I’ve written about Jonathan Demme quite a bit this week, but I’ve only briefly touched on one the most celebrated elements of his work: his use of music in his movies. While tagging him a strong director when it comes to music might seem obvious considering his oversight of Stop Making Sense, a film unlikely to ever be topped in the pantheon of concert films, Demme’s ability to integrate pop songs artfully into his fiction efforts was dazzling. Martin Scorsese arguably stood as Demme’s only real competition in this often underappreciated facet of filmmaking, but the latter’s far more esoteric taste made his efforts more interesting. Scorsese uses familiar Rolling Stones songs well, but only Demme could turn over several minutes of screen time to the Feelies covering David Bowie’s “Fame,” making it one of the pivotal scenes in the movie, to boot.
The scene featuring the Feelies appears in Demme’s 1986 film, Something Wild. This was at the height of the soundtrack era, when studios were desperate to get a tie-in record for every last movie that moved through the multiplex. There was major money to be made (the Top Gun soundtrack, released that year, went platinum nine times over), and there was the important ancillary benefit of the free promotion the came from landing a clip-heavy music video into heavy rotation on MTV.
Demme may have been concerned with the business wrinkles that came with building a soundtrack, but I doubt it. Sure, there are the occasional moments when a track plays ever so briefly from a car radio to help justify its inclusion on the accompanying soundtrack album (that’s the case with “Liar, Liar” in Married to the Mob, if I’m remembering correctly), but mostly Demme seemed to opportunistically leverage studio cravings for music-packed films to purposefully integrate the songs and performers he loved into his narratives in meaningful ways.
And sometimes those songs are also delivered playfully, upending the conventions of film because it’s fun to do so. Most movies have a song underscoring the closing credits. But why let the screen fade to black, when the performer can share the screen with the procession of hard workers that helped carry a notion all the way to a piece of film history that will live forever.
So let’s pan the camera one more time, settling on Sister Carol is front of a graffiti-dappled, red wall, and let her sing of the pleasure that comes if we choose our own paths and “just make it fine.”
Listen or download –> Sister Carol, “Wild Thing”
(Disclaimer: I believe the Something Wild soundtrack is out of print as a physical object that can be purchased at your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that properly compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artists. It is with that understanding that I am sharing this file in this space at this time. Even though I feel this should fall squarely within the legal concept of fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this song from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)