Split Decision: The Bitch is Back
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
This week's question: In honor of Rocketman, what is your favorite use of Elton John in a movie?
While I do love Aloe Blacc's version of "The Man" from the end credits of the film Brick Mansions, and I love John's song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," which was used in Hamlet 2, my favorite use of an Elton John song is from TV, not film. On One Day at a Time (the original 1970s series) I loved Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli dressing up as Kiki Dee and Elton John to perform "Don't Go Breaking My Heart.”i
I don't really know anything about Elton John— Queen was my ultra-dramatic, super British arena rock love and Bryan Singer whiffed that one pretty hard— so my pick is The Lion King soundtrack. Specifically, I don't know, "Be Prepared," but they're all great. Alan Menken did the music for most of the other Disney Renaissance musicals but sat Lion King out, I've always assumed due to the then-recent death of lyricist Howard Ashman. Matching those soundtracks was a tall order. I'm not even sure why Disney thought a British pop star would be a good fit for 80% of the movie (i.e. everything after Mufasa gets killed). But he did such a good job I always forget he's the one who composed this stuff. It feels like it just springs out of the movie, the way it does in all good musicals.
"Lately I've been thinking how much I miss my lady
Amoreena's in the cornfield brightening the daybreak
Living like a lusty flower, running through the grass for hours
Rolling through the hay like a puppy child"
So begins Elton John's Amoreena. So begins Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon.
It's an appropriate song to kick off the tale of a man robbing a bank for his "lady" with an eye toward leaving his struggle and settling into a life of wedded bliss. Elton John's music has always had a fantastical element to it, even when the lyrics aren't so explicitly magical. Yet it's fantasy that drives all of us. What could be, what should be...if not for the hurdles of reality standing in the way. And it's this same drive that propels Al Pacino's Sonny to start taking hostages as a means to clear these hurdles, only to find that his fantasy must remain exactly that.
This is where I mention that oftentimes, Elton John's magical tunes give way to melancholy.
It’s not his own song, but Elton John’s performance of and as the Pinball Wizard in Ken Russell’s movie adaptation of The Who’s rock opera/concept album Tommy. The design of a pinball game controlled with piano keys, the gigantic boots, the glasses, it all is a warped version of Elton John and I love it, and it manages to be the most memorable aspect of the film that doesn’t involve Ann Margaret writhing around in baked beans and chocolate.
I’m also picking a second one, since it is merely an Elton John reference, but in this clip from The Rock, Nicholas Cage as Stanley Goodspeed utters one of the most elaborate one-liner setups to one of the most indulgent kills this side of Freddy Krueger:
My Elton John knowledge-gap is showing. "Your Song" as performed by Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge has stayed with me over the years. A younger me even had the soundtrack on cd, and an older me is still stirred and allured when McGregor belts out "Myyyy gift is my song" with unexpected gusto, clarity and emotion. The contextualization of the song into a narrative and such a vibrant cinematic world gives it strength in my mind.
My other sentimental favorite "Elton moment" comes from the season one episode "Community Spirit" of Richard Curtis's The Vicar Of Dibley (1994). Geraldine (Dawn French) is organizing the annual village festival and its success is being touted as a make-or break-moment for her acceptance in the community as their new Vicar. The rather dim and well meaning Alice Tinker (RIP Emma Chambers) mentions that her cousin just happens to be one Reg Dwight!? (Elton John's real name) and he is billed as the main event. .....he is of course NOT the Reg Dwight that is Elton John, however the Reg Dwight that he IS is an hilarious and spectacular disappointment. Things work out in a delightful way, but not before the get profoundly and wonderfully awkward.
Aaron beat me to it, but "Your Song" performed by my boyfriend Ewan McGregor, and Obi-Wan of my heart, is my pick as well. I absolutely adore Moulin Rouge and its eclectic mix of genre and spectacle. I also miss the days when high caliber actors who aren't known for singing prove they can hold their own and surprise audiences. Sure it's a stretch for McGregor, but it works for his character and only endears him to the audience more. I really need to rewatch this movie.
I'll join Aaron in the knowledge-gap and provide the only example I can think of - the scene in Almost Famous where everyone sings Tiny Dancer together. It's a moment of unity that puts the power of pop music on full display. Despite their personal problems and professional jealousies, regardless of their varying backgrounds, everyone on that bus enjoys that song. It brings them together, even just for a few moments, to appreciate just how good a song can make someone feel.
The Lion King. Hands down. As a 4 year old, I was belting out Elton John melodies before I knew who he was.