“Jump Into the Fire” – Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson’s hard rock showstopper from 1971’s “Nilsson Schmillson” album.  “Fire’s” most famous appearance was as the main musical piece during the extended paranoid climax of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster-film classic “Goodfellas.”  Apparently Scorsese’s first choice for this scene was the Rolling Stones’ 1983 rocker “She Was Hot,” but since Scorsese has a strict policy of only using music that was recorded during the period he’s depicting or earlier (the scene in question took place in 1980), he went with Nilsson’s song instead.  I have to say this is a much better choice as it is a lot more ominous sounding.  And seriously, could you imagine that final climactic scene with any other music than “Fire”?  A great song for being paranoid.  And as they say, paranoia is just reality on a finer scale.

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“My Way” – Sid Vicious

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Sid Vicious’s biggest musical moment … this is Sid’s infamous punk cover of the Frank Sinatra warhorse, with new filthy lyrics. The video, originally at the end of Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary “The Great Rock n Roll Swindle,” is equally as infamous, with a graphically violent climax that must be seen to be believed. Not safe for work.

Perhaps the best use of this song was over the end credits of Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic “Goodfellas,” a perfect choice that sums up the entire picture.

And … as a bonus … here’s the version of the scene from the 1986 Alex Cox-directed biopic “Sid and Nancy” with Gary Oldman dynamically taking the mic as Sid. While this is not Oldman’s first big performance, it was the one that made him famous.

“Little Wing” – Derek and the Dominos

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“Layla” may be the best-known song from Eric Clapton’s and Duane Allman’s pseudonymous 1970 band Derek and the Domino’s “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” album. While it’s a great song, unfortunately, it’s power has been greatly diminished (at least for me) over the years due to endless replays on classic rock radio and other places.  Though, Martin Scorsese did redeem it somewhat through its use in “Goodfellas” but I digress …

For my money, their cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” is the highlight of the album. I’ve never heard hard rock sound so damn sad, but not in a grandiose “Pink Floyd The Wall” type way. This may be just the blues … but it’s played with such incredible power and sorrow. Clapton was in a bad way (emotionally and healthwise) when he recorded this and you can feel it.

“She Was Hot” – The Rolling Stones

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One of the better songs from the 1980s era Rolling Stones, this was from the Stones’ decent but uneven 1983 album “Undercover.” The “hot” woman in the video is Anita Morris, who first gained fame starring in the original Broadway version of “Nine” and subsequently played sexy women “of a certain age” in many 1980s films (“The Hotel New Hampshire,” “Ruthless People”). It’s nice to see the Stones let a sexy older woman be the object of lust instead of the usual young bimbo. Sadly, Morris died of ovarian cancer in 1994. So, in honor of Ms. Morris and sexy older women everywhere, I’m raising a glass in tribute.

The video here is the uncensored version which was edited for MTV. From what I remember, the cut parts were the buttons flying off the pants of someone watching Ms. Morris and fire shooting out of her ass. Maybe there was more, but it’s been nearly 30 years since I watched this video.

Trivia note: this was Martin Scorsese’s original song choice to underscore the cocaine-helicopter freak-out scene from “Goodfellas.” However, he chose Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” instead, because the scene in the film took place in 1980 and “She Was Hot” came out in 1983. Scorsese advised he only uses songs that could have been out / released at the time a scene would take place. I think the Nilsson choice was better, but “She Was Hot” would have played wonderfully in that famous scene.

“Taxi Driver” (1976) dir. Martin Scorsese

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“Taxi Driver” is arguably director Martin Scorsese’s best film. While I admire “Raging Bull” a lot, will watch “Hugo” with my kids anytime they want to watch it, and will put on “Goodfellas” when I want a Scorsese film to entertain me and make me laugh, “Taxi Driver” is the one that sticks to my brain the most.

Written by Paul Schrader when Schrader was coming out of the tail end of a hellish personal period when he was drinking too much and going to porn theaters, “Taxi Driver” is a brilliant portrait of a damaged mind rotting away into the ugliest thoughts a mind can have.

The lead character, Travis Bickle (in what’s arguably, Robert DeNiro’s greatest performance), is an ex-Marine who can’t sleep and decides to deal with his insomnia by being a taxi cab driver in NYC. However, Travis purposely seems to go the worse areas of NYC, specifically Times Square and 42nd street, for fares.  As the unreliable narrator, he spits at this world and predicts that one day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.

But Travis can’t help subjecting himself to this world, even spending time in low-rent 8mm and 16mm porno theaters on his off hours.  His vision is so warped that  he convinces Betsy, a beautiful blonde campaign worker (played by Cybill Shepherd) to go on a date with him, but  takes her to a fancy porno theater because he thinks it’s a classy date.  He could be naive … or he could be wanting to subject her to the same filth he’s subjecting himself to … in much the same way emotionally crippled people put potential lovers through the ringer to prove their love for them.  Betsy wisely ditches him, which sends Travis further down a downward spiral.  Notice how the camera pans away from Travis while he’s on the phone.  It’s almost like we can’t watch him being rejected because it’s too painful.

Travis then becomes obsessed with a teen prostitute named Iris, played by Jodie Foster and decides he wants to rescue her from her pimp, played by Harvey Keitel.  He also becomes obsessed with the political candidate Betsy is working for.   Travis starts buying guns and working out.  The conclusion is troubling to say the least.  Below is a scene where Travis in the middle of his madness is quietly watching “American Bandstand” with jaundiced eyes … especially watching the interracial couples dancing while pointing his gun at the TV.  The song playing is Jackson Browne’s terrifically sad “Late for the Sky”:

“Taxi Driver” is the flipside and middle finger to the mid-1970s Charles Bronson urban revenge blockbuster “Death Wish.”  DeNiro’s Travis character is not only nuts, but racist and sexually twisted.  However, the way that Scorsese directs the film (with brilliant editing by Marcia Lucas), you can’t help but feel for Travis while also being repulsed by him.

Of course, by now, everyone knows that “Taxi Driver” was the film that inspired John Hinckley Jr. to attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 in order to impress Jodie Foster.  While this is (hopefully) a ridiculous notion to most of us, the film is so brilliantly made and gets you so far inside the mind of a gone individual, it really does seem like a blueprint for being a psychopath if one were not in the right frame of mind.

But that’s the problem with great art.  By conveying the darkest parts of the human soul in a realistic and convincing manner, you run the risk of encouraging those in a similar frame of mind to identify a bit too deeply with what you’re trying to express.  However, you can’t begin to understand such dark souls without realistically looking into the heart of darkness that beats in many lost souls that wander through our culture.

“The Bells of St. Mary” – The Drifters

Another great, soulful, holiday classic … this time from the Drifters.  This version of “The Bells of St. Mary” is sublime and was used to chilling effect in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” when Joe Pesci’s character pays Samuel L. Jackson’s character a visit one morning.

7. “Goodfellas” (1991) dir. Martin Scorsese

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Number 7 on Dave’s Strange World’s list of all-time favorite films is Martin Scorsese’s vicious, profane, and hilarious gangster classic “Goodfellas.” Since I tried limiting myself to just one film by each director, it was hard picking my favorite Scorsese film. “Taxi Driver” and “Hugo” almost made the cut on all my time Top 10, but “Taxi Driver” is a really heavy, painful film that I don’t watch that often these days and “Hugo,” while being emotionally uplifting, is heavy in its own way too. These aren’t criticisms, it’s just that if I’m picking a Scorsese film to watch at the end of a long, hard day at work, “Goodfellas” never disappoints. Even at 2.5 hours long, it feels like it’s half that length. Everything about this film, from the script to the acting to the editing to the music is a pure adrenalin rush. And while you may feel exhausted at the end of this, it’s a good exhaustion.

The scene I included here is where Liotta’s, DeNiro’s, and Pesci’s characters need to borrow a shovel from Pesci’s mother’s house to bury the body of a gangster they just killed. Playing Pesci’s mother is Scorsese’s mother Catherine, who is totally sweet and funny in this scene. There is some pixelation during the first 11 seconds of this clip, but everything else is fine after that. Favorite line: “Looks like someone we know.”

9. “Repo Man” (1984) dir. Alex Cox

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Continuing the punk theme from “Jesus of Suburbia,” Number 9 on Dave’s Strange World all-time favorite movies is Alex Cox’s funny, nasty tale of punks, UFOs, repo men, and the CIA. This movie came out around the time me and my friends started getting into punk. In 1984, punk as a late-1970s fad had faded and whatever was left just got harder and more aggressive, hence the adjective “hardcore.” By this point, there wasn’t much mainstream media exposure to punk, other than “Blackboard Jungle”-style exposes of wayward youth on the evening news.

So when a major studio (in this case, Universal) film featured hardcore punk as a prominent part of the film and soundtrack, it was something we all paid attention to. Granted, “Repo Man” portrayed punks as stupid, violent, and amoral for the most part, but nearly all of the characters in “Repo Man” were stupid, violent, and amoral, so no one cared and laughed their asses off.

This is a really funny, subversive film that’s still hilarious to this day. It’s nihilistic sense of humor predated Quentin Tarantino’s films by about 8 years and when I first saw “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992, I described to friends as “Repo Man” meets “Goodfellas.” I realize that may strike most people as odd, but when you consider the characters in “Repo” and “Reservoir”‘s mutual misanthropy, it makes perfect sense in my book.

Of the many great scenes in “Repo Man,” I love this one where Emilio Estevez’s character is talking to his punk friend who is dying after being shot during an attempted hold-up.   Estevez casually comforts his friend during his death rattle by saying “You’re going to be all right, man … Maybe not.”