Thursday, August 13, 2020 17:22

The Beauty of Brutality

“Let us rejoice and let us sing…
And dance and ring in the new…
Hail Atlantis”…Donovan


Ideally, the use of music in film is to accentuate the action being shown on the screen. When the director makes the right choice, the synergy can be incredible (such as when Antonioni layered Pink Floyd’s “Careful That Axe Eugene” onto his Dali-esque final scene of Zabriskie Point).

However, the proof of a rule can frequently lie in an example of a well-done exception. For the longest time, I’ve always hugely admired the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci stomps the guy to the death in the bar to the sounds of Donovan’s “Atlantis” because I’d thought that Scorsese masterfully used the music brilliantly in opposition to the action on the screen. I believed that Donovan’s tune helped lessen the extremely gruesome visual and while I’ve seen examples of film music used in opposition to screen action for comic effect, I viewed Scorsese as using music to transform a very brutal scene into one that’s queerly beautiful.

Very recently, I came to realize that my interpretation of the Goodfellas scene was incorrect. Atlantis wasn’t used in opposition to the violence on the screen…it was used as a continuation of it. Metaphorically, the person who is dying on the screen is in the process of beginning his journey to whatever afterlife awaits him and if one were to examine Donovan’s lyrics, one can see them as a metaphor for “departure to the afterlife” that takes place right after life is extinguished on screen.

How did I figure this out?

Nick Cave’s “Jubilee Street”.

Examining the lyrics of Cave’s song, it’s about a prostitute who meets a bad end due to her illicit activities. The violence of the song is implicit and the song ends in a soaring crescendo that’s quite beautiful and definitely in opposition to the lyrics.

The live version of Jubilee Street that I recently saw at his Seattle concert was absolutely stunning and Cave greatly extended the song, placing emphasis on the song’s ending. The “brutal death” in the lyrics was transformed into several minutes of extraordinary musical beauty.

I believe that Cave intends to show the “Beautiful Brutality” of death in Jubilee Street. However, my “correct” interpretation of Cave showed me the fallacy of my former interpretation of Scorsese. Scorsese’s use of music in the Goodfellas scene, in actuality, was quite conventional…I just couldn’t perceive it until now. When I rewatch the Goodfellas scene, I now see the Atlantis death metaphor quite clearly.

Thanks Nick :.)

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