Everyone who’s anyone knows that movies from the ’80s — especially those involving people between the ages of 11 and, say, 24 — kill all movies from any other time period. Turning on TBS to find a gem like Red Dawn or Lucas is a bit like finding a $10 bill in a jacket pocket on the first cold day of the year — you forgot it existed but sure are glad to see it. But what is it about these celluloid masterpieces that reduce us to wistful, line-reciting reminiscers? Is it the nostalgia factor they hold for people of a certain age? Yes, that idea may hold some weight, but tonight I propose an alternate theory.You see, the thing that makes ’80s movies so special can be boiled down to one artistic concept:
The music montage.
Long before the movie soundtrack became as important as the film itself and indie artists became overnight sensations by penning tunes for the likes of the Twilight series, movies were filled with snappy ditties by artists no one had ever heard of. These songs are inextricably linked to their respective movies, because the only place people ever heard them was when watching that film. And while these songs were not typically included on any sort of compilation album, they got prominent, full-length airtime during some important point in the plot, forever shellacking them to our frontal lobes. The music montage was a wildly popular ’80s movie device that was most commonly utilized for one of these purposes:
1) to emphasize a turning point in the plot
2) to make up for weak dialogue/script writing
3) to provide an excuse for the actors to dance.
So why don’t the movies of today use the music montage as frequently as their predecessors? It’s tough to say. It’s certainly not because the writing has grown sharper and more witty. No, I would venture to guess that the smug self-importance that has spread throughout Hollywood prevents directors/actors from giving up screen time to a car chase dubbed over with a song from some unheard of session musician. To this I say: Bad Move. I, for one, would visit the theatre far more often if I thought I would be treated to a montage of falling-in-love images set to some sappy, synth-y love song. But until the studios come to their senses and look to the past to reimagine their futures, we’ll have to take solace in the clips below, which feature the perfect blend of cheesy pop music and dialogue-free (or almost free) plot…
“Mind Over Matter” – Summer School: This is the quintessential music montage scene. A group of teenage ne’er-do-wells attempting to better themselves — and collect bribes from their summer school teacher — by passing their final exam. I love that it sounds like some B-grade Pat Benatar tune…I would not be surprised to learn Benatar actually passed on it.
Plus, the song is sung by E.G. Daly, a.k.a. Dottie from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Lauren from Valley Girl. She also sings “Better of Dead” in the dance scene of the movie by the same name. And who doesn’t love “Tension breaker — had to be done”?
— Update — A little more research has unearthed the fact that this song was originally recorded by the unrivaled queen of cool Debbie Harry. For contractual reasons, however, the single couldn’t be used in the movie and it was eventually re-recorded by Daly.
“All Night” – Can’t Buy Me Love: I don’t really know if that’s what this song is called, but it’s the most oft-repeated line, so I’m stickin’ to it. We all remember the African Anteater Ritual, but Ronnie Miller could never pulled off that spastic dance without this hot dance tune.
“I Can Fly” – Girls Just Want to Have Fun: This movie is full of musical montages; the classic Dancin’ in Heaven became a hit solely on the strength of the DTV dance competition. Although nothing beats a little “Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow”, I am partial to this montage, if only for the seemingly unlimited array of color-coordinated leotards Sarah Jessica Parker dons throughout. And also because I always wished Shannen Doherty would fall out of that tree.
“Technique” – Girls Just Want to Have Fun: I don’t really think it’s dancing, so much as tumbling and spinning. And why don’t Janey and Jeff’s outfits match better? You would have thought that would have planned it out a little…
“He’s a Big Bad Wolf” – Teen Wolf: So this song was obviously written specifically for this movie. The lyrics could not be any stupider. But I do love the distorted “wolf voice”. And, of course, I love Boof.
“Little Boy Sweet” – Vacation: This is one of the funniest parts of one of the funniest movies ever. So I don’t even care that this song is cheesy as hell.
“Get Outta Town” – Fletch: This car scene actually features some first-rate dialogue (as does the entire movie), but this song perfectly fits the music montage criteria. I mean, come on, did you ever turn on the radio once in the ’80s to hear this song?
“Bit by Bit” – Fletch: Okay, so this isn’t technically a song from a music montage. It’s the theme song from Fletch and is featured in the closing (and maybe opening?) credits. But I included it here because it is definitely one of those songs that you only ever heard when watching the movie — and what a fine movie it is. I also included it because I came across this clip of the Martika-era Kids Incorporated gang covering it…and I’m pretty sure that’s Ozone from Breakin’ dressed as a genie. Classic!
Can you think of others? If so, please share. One can only hope that, by extending the conversation, we can lobby for real change in Hollywood.