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It Happened One Night: Oh That Music

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    lawless

    What were your reactions to the band that played The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze in the bus, with everyone joining in on the chorus and a sailor and what looks like a businessman signing the second and third verses, respectively? What about other singing the characters indulge in throughout the movie?

    For some reason, it seemed thrown in to me, similar to how songs in musicals sometimes feel. Maybe it’s because I didn’t expect a band to appear and conduct a singalong on the bus. Contrast this to my reaction to the ambient music in The Lower Depths, which seems entirely suitable and organic. I realize that the singalong has a plot function — it’s what gets the bus driver to applaud, thus causing the swerve into the creek that causes Pete and Ellie to abandon ship — but it still seems contrived.

    Feel free to comment on the score here too, although I don’t remember much about it at this point. Sometimes scores to Kurosawa movies seem aggressively Western, which I occasionally find disconcerting. This may be another cause of all those instances of labeling him “Western” in comparison to other Japanese directors.

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    Ugetsu

    I agree that the scene has a bit of a contrived look to it, but I think in the context, it was important for Capra to provide a scene of ordinary people communing together. I think he felt it important to draw the films central perspective out from the two future lovers, and show them in a context of ordinary people both suffering, and yet having fun at the same time. From having suffered through a few long distance bus rides in my time, its amazing how much fun singing terrible pop songs can be! I think the choice of the song was because it was familiar, but one of those rare songs that allows itself for impromptu invented verses. I think it was Noel Coward who talked about the potency of cheap pop songs.

    Feel free to comment on the score here too, although I don’t remember much about it at this point. Sometimes scores to Kurosawa movies seem aggressively Western, which I occasionally find disconcerting. This may be another cause of all those instances of labeling him “Western” in comparison to other Japanese directors.

    I think a problem for Kurosawa was that he often visualized the rhythm of his films as following a favourite classical piece. This then inevitably trapped his composers into following that template, resulting in soundtracks that were very similar, or identical, to well known pieces. Of course, the Japanese at the time never took copyright law too seriously, so probably didn’t see anything odd in this. But it wasn’t unique to Kurosawa – 24 Eyes is full of (to western ears) quite oddly chosen songs. The same with quite a lot of other Japanese films of the period I’ve seen, such as Ichikawa’s Burmese Harp.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: What were your reactions to the band that played The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze in the bus, with everyone joining in on the chorus and a sailor and what looks like a businessman signing the second and third verses, respectively? What about other singing the characters indulge in throughout the movie?

    Like the occasional slap or threat to beat up someone, I took the singing to be part of the theatricality of the film. It is the same stuff that creates the faked innocence. You need to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it.

    I have actually never been on a bus where people start singing together. Does it actually happen in real life?

    Ugetsu: I think a problem for Kurosawa was that he often visualized the rhythm of his films as following a favourite classical piece. This then inevitably trapped his composers into following that template, resulting in soundtracks that were very similar, or identical, to well known pieces.

    Many critics have indeed pointed out this to be a problem with Kurosawa. I have personally never really felt it. I don’t mind if a film contains a tune that I am familiar with — very rarely it distracts me.

    I wonder how well known those classical pieces chosen by Kurosawa were in Japan at the time the films were released.

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    lawless

    Vili – I’ve never been on a bus used for public transportation where people started singing together. Maybe it was more realistic during the Depression. I have, however, been on charter buses where people started singing together, but it was usually during a tour by various select choirs I’ve been part of, usually involving the infamous tune “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” It’s possible it was sung on some school field trips as well. Although I’m familiar with “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” I’ve never heard it sung on a bus. 😛

    Vili:

    I wonder how well known those classical pieces chosen by Kurosawa were in Japan at the time the films were released.

    Me too!

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    Ugetsu

    I have been on rickety buses in Laos where they actually had karaoke sets at the front (the buses were apparently donated as aid by Japan), and the locals would all sing along to what i took to be very sad Lao pop songs, while cynics like me at the back were singing ‘alternative lyrics’ to distract ourselves from the livestock on board and the sheer terror of Lao bus driving on twisty mountain roads.

    Vili

    I wonder how well known those classical pieces chosen by Kurosawa were in Japan at the time the films were released.

    I can’t remember where I read it – in Richie I think – but I think many of those classical pieces would have been quite familiar to Japanese, to the extent that many may not actually have been aware they were non-Japanese tunes.

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