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30 More Songs: Day 3: A song from your favorite movie — Promenade Sentimentale from Diva

January 4, 2012

Not, as I misread it before, my favorite song from a movie, but a song from my favorite movie. This is somewhat more challenging, as I don’t really have a favorite movie. And the ones that first spring to mind are not too songish — The Maltese Falcon, for instance. I can’t think of a single song there.

There are plenty of great movies with great songs, though. How about Harry Lime’s Theme from The Third Man?

And, as an added bonus, a performance of the same theme by the Beatles that I didn’t know existed until I looked up the theme on the Tube of You:

“As Time Goes By” from Casablanca is a classic:

So’s The Godfather

But one of my favorite movies — and one I haven’t seen in a very long time — made a huge impression on me. Artistically, it opened my eyes. Here’s the Promenade Sentimentale from that classic of French New Wave film, Diva:

The film is about a young man’s relationship with an opera singer (well, that’s sort of what it’s about — there’s a lot more to it than that), and the score includes opera too, notably the aria “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from La Wally

There’s also a fair amount of electronica. But the Promenade Sentimentale made the film for me. It’s a sort of parody of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, especially the first one, lent et douloureux:

Satie is best known in music history as the man who invented the concept, “furniture music,” which was music that was supposed to be atmospheric, part of the experienced, not really listened to the way concert music is listened to. He was a huge influence on John Cage. The Gymnopédies are a little earlier, but their spareness and unorthodox (for the time) chord progressions hint at Satie’s later attempts to uncouple himself from concert music traditions.

In Diva, the Promenade functions much the same way — it appears in the film when the opera singer wrests herself away from the concert world to spend time with someone who is, in essence, a crazed fan. It’s about removing expectations and opening yourself to new things. When it plays, the characters are operating outside their ordinary spheres and are entering into something new. In many films such boundary crossings are met with aggression, but in this one it is more of an unfolding, an opening. It’s quiet and still.

Promenade Sentimentale takes its title from a poem by Paul Verlaine that evokes images of nature and loneliness:

Promenade sentimentale

Le couchant dardait ses rayons suprêmes
Et le vent berçait les nénuphars blêmes ;
Les grands nénuphars entre les roseaux
Tristement luisaient sur les calmes eaux.
Moi j’errais tout seul, promenant ma plaie
Au long de l’étang, parmi la saulaie
Où la brume vague évoquait un grand
Fantôme laiteux se désespérant
Et pleurant avec la voix des sarcelles
Qui se rappelaient en battant des ailes
Parmi la saulaie où j’errais tout seul
Promenant ma plaie ; et l’épais linceul
Des ténèbres vint noyer les suprêmes
Rayons du couchant dans ses ondes blêmes
Et les nénuphars, parmi les roseaux,
Les grands nénuphars sur les calmes eaux.

Paul Verlaine
Poèmes saturniens

(translation here)

I like the way Diva‘s Promenade sentimentale evokes a certain amount of French artistic history even as it tells the story of fictional French art while creating an artwork all its own. But really, what I love best about this scene in this film, is its depiction of the city of Paris. How could you not love it?

I first saw this film my sophomore year in high school when it was introduced to me by my English teacher, who also introduced me to John Cage and Philip Glass and John Cheever and in so doing was the single most influential person on my adult life and interests. The summer after I saw it, I went to France. Without my parents. I had the chance to do some walking around Paris on my own and this is the soundtrack that was running through my head. I heard it years later when crossing the Pont Neuf. And I fully expect to hear it when in the Jardins Luxembourg the next time I am there. Although I haven’t seen this film in at least 20 years, parts of it still run in my head. It got under my skin. And the music was a big part of that.

What film music rocks your world?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2012 10:58 pm

    That was fun. I haven’t watched that movie since, oh, forever but the music is/was indelible. That La Wally aria is so lovely…Calils recorded it beautifully. Thanks for that flashback.

  2. January 5, 2012 10:05 am

    Whenever it snows, everyone in my house hears the Christmas music from the first Harry Potter movie!

  3. January 5, 2012 10:12 am

    Maria Callas, that is. Oy.

  4. January 6, 2012 11:40 pm

    I love the music from The Ghost and Mr Chicken. I listen to it in the car sometimes. It’s what I would call jaunty.

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