19 April 2010

Pop Songs in Film: The Virgin Suicides

Sofia Coppola’s sublimely wonderful adaptation of The Virgin Suicides is full of great moments in pop music.  Like The Great Four [Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe, Paul Thomas Anderson, Hal Ashby] Ms. Coppola takes her music selection very seriously, and it shows – her soundtracks become choice pieces of pop culture art in and of themselves.  
The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the Lisbon sisters and the months leading up to their suicides.  Shot in a hazy, sun soaked light, the audience sees events through the eyes and memories of four boys who were (and remain into adulthood) fascinated and endlessly frustrated by the girls.  The Lisbon sisters are beautiful, ethereal, and withdrawn from reality, each carrying out their alluring jadedness in different ways.   So the scenes move from the normal, to the whimsical, to the surreal, to the campy with incredible ease, aided by the tonal score provided by Air.  

Kirsten Dunst’s Lux ends up being the only sister who to get close to Lisbon family outsiders – although it’s only through meaningless and frequent encounters with guys.  She is aloof, yet vulnerable and needy, and is altogether unprepared for Josh Hartnett’s Trip Fontaine, who the audience meets in a brilliant montage set to Heart’s “Magic Man.”

Giovanni Ribisi’s crackly, cynical voice tells us that “the only reliable boy who actually got to know Lux was Trip Fontaine, who only eight months before the suicides had emerged from baby fat to the delight of girls and mothers alike.” We see Trip in a school office, convincing the girl working the attendance desk to give him a pass for being late with only a smile and a whispered “come on.”  As he swings around to triumphantly exit the office, the guitar starts.  His tall, lanky body struts down the hallway, Ann Wilson begins to belt:

"Cold late night so long ago
When I was not so strong you know
A pretty man came to me
Never seen eyes so blue
You know I could not run away
It seemed we'd seen each other in a dream
It seemed like he knew me
He looked right through me, yeah"

Heart’s "Magic Man" is so perfect for this scene because it is self-consciously campy.  The song is about an older man seducing a younger girl to the ignored disapproval of her mother.  The girl singing is smart enough to know that this guy is a bad idea, but she can’t resist the him. 

Trip is perfectly confident, and seems to have a celebrity like effect on the girls in the hall, who are all left to stare in awe at the handsome man passing by.  Wilson continues “‘Come on home, girl’ he said with a smile, ‘You don't have to love me, yet let's get high awhile.’” We see eager girls sliding their homework to him in class with dumbly huge smiles and coming by his home with a plate of brownies and a report.  Just like the woman in the song, these high school girls know that this isn’t love, this is lust, this is hero worship, and they are more than willing to compromise everything for this guy. 

“But try to understand
Try to understand
Try try try to understand
I'm a magic man."

So Ribisi’s narrator tells us that “Every girl in school was in love with Trip.  Every girl except for Lux.”  In a hot-boxed induced haze, Trip stumbles into a nearby classroom and sees Lux for, what seems like, the first time.  What better way to drive the “Magic Man” crazy than to exhibit no interest for him at all.  He’s smitten, the song ends, and Trip’s infatuation and pursuit of Lux is ultimately to blame for the eventual downfall of the Lisbon sisters.  

Take a look for yourself.  The song and visuals pretty perfectly captures the charisma of the high school dream guy, helped by Ann Wilson's submissive intensity and world weariness.  

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