italian eurodance act Corona. Simply unforgettable.