Friday, April 3, 2015

Top 5 Uses of Marvin Gaye’s Music in Film

Yesterday was the great Marvin Gaye’s birthday, and I was reminded yet again that, for some very strange reason, there has never been a movie made about him. Gaye has been my favorite musician since I was 15. He lived such a beautiful and tortured life; his story is so naturally cinematic, it just begs to be given a worthy film treatment. So while we wait for a much deserved filmic version of Gaye’s life, here’s a look back at the films that have utilized his soulful sound the best.

Honorable Mention
High Fidelity (2000)
“Let’s Get It On”
Jack Black’s “Let’s Get It On” performance in High Fidelity is being listed as an honorable mention because it’s the only performance-based use of Gaye’s music on this list. But regardless, there is no end to my enjoyment in watching Black crush this song while John Cusack stares at him with dumbfounded admiration. Watching the film, you’d never think that guy would be able to deliver such a soulful performance. Rock on.

5. Boogie Nights (1997)
“Got to Give It Up”
“Got to Give It Up” is Marvin Gaye’s most used track in film and TV. It’s been featured in all types of projects (from Menace II Society to How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Charlie’s Angels to The Wire), but my favorite use of the song has always been Dirk Diggler showing off his new home in Boogie Nights. It fits the mood of the scene so perfectly, with Dirk bragging about his new possessions like a pompous douchebag (“That’s custom made – that’s real imported Italian leather”) as the camera glides around smoothly, taking it all in.

4. Zodiac (2007)
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”
      
David Fincher likes to have fun with his passing-of-time montages, and this time lapse of the Transamerica Pyramid building being constructed in San Francisco is chief among them.

3. Stepmom (1998)
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
This scene is proof that Marvin Gaye can make any movie better.

2. Broken Flowers (2005)
“I Want You”
Don Johnston (Bill Murray) sits at home alone, thinking. He’s thinking about taking a trip to visit a handful of former lovers. He’s thinking about women he’s screwed over, the children he may have had, the years he’s done nothing with himself. He stares at the expensive bottle of champagne in front of him, contemplating another isolated sip.

“Don’t you wanna care?” Marvin Gaye dares. “Ain’t it lonely out there?”

1. The Big Chill (1983)
“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
Opening credits don’t get much better than The Big Chill. We’re introduced to all the main characters, spending about 25 very telling seconds with each other them, while cross-cutting very close-up shots of their former friend being dressed for his funeral. All the while, Marvin Gaye blares away, telling us that he’s “Just about to lose my mind!” It’s such a perfect music choice; spot-on, but never forced. As good as music in movies gets.

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34 comments:

  1. Wow. Perfect choice for number one. I've watched that scene a million times and it's almost as if the song was specifically written for The Big Chill.

    That moment from High Fidelity (and for Jack Black) was also an excellent pick. I think John Cusack's face easily represents the entire world's response to Black nailing Let's Get it On. It was a bit of a game-changer, no?

    (I have to check out Broken Flowers as soon as possible...[and um, Zodiac...shhh])

    Great post, as always.

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    1. Thanks man! You're so right, Grapevine feels like it was written for The Big Chill, which is such a compliment to both the song and the film.

      Definitely a game changer of a scene in High Fidelity. That scene really made Jack Black Jack Black; it's a star making 4 minutes. Great stuff.

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  2. Great choices! For Christmas, my grandparents actually bought me The Big Chill on Blu-ray and the soundtrack on vinyl, and it has been on the record player ever since!

    However, I must say that my favorite use of Marvin Gaye in a film would have to be "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in Remember the Titans. It's worth a watch just to see Ryan Gosling dance... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysye3RTUSio. My favorite sports film, by far!

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    1. Thanks Tanner! Dude, what GREAT Christmas presents. I love that. Unfortunately, I OD'd on Remember the Titans in high school. Having grown up very close to where that film takes place, I was literally shown it at least 5 times a year in various high school classes. It was the go-to movie for basically every teacher in my school, so I've had a lifetime fill of that movie haha. Still, I'm happy it makes good use of that song.

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  3. You always have the greatest ideas for lists! Love this. I haven't seen High Fidelity or Broken Flowers, but a big YES to the other four!

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    1. Thanks man! So happy you're a fan of Gaye's tracks in film.

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  4. Amazing picks and such a unique idea for a list. Your inspiration is endless, no doubt about that anymore, haha. Inner City Blues is one of my personal favorite songs of Marvin Gaye ever and it's used so well on Zodiac. Liked it on the opening credits of A Most Violent Year as well.

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    1. Thanks buddy! Such a nice thing to say! I loved the use of that song in A Most Violent Year as well. It's such a dangerous but amazing song, you know?

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  5. So glad you love Gaye. I really dig him too. The uses of Through the Grapevine in The Big Chill and Inner City Blues in Zodiac are perfect.

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    1. Dude, I LOVE Marvin Gaye. Like... love the guy. So happy you're a fan as well!

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  6. I'm not that familiar with Gaye, but I am familiar with the songs you've mentioned here! I really should check more of his music out, he has such a wonderful voice. The opening credits of The Big Chill is one of my absolute favourites.

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    1. So, so good. Give his live version of "Distant Lover" a spin. What he does from 4:33-6:01, specifically, is astounding. I've listened to this thousands of times and it still gives me chills. Those notes, the women going insane... it's bliss. "Pleeeeeease COME BACK, BAAABY!"

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM-_yJZWytM

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  7. Great idea for a list. Marvin Gaye is still the man. There is a scene in Barbershop where Got to Give it Up is used to diffuse a tense situation between characters that works for us in the audience, too. It's one of the better moments of the film.

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    1. That's a really good scene, great call there. Not the best movie, but any film that uses a Marvin Gaye song is automatically rated higher in my eye.

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  8. There was a film about Marvin Gaye made about his final years but it's likely to be unreleased due to legal issues and shit.

    He's fucking awesome. Love the scenes that you mentioned including Stepmom though it's quite cheesy for my taste. I agree with Tanner's choice as I just love to hear Ryan Gosling finally finding his soul power and singing the song.

    One film that I think should be mentioned is American Splendor where it used "Ain't That Peculiar" in a montage of Harvey Pekar's surging creativity through his work. Paul had a nice use of "Got to Give It Up" but it's not as good as Boogie Nights.

    The worst use of Marvin Gaye's music in a film that I can recall is in The Girl Next Door where they use "What's Going On?" for a scene where Elisha Cuthbert picks up her girlfriends for the prom. Whoever was the music supervisor for that film should be beaten up for that. Shit like that is wrong.

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    1. This comment is gold. First off, Micah worked with Jesse L. Martin on The Flash and I told Micah to ask him about his Marvin Gaye biopic. Martin would make a GREAT Gaye, but the funding gave out in the middle of shooting, which is such a shame. They shot half the damn film but can't use any of it!

      I forgot about "Ain't That Peculiar" in American Splendor. Great call.

      And holy shit, "What's Going On" in The Girl Next Door is SO bad. It makes no sense!

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  9. Brilliant idea for a list. I love all of these, and who can argue with The Big Chill in the top spot? Such a great choice.

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    1. Thanks Josh! I love The Big Chill so much.

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  10. And as I read this article you've written on come Broken Flowers on tv. Love that movie - love all the music in it (yet another reason why Jarmusch is one of my fav. directors). I'm a relatively new convert to the faith of Mr. Gaye (I began listening to him maybe half a year ago or so) but I have loved each album I've listened to thus far. Such a moving and powerful artist indeed and while I'm not a huge fan of The Big Chill, the scene mentioned above is by far, imo, the most memorable scene(s) in the movie. Obviously I love it in Broken Flowers. But yeah, Gaye's great. Movies that use him in it obviously aren't all bad because they have a Gaye song in them. Good list sir. As always!

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    1. Thanks man! And yep, I totally agree, any film that uses Gaye's music has at least SOMETHING going for it. Broken Flowers will always be my favorite Jarmusch film. It's so perfectly melancholic.

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  11. Great post! Grapevine will always be linked to The Big Chill for me too, nice choice for #1. I'd forgotten about his music in High Fidelity, Broken Flowers and Boogie Nights.

    Of his big songs, there's also Sexual Healing and What's Going On, but maybe there wasn't a memorable movie scene. I realize your focus was a top 5, enjoyed listening to these again!

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    1. Thanks Chris! "Sexual Healing" has been used in a lot, but it's usually for cheap humor (examples: Transformers, Norbit, I Spy... yuck). "What's Going On" is given a little more clout, but still hasn't been used in a perfect way, in my opinion. Thought Cuba Gooding Jr. has some fun with it in Jerry Maguire.

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  12. The opening credits of The Big Chill were terrific, weren't they? It's been over 30 years since I saw that movie, but it's one of the things I remember.

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    1. LOVE them. I adore that film so much. It's so very real.

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  13. I haven't watched your top 2 but the other 4 choices are pretty great. Since I'm a MCU nerd, I love the use of "Trouble Man" in Captain America 2 and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in Guardians of the Galaxy :)

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    1. I still haven't finished Captain America 2... so I didn't even know Trouble Man was in it! Gotta finish it soon.

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  14. Oh yes, I agree with the comments in regards to Remember the Titans because every time I hear that song, I immediately go to that movie.. and sometimes I hum that song just because I see Gosling or just because I can because I LOVE THAT SONG! :D

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    1. Gosling is such a baby in that movie, I love him in that scene!

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  15. I don't know if it appears in the movie, but Menace II Society uses "What's going on?" to good effect in its trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2RrX5VaI5Y

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    1. Very good use of that song. I don't believe Menace uses "What's Going On" in the actual film, but it does have "Got To Give It Up".

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  16. I love the symmetry, although probably unintentional of the honorable mention and your number one pick. In High Fidelity when discussing one of their top fives, they immediately disqualify You Can't Always Get What You Want for it's use in The Big Chill.

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    1. Haha yes! That's awesome, totally forgot about that actually.

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  17. Love this post Alex, and love your picks. And of course I love The Big Chill.

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    1. Thanks Sue! Just bought the special edition Blu-Ray of The Big Chill. Can't WAIT to watch it :)

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