Great Songs in Film #10: The Three Degrees sing Jimmy Webb’s “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon” in The French Connection

October 25, 2013


Early in William Friedkin’s  masterpiece The French Connection, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, playing New York City police detectives Doyle and Russo, go for an after-work drink at a New York nightclub that appears to be the Copacabana. 

This is the  page from the original script describing the interior shot that was originally intended.

French Connection Script

However, instead of a chorus line with — in the words used in the script — “lots of tits and ass…,” at some point a decision was made to have The Three Degrees perform Jimmy Webb’s “Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon.” I have no idea when or why this choice was made.

Doyle and Russo, having just come from a back alley roust and beating of a drug suspect, walk out of the dark, through the club’s front door, and  into the brightly lit club. The Three Degrees’ electric performance smacks them in the face. The three women are luminous. The performance is tight.

Jimmy Webb’s song was the essence of powerful 70′s pop, and — rather than seeming out of place in a gritty cop film — skillfully  establishes just how quickly these two cops move between violence and glitz.

Great film. Great song. And powerful lead singing by the incomparable Sheila Ferguson.


The French Connection: Even Better Now!

June 22, 2013

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Ever gone back to any film, book, or other creative work that completely defined a moment in your life and found that it didn’t come close to passing the test of time?

Sometimes the life moment is so distant and the book or film is so tied to that moment that you simply can’t remember why you felt the way you did.

I’ll never forget going back decades later to the novels of my high school favorite Somerset Maugham and being stunned at just how bad – well, how mediocre – his prose was.

And then there is a film like The Graduate, such a perfect take on my coming of age (everything: the schools, the SoCal lifestyle, my emotions) that I find it even more powerful today. For heaven’s sakes, I even had an Elaine, but no Mrs. Robinson!

My single most disappointing second go-round with a film was when I watched William Dieterle’s Portrait of Jenny several years ago. What had been mystical and impossibly romantic in my mid-teens had “turned” to clap-trap.

Which leads to William Friedkin’s The French Connection. Just saw it for the first time in 30 years.

Still stunning. Still gritty. Still thrilling.

And still one of the greatest examples ever of how a handheld camera in the pre- steadicam era could take you on an almost unbearably riveting journey.

Al Maysles (Salesman) and Haskell Wexler (Medium Cool) were such influential and important players when it came to handheld, and The French Connection used it brilliantly.

What I wanted most to mention, though, is the film’s great contemporary jazz orchestra score by the legendary Don Ellis . I won’t even try to explain it, I lack the musical training and vocabulary, but the frenzied, jumpy score — packed with anxiety and a cacophony of urban noise — was the work of someone who, but for his early death, could easily have been a worthy successor to Bernard Hermann. When it came to almost bizarre time signatures, Ellis staked out almost completely idiosyncratic territory.

He was 44 when he died in 1978.


My Ten Favorite Films: A Revised List

November 16, 2009

Every time I talk about top 10 lists,  I always start with the  disclaimer that I know  how pointless they are.

And then I ask myself:  OK, if they are  so pointless, why do I have so much fun reading them and doing  them and sharing them?

No good answer, In fact, making lists is far from the only pointless thing I do.

Today, I am adding some new films and slightly changing the order.   It is not a 10 best list.  It is a list of my ten favorites. A  list of 10 best films  would be beyond nervy given how many films have a legitimate claim to inclusion.

But it seems perfectly fair to make a list of ten favorites since they are, in fact,  only my favorites.

My favorites have stayed the same for over a year.  But for the last few months I have been mulling over “No Country for Old Men”  and “The Lives of Others.” (Now I can really hear you saying: This guy need a life! Who has time to mull anything over?)

Seriously, I want to make some changes to my list.  But according to ground rules that some friends of mine and I set up many years ago in a UCLA dorm room, I have to remove one film for each one I add.  I posted my last 10 favorite about a year ago. Here is my new one along with a list of contenders.

Comments welcome. Lists welcome. Ridicule welcome.

My Ten Favorite Films as of November 15, 2009

1. Dekalog

2. Godfather 1/Godfather 2

3.  Salesman

4. The Lives of Others

5. Amarcord

6.  Goodfellas

7  No Country for Old Men

8  Fargo

9. Rear Window

10 Night and Fog

__________________________________

Other Contenders (not in order)

Midnight Cowboy

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Au Revoir les Enfants

Shop on Main Street  (1965)

It’s a Wonderful Life

Jeux interdits

Come and See

Smile

Atlantic City

Three Kings

Das Boot

The General

Paris, Texas

Shoah

Invaders from Mars

Strangers on a Train

The Graduate

The French Connection

Double Indemnity

Les Enfants du Paradis

Les Diaboliques

Psycho

Le Salaire de la peur

Sunset Boulevard

The Exiles

The Last Laugh

Hotel Terminus

Happiness

The Third Man

M

The Marriage of Maria Braun


My Ten Favorite Films

June 23, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

Ten best lists of films are dumb. They force dumb choices and add almost nothing to serious discussion and criticism.

 

Big deal.

 

 

 

  

I love them. I love reading them. I love making them. And here is how I go about it.

 

 

 

At any given time I always have a list of contenders. If a film has any claim whatsoever on ever making it into my top ten, it goes on the list. Then, one by one, I cross out films until there are only ten left. These are the films that I most enjoyed watching, not those that I would necessarily rank as the highest expressions of the craft. Having said that, it is almost certainly the case that my contenders are overwhelmingly well crafted. But to make my top 10, I have to viscerally and emotionally love the experience of watching the film.

 

 

 

Important: “Love” does not mean that I found the experience pleasant, just that I reveled in the pleasure of watching a story told with narrative skill and total command of the formal elements of film.

 

The best example of a film that embodies all these confusing criteria is my favorite of them all, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog.”  I suppose you could say I enjoyed watching it, but if you have seen it you will understand why “enjoy” is perhaps not quite the most apt word for the experience. What, after all, do you say about a film in which one of the very best of the  sections (#1  I Am the Lord Your God) was so emotionally shattering that I have only watched it once and almost certainly will never be able to watch it again?

 

 

 

So here is the list as of today. If a film has a number, it made the top ten. The reasons why a film didn’t make the top ten are varied and, most often, beyond rational explanation. My choices are infinitely more visceral than cerebral.

 

By the way, I have a separate documentary list, which I will post soon. Salesman, although a documentary,  is a work of such poignancy and genius that it would make any list I create. 

 

I very much hope you might post your ten best lists and describe your agreements and your quarrels with mine. Perhaps you think that either an omission or inclusion of mine is unforgivable.

 

Let me know.

 

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

 

1. Dekalog (1989) 

 

Au Revoir les Enfants

 

Shop on Main Street  (1965)

 

10. Midnight Cowboy

 

It’s a Wonderful Life

 

3. Jeux interdits

 

Smile

 

Atlantic City

 

Fargo

 

Das Boot

 

The General

 

The Swimmer  

 

7. Goodfellas

 

Paris, Texas

 

8. Rear Window

 

Shoah

 

Invaders from Mars

 

4. Salesman

 

Strangers on a Train

 

The Graduate

 

French Connection

 

2. Godfather 1/Godfather 2

 

9. Double Indemnity

 

Les Enfants du Paradis

 

Les Diaboliques

 

Psycho

 

Le Salaire de la peur


Hotel Terminus

 

5. Amarcord

 

6. Night and Fog

 

Happiness

 

The Third Man

 

M

 

The Marriage of Maria Braun

  

 

 

 


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