5. What a Wonderful World – Good Morning Vietnam
Good Morning Vietnam is one of the lighter yet sensitive movies about the Vietnam War, however this scene is a definite exception. It features Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World” which Cronauer (Robin Williams) put on over the government controlled radio.
Over this, there is a montage of some of the more brutal scenes of war shown in the movie. This scene is meant to contrast what the US Government wants people to think is happening in the war and what is actually happening. While the government attempts to keep morale high by keeping the radio cheery, this does not reflect what is actually going on in the field, as shown in this scene.
This marked a turning point in the movie, as prior to this, the plot line had focused primarily on Cronauer and the politics within the radio station. The war, or at least life for the soldiers within Saigon, seemed almost fun and that was reflected through the music. After this point, we begin to see the effects of the war affect the life of Cronauer, who realizes the importance of his comedy.
4. Singing in the Rain – Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick is most often known for being a perfectionist on set and sticking entirely to the script. However, when it came to the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick felt something was missing, and let Malcolm McDowell improvise the next take. He decided to sing “Singing in the Rain,” which lead to the disturbing juxtaposition between the ultra violence and the traditionally joyful song.
The music choice most definitely added another layer to the scene, as the viewer is seeing that violence does not mean much to the character adding to the scariness of their post-apocalyptic world.
While many song uses on this list had a connection that changed the original meaning of the lyrics, this is an interesting use because the only perceived connection is the joy the singer is feeling and the fact that it is raining outside. However, when examining the scene more carefully, we see that the singer (Gene Kelly or Alex) is singing the song because they are in love.
This creates two different contrasts: that between joy and pain, and that between love and the horrid rape. This scene is frequently labeled as one of the more disturbing scenes in the movie and of all time for that matter, and Stanley Kubrick certainly added to that by allowing Malcolm McDowell to sing this song.
3. Perfect Day – Trainspotting
This scene where Mark (Ewan McGregor) overdoses on heroin is one of Danny Boyle’s best. As Mark sinks into the carpet, the camera is shot from his perspective, as the camera remains framed by the carpet while he is being rushed into the hospital to attempt to reverse the overdose.
During this Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” is playing in the background. The song perfectly demonstrated the euphoria experienced by Mark, in contrast with the chaos that was going around him. While Mark is in a euphoric state, the viewer is stressed not knowing whether or not he will survive. Danny Boyle himself said that “your first film is always your best film” because there is a freshness and excitement that will never be equaled. This freshness can push a director to take chances.
While Trainspotting was his his sophomore film, it still has that sense of freshness carried over from Danny Boyle’s first (Shallow Grave). This was a very creative and memorable way to depict an overdose. The song also perfectly matched the scene because Lou Reed was known for being a heroin addict himself.
2. Stuck in the Middle With you – Reservoir Dogs
Similar to the Singin in the Rain scene from A Clockwork Orange, this scene from Reservoir Dogs contrasts the violence in the scene of someone’s ear being cut off. This is second on the list because forever changed the meaning of this otherwise happy ‘60s song.
The song, while original clearly a love song, fit its new meaning just as well in this scene as the police officer is apparently stuck in the middle with Mr. Blonde. In this way, the song seems to be from the point of view of the cop. The irony is that the song, while expressing his inner dialogue, is a completely different tone than what we assume his inner dialogue to be. As Mr. Blonde turns on the radio, we here the announcer call the channel “happy ‘60s.”
With this piece of information it takes some time for the audience to piece together why the song is being used, as it immediately seems out of context. However, upon further review the lyrics make sense, especially the opening lines “Well I don’t know why I came here tonight. I got the feeling that something ain’t right.” The audience does not immediately know what Mr. Blonde has planned but is concerned because of this foreshadowing.
1. We’ll Meet Again – Dr. Strangelove
At the #1 spot is the infamous ending to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick originally planned for Dr. Strangelove to be a drama, but later changed his mind, stating that the message would come across more effectively in a comedy.
While we will never know what a Stanley Kubrick drama about an atomic apocalypse would look like, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is certainly regarded as one of his best.
In a comedy about miscommunication, the leaders in the “War Room” realize that they were unable to stop the doomsday machine from going off. There is a sudden cut to a montage of atomic bombs with Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” playing in the background. The scene is both disturbing and hilarious.
The song is also an interesting choice as it was originally written in England during World War II intended as a love song for the soldiers that were being deployed. The false sense of hope in this sequence could mirror the false sense of hope that the soldiers experienced as they left to fight thinking that they would some day return.
In the same way there is false hope for those soldiers leaving for war, there is false hope for humanity. This may or may not be intentional, but it is especially strange when the chorus joins in because the people that are singing have supposedly all died.
Author Bio: Ethan Colburn, founder of cineflek.com, is currently a sophomore at the University of Puget Sound. While a student he is also an avid amateur film reviewer who looks for the art and technicality of every film.