Nightlies: Don’t You Just Love the Music of the Twentieth Century?


Well, the day got away from me. What can I say?

I was on the verge of calling this “Nighties,” then thought better of it. Too risque? I hope not. (This might have been the case ca. 1907, like when the utterance of the word “shift,” i.e., a lady’s undergarment, in J. M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World got the playwright in serious hot water with the Irish Catholic faithful. It happened; look it up.)

I was thinking more of the night time, of dreams, which, after all, are perfectly captured (and simulated) by cinema. (It’s true, according to Papa Georges Méliès; look it up.)

Does that explain why certain scenes in movies stand out for me—striking or weird moments that might have happened in dreams?

Take, for instance, Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995), when James (Bruce Willis) is seated behind Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and suddenly jumps forward when he hears “Blueberry Hill”—scaring the bejeezus out of her since, after all, he’s just abducted her and has been twitchy and erratic up to this point. He asks her to turn it up, his face beaming, a few tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, explaining that he loves “the music of the twentieth century.” A weird comment to make, since it is the twentieth century, though not to James, who’s travelled from the future (so he claims). A few minutes later “What a Wonderful World” comes on the radio, and James has a similarly emotional response.

In Dr. Railly’s position, it would be like a weird or bad dream: someone spouting nonsense about being from the future, getting twitchy one instant and emotional the next. At first, her face registers fear, and then panic; but, gradually, as she hears James reminisce about his past, about his separation from a period he can’t let go of or escape, her expression softens: there’s empathy in those tears now. Gilliam’s DP Roger Pratt does an excellent job capturing the facial expressions of two people who are, in a certain sense, in the same position: abductees, caught up by the seemingly inexorable movement of time, of fate.

Nighty, night.


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