Sometimes it's the small moments.
As in life, in a movie, one little thing can have the power to send you into a bittersweet reverie of love lost, time past, the light, the dark -- fill your heart with numerous enigmatic emotions. For me, it usually involves music.
There are too many music-in-movie moments throughout the history of cinema to discuss here, but often, even during the shortest bursts of soundtrack -- shorter than say, Harold waiting for the fate of Maude and driving his car towards that cliff to the entire tune of Cat Stevens' "Trouble" (one of the most heart-achingly beautiful and brilliantly edited mergings of song and image) -- if set properly, I can get chills just watching a few moments of a musical interlude.
Last year, it occurred in Davis Guggenheim's documentary It Might Get Loud, when Jimmy Page air-guitared to his own old 45 of Link Wray's "Rumble." How disarming, touching, oddly life-affirming it was to watch a master air-strum to the thick, evil, yet inspirational power chords of that other master, Wray, with the beaming smile of a little boy and a lifelong fan. Perfection.
This year (and it's early yet), it happened in The Book of Eli in which directors Albert and Allen Hughes make the inspired decision to meld Denzel Washington with Al Green.
Of course, Al Green is easy. Easy in the way that you can't insert an Al Green song in a movie and not make me feel something. You can't play an Al Green song in a car without making me look at the world differently. You can't play an Al Green song in my apartment without causing me to stare at a sad little stuffed animal won in a claw machine without pondering how a plush tiger can look so mournful...or so happy. So introducing Washington, after trudging through post-apocalyptic desolation, covered in scarves and layers and grime and dust, and then unwrapping all of this coating to reveal an older face, a scarred body and a mysterious, sadder demeanor, to the tune of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (written by the Gibb brothers -- nice touch, Hughes brothers) was one of the most poignant movie moments I've seen this year (and I repeat, it's early yet).
And then there's the fact that Washington puts the song on himself, taking refuge in a bombed-out house, then grabbing his beat-up MP3 player with a dying battery to escape the world's ugliness to the lyrics (and please, hear Green's soulfully introspective falsetto as you read this): "I can think of younger days, when living for my life was everything a man could want to do. I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow." Washington choosing that song makes it more affecting. Thank god he chose that song. And, of course he chose that song. This is what Denzel Washington would listen to. He's not a young man. He's a man. Further, he's a god-damn man. And a movie star. He's a dying breed.
As is the expressive resonance of Al Green (stay with us Mr. Green. Rest in peace Willie Mitchell). Now, if only the directors had allowed that song to play throughout the entire scene. And if only another Green tune closed the picture. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Choosing a singer who still resides as reverend at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, TN works a dual purpose in that "The Book of Eli" is about The Book, as in the Good Book -- the Bible, the book that Washington's mysterious wanderer Eli has held in his possession, spending 30 years of his life braving a dangerous scorched landscape to protect the text. People want it. Why? Because the words written in that leatherette edition you pass over in your hotel bedside drawer are also contained in Eli's much-loved locked copy, the only one left in the world...
Read my entire piece at IFC, where I'm guest critic for this month.And read more Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun.