Thursday, December 10, 2020

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1970, Day Five: Best Original Song Score

An oft-revised category, the Original Song Score category (which, need I remind you, only needs someone to start campaigning to actually be revived) in 1970 brought together five very unlikely nominees (well, four, at any rate). And of those nominees, the unlikeliest of winners:

Let's talk about both the nominations and the movies, shall we?:

The Baby Maker
music by Fred Karlin
lyrics by Meg Karlin (as Tylwyth Kymry)

James Bridges' light-hearted drama about a young hippie girl who becomes a surrogate for an upper-middle-class couple is just one of a legion of such films exploring the tensions between "squares" and "flower children." This one, anchored by a winsome Barbara Hershey, is less condescending than most to its ensemble, all equally unrealistic in their expectations, all sympathetic in their reactions. It's buoyed, of course, by Scott Glenn in short shorts. Oh, OK, and the nominated song score, which ranges from softer ballads ("People Come, People Go," the main theme, repeated throughout) to a more groovy rock sound ("Lotus Baby Pant'n Mantra Blues," showcased during a be-in that gets broken up by police). I took notice of it during, I liked it, it's not one I'd run to over and over again, but it all fits the movie.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown
music by Rod McKuen and John Scott Trotter
lyrics by Rod McKuen, Bill Melendez and Al Shean
adaptation by Vince Guaraldi

The first feature film adaptation of the Peanuts comics, A Boy Named Charlie Brown follows the titular blockhead's journey from all-time loser to school spelling bee champion, his newfound talent taking him all the way to a national competition in New York City. A charming film that follows the bright-colored gloom of the TV specials. It's also the first time the Peanuts characters sing original songs within the narrative, mainly contributed by Oscar-nominated songwriter Rod McKuen. They are perfectly lovely. Even "Failure Face," the most hilariously mean song I think I've ever heard, has a buoyancy that belies its viciousness, a feature that accurately captures Lucy and Violet in particular, and children in general. Just hearing the instrumental of the title tune makes my heart soar.

Darling Lili
music by Henry Mancini
lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Darling Lili stars Julie Andrews as a popular singer in WWI Paris who is secretly spying for Prussia. Rock Hudson is miscast as the brave pilot who wins her heart. The movie feels poorly conceived from the get-go; the musical numbers (demanded by the studio against director Blake Edwards' objections) bloat the runtime and only serve to further remove us from a love story with no spark. That said, they are good musical numbers. Its exquisite showcase song, "whistling Away the Dark," was nominated for Original Song, so more on that tomorrow, but there's a whole slew of other tunes that make up the score. when Lili has to maintain her cover, she entertains hospitalized troops with "The Girl in No Man's Land." when she is frustrated by her American lover's lack of attentions, she gooses up "I'll Give You Three Guesses," taking it from cheeky to crude. An exotic dancer strips while performing the lewd tune, "Your Good-will Ambassador." They don't work with the book scenes, but they're very good.

Let It Be
The Beatles

Let It Be documents the making of the Beatles' final album. It's shorter than expected - supposedly, an entire hour was cut following a screening with the band - and aside from a moment of tension or two between McCartney and other members, not terribly illuminating, though it is kind of novel to see pros in action. It climaxes with their final public appearance together, the impromptu-ish rooftop concert on top of Apple; the best moment, though, comes well before, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono dance to a hypnotic "I Me Mine." Of course, the big question, for me, is: should this have even been nominated? Certainly, the songs are, for the most part, immortal classics, but it seems odd to classify it as an "Original Song Score" when they weren't strictly written for the film; rather, the film was made to document the songs. Tough call.

Leslie Bricusse
adaptation by Ian Fraser and Herbert W. Spencer

Scrooge is a musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, starring a much-too-young Albert Finney as the titular miser, all makeup and mannerisms, won over much too quickly by past memories and Leslie Bricusse's OK score. In addition to the showstopper "Thank You Very Much," whose nomination we'll discuss tomorrow, memorable tunes include "December the 25th," performed by the Fezziwigs at their annual Christmas party during Scrooge's journey to the past, and "See the Phantoms," a bizarre and tuneless spoken-word something croaked out by Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley, a performance that really must be seen to be believed. A big studio musical like Scrooge is the most obvious nominee for a category like this, so it's not shocking, just...mediocre?


Again, not much of a competition here, as I clearly have a favorite. My vote:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Original Song: Darling Lili ("Whistling Away the Dark"), Lovers and Other Strangers ("For All We Know"), Madron ("Till Love Touches Your Life"), Pieces of Dreams ("Pieces of Dreams") and Scrooge ("Thank You Very Much").
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