January 27, 2005

Movie aftereffects.

Sometimes a movie leaves an incongruous aspect of itself in your head. On Sunday, after the accident, we watched "Serial Mom" to cheer us up. This is a black comedy about a squeaky clean suburban mom -- a veritable June Cleaver -- who turns out to be a serial murderer. (Hmmm ... June Cleaver would be an appropriate name for a murderer!) In one scene, a victim is taken by surprise while happily watching a videotape of "Annie." Four days after watching the movie, I'm still hearing "The sun'll come out tomorrow..."

I'm not really sure why I thought "Serial Mom" would be a good post-car-crash movie -- surely not because the first murder we see Mom commit is running down someone with her car! There's nothing cheerful about murder, though perhaps there's something cheering about laughing at death. But the movie -- which I've seen many times -- does embed the world's most optimistic song in the minds of the sort of jaded, cynical people who watch black comedies. Days later, the film is out of my consciousness, and that song, which I'd never have sought out, is still playing in my head, still "clear[ing] away the cobwebs and the sorrow."

ADDED: Maybe you think there's a more optimistic song. "Some Day My Prince Will Come"? Let me know.

UPDATE: A reader suggests two other songs which are also prominent in movies: "We'll Meet Again" (used at the end of "Dr. Strangelove") and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (from "The Wizard of Oz"). While both of these songs express hope, they are quite wistful and really rather sad. Does the singer really think things will work out well? Obviously, in "Dr. Strangelove," all hope is over when the song plays, but that is very much like the use of "Tomorrow" in "Serial Mom" (as opposed to the original use in "Annie"). The character in "Serial Mom" dies and has no shot at any tomorrow, sunny or cloudy. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" ends with "why, oh, why can't I?" and expresses the characters feeling of helplessness. There's the dreamy wish for a land somewhere else, which seems beautiful but feeble and unlikely to come true.

By the way, I first head "We'll Meet Again" -- and loved it -- on The Byrds' first album "Mr. Tambourine Man." The Byrds sang it because of "Dr. Strangelove," but I did not see "Dr. Strangelove" until years later. The Byrds did a nice job of using phrasing to convey the irony that accompanied the song in the movie.

ANOTHER UPDATE: For the most optimistic rock song, I'm going to suggest The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

Let me note that it isn't just the lyrics that makes the song optimistic, it's the music and the way a singer sings it. "Tomorrow," on the lyrics alone, could be seen as depressingly pessimistic: good times are "always a day away," which means they never actually get here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: One reader says the best answer is "What a Wonderful World" -- the Louis Armstrong song. I always think of the Sam Cooke song when I read that title, but the "Don't know much about history" Sam Cooke song is called "Wonderful World." Another reader offers religious lyrics as the most optimistic -- "The Messiah" is suggested -- and pooh-poohs the delusional optimism of "All You Need Is Love." But it's the delusion of "All You Need Is Love" that I find so optimistic.

Another reader poses the question: What is optimism? Define your terms! Where does mistaken cheeriness fit in? "What a Wonderful World" is a great example of looking at the world that exists now and perceiving it as beautiful. There's no reliance on future events that may not happen as in "Tomorrow" and "We'll Meet Again" (and in "The Messiah" for that matter). "All You Need Is Love" also finds the present situation sufficient, but it makes assertions about the present that are quite simply not true and futility is presented as a good thing.

But let's look up "optimism" in the dictionary:
1. A tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation: “There is a touch of optimism in every worry about one's own moral cleanliness” (Victoria Ocampo). 2. Philosophy a. The doctrine, asserted by Leibnitz, that this world is the best of all possible worlds. b. The belief that the universe is improving and that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

So, maybe we need three songs to cover the three definitions.

AND MORE: A reader offers "You'll Never Walk Alone," from "The Sound of Music": "At the end of the storm is a golden sky/And the sweet silver song of a lark." That suggestion made me think of "My Melancholy Baby": "Every cloud must have a silver lining/Wait until the sun shines through." And what a beautiful song that is! It's a bit like "All You Need Is Love," but instead of the abstraction "love," the solution for everything is cuddling. That's damn sweet!

AND EVEN MORE: Wait. "You'll Never Walk Alone" is the big finale song by Rodgers and Hammerstein in "Carousel." I was thinking of "Climb Every Mountain," the big finale song by Rodgers and Hammerstein in "The Sound of Music": "Climb every mountain, ford every stream/Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream." Walking, climbing ... life is a journey. At least in "You'll Never Walk Alone," you have help. In "Climb Every Mountain," you're pretty much on your own. And it's not even a level surface!

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