Musings, Nits, and Praises: Leave That Song Alone!

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Leave That Song Alone!

As if it's not bad enough that big-budget filmakers have increasingly churned out countless banal remakes and unnecessary sequals the past few years, now they're recycling movie scores in trailers, in particular the end theme of The Shawshank Redemption.

TSR is far and away my all-time favorite film. I've watched it probably upwards of 100 times; I can quote copious amounts of dialogue from the movie; I own the two-disc special edition DVD; my wife and I saw it at Arbor Cinema here in Austin two years ago when it was re-released to theaters to commemorate its ten-year anniversary-- yes, I'm a dork. The movie moves me in a way that no other film ever has (I admit I get teary-eyed during several pivotal scenes, especially after "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies") and part of that has to do with the music. The score is brilliant throughout the film, but the end theme--the song that begins when Red boards the bus for Fort Hancock and continues through his reunion with Andy and into the closing credits--stirs more emotion in the viewer than any film score I can think of. For me, the film and the score are inseparable.*

*The end theme and my wedding are also inseparable. Janet walked down the aisle to it. We then honeymooned in Zihuatanejo but saw no signs of Andy or Red.

So that's why last year when Million Dollar Baby was making its pre-Oscar push and I heard the song in the T.V. promo, I nearly threw the remote. How could such an uplifting song be used to promote such a downer of a movie? But it only got worse. This year the song was used in commercials for Brokeback Mountain! I don't think I really need to explain why that perturbed me. Then today I went to to see if I could find a trailer for All the King's Men, an adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's classic novel. The movie stars Sean Penn, Jude Law, and some other big-name actors and will be released in December. Well, not ten seconds into the trailer, as Sean Penn delivers an enlivened speech--he plays Willy Stark, a man-of-the-people politician in 1930's Louisiana who eventually takes a Machiavellian approach to governing--what do I hear but the sweet melody of The Shawshank Redemption's end theme.

I'm well aware why the folks in charge of promoting these movies chose to use the song--it's heartbreakingly beautiful. But those movies have their own musical scores. Use them! Before long the song will become the veritable "Canon in D" of the film industry. (Come to think of it, that piece gained a wider contemporary audience after Robert Redford used it in 1981's Ordinary People.) I guess I can take some consolation in knowing the aforementioned films didn't rip off dialogue from The Shawshank Redemption. I would've hunted down and mercilessly bludgeoned Ang Lee if at some point in the Brokeback trailer Heath Ledger turned to Jake Gyllenhaal and said, "You either get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

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