Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Take Five: Donovan at the Movies

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 4, 2007

A representative sample of the latest wonders rocking The Good Dr.s world and plaguing his mind.

Seems like you can’t watch anything these days without hearing the dulcet tones of folk-rock troubador Donovan. Once perceived as one of the most important singer/songwriters of the 60s, then perceived as an arrogant, self-serving and ultimately forgotten relic (by me, at least), the pendulum looks like it might be swinging back the other way now. You’ve got his “Happiness Runs” in ubiquitous commercials for Delta and Fruity Cheerios, “Catch the Wind” in a Volvo commercial, and now he practically has the theme song to the excellent, if uneven, new David Fincher film Zodiac.

This is nothing new, however–for decades now, Donovan’s songs have been used for soundtracking purposes, with his off-kilter, occasionally bizarre pop songs providing the appropriate musical accompaniment for some of the most unsettling, and even a couple of the sweetest, moments in modern film. Here are my five favorite examples:

“Atlantis” in Goodfellas (1990): The earliest and probably the best known use of Donovan in film is this scene, immediately following the famous “Shinebox” exchange between Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent. “Atlantis,” a #7 hit from 1969 which for some reason never gets played on Oldies radio (well, I guess the intro is pretty weird), plays over the fallout, in which Pesci and Robert DeNiro essentially beat Vincent to death. The epic song, a sort of bizarro-universe “Hey Jude,” provides exactly the right unsettling note for a scene so huge–the scene in Goodfellas that marks the beginning of the end for Pesci and DeNiro. Hard to imagine any other song doing the trick quite as well as “Atlantis” does here.

“Season of the Witch” in To Die For (1995): Not a perfect movie by any means, but one which strikes the right final note. As Ileanna Douglas skates on the frozen lake under which Nicole Kidman, her brother’s wife and eventual murderer, Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays, and the credits roll. “When I looked out my window / What do you think I see / And when I looked in my window / So many different people to be.” Not bad for a movie as identity-consumed as To Die For. Plus, it functions as a sort of “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” celebration of the death of Kidman’s evil bitch character.

“Jennifer Juniper” in Election (1999): This punchdrunk love song soundtracks one of Election‘s few tender moments, in which lesbian Tammy, after getting kicked out of public school, begins her blissful stay at an all-girls catholic school. The sweet, innocent “Jennifer, Juniper” is just the right song to soundtrack Tammy’s escape from the tyrannies of public school and the delirious happiness of her new love affair. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Tammy’s new girlfriend also happens to be named Jennifer. Coincidence I’m sure.

“Colours” in The Rules of Attraction (2002): Colours,” Donovan’s second-sweetest love song soundtracks the split-screeened meeting between Shannon Sossymon and James Van Der Beek in The Rules of Attraction. The rest of the inhumanly bleak and soulless movie is filled with appropriately shallow dance-pop and over-dramatic ballads, so it’s appropriate that the two main characters’ meeting, possibly the sole moment of genuine humanity in the whole movie, be accompanied by this nice, low key folk-pop song.

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” in Zodiac (2007): The Donovan moment that prompted this blog entry, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” plays over the beginning and end to Zodiac–first when the Zodiac is committing his first kill of two teenagers listening to the song on the radio at a makeout, then over the credits. “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” with its chopped vocals, distorted chorus and searing guitar break, has always been a sort of creepy song, and director David Fincher utilizes that effect beautifully as Zodiac‘s first murder soundtrack. The song increasing in volume as the action climaxes, just as “Atlantis” did 17 years ago, Scorsese would’ve been proud of this one.

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5 Responses to “Take Five: Donovan at the Movies”

  1. Victor said

    I was wondering what that eerie song they kept subtly playing in the commercials was. I thought it was some made up song with lyrics about the Zodiac killer that were drowned out like “watch out for that Zodiac…he’s a real maniac…”

  2. Andrew Unterberger said

    just a smalltown killer on a Saturday night, looking for the fight of his life

  3. Kate said

    That song was so creepy in the context of the Zodiac movie. I found it quite disturbing, yet perfect for the movie

  4. Marleen said

    Do you have more info on the Volvo TV Ad, or know where I can find out more about it? When, who produced it, was it released worldwide, or europe or UK only, etc…..

    Thank you so much.

    M.

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    Take Five: Donovan at the Movies « Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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