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February 2004, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 20 Feb 2004 15:21:37 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
"Sarah L. Higley" <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (119 lines)
Sorry for the cross-posting.

I'm teaching two "angel" movies in my film course: Wenders' Wings of
Desire and Silberling's "remake": City of Angels.  Among many many other
things, we'll be discussing "soundtrack" as an aid in making "meaning."
Wenders' soundtrack is phenomenal, and his composer's description of his
methods (in the DVD "Interview") echoes in some ways how the film came
together--experimentally and incrementally--but I'm in need of some advice
to talk about the "angel" music in Silberling's film.  Silberling employs
the songs of already well-known vocalists or groups (U2, Jim Hendrix, John
Lee Hooker, Sarah McLachlan, Eric Clapton, etc. where in some places the
film even starts resembling an MTV production); but one of them very
strangely is Alanis Morisette's "Uninvited."  It's only played during the
credits, a ploy I see a number of films using (such as the fabulous song
by tomandandy, "Half Light," played during the credits for _The Mothman
Prophecies_.  I hope I'm writing to the best audience here; I know that
film score has only fairly recently become a focus in film criticism, and
I need the advice of someone who is familiar with this song and why it's
used in this, I think, fairly confused movie.  I will argue that there are
incoherencies and contradictions in both the Wenders and the Silberling
films but for different reasons, and I think one incoherent element in the
latter is the choice of "Uninvited."

It is a compellingly powerful melody sung to a strong beat and a minor
chord whose lyrics, outside their context in City of Angels, sound like an
egotistical pop-star's dismissal of an idolizer who wants to be part of
her "crowd."  Here are the words as I was able to get them off a website
(they are very hard to follow on a CD, mainly because Morisette's style
seems to be to put syllabic emphasis in an unnatural place):

        Like anyone would be
        I am flattered by your fascination with me
        Like any hot-blooded woman
        I have simply wanted [an] object to crave
        But you you're not allowed
        You're uninvited
        An unfortunate slight

        Must be strangely exciting
        To watch the stoic squirm
        Must be somewhat heartening
        To watch shepherd need shepherd
        But you, you're not allowed
        You're uninvited
        An unfortunate slight

        Like any uncharted territory
        I must seem greatly intriguing
        You speak of my love like
        You have experienced love like mine before
        But this is not allowed
        You're uninvited
        An unfortunate slight

        I don't think you unworthy
        I need a moment to deliberate


The whole film is about how Maggie Rice "invites" the angels attention by
her seeing him, how she "invites" his advances when she thinks he's a man.
She rejects him momentarily when he tells her he's an angel in love with
her ("I can't conceive of it!") and then, told that he could "fall," she
rejects him to save him from rejecting eternity.  But she "invites" him
into her home when he has fallen, makes love to him, and gets killed in a
bicycle accident.  What does the song have to do with the movie?  My hunch
is that it was chosen for its melodic quasi-mystical ambience, and for the
sense it gives of a "goddess" speaking to a mortal (is that what Maggie
has become for Seth?).  Does anyone know the background of this song and
what the singer means by "it must be strangely exciting to watch the stoic
squirm?"  Or that it must be "heartening to watch shepherd need shepherd"?
Was the song written for the film?  These lines, especially the latter,
might indicate that the angel, the shepherd, finds he needs shepherding,
or that the angel, the stoic and unfeeling, can be made to feel, but these
lines don't fit the rest of the song.  The rest of the song, if heard
within the chords of the movie, seem to suggest that the singer doesn't
want the ministrations of an angel, who is a "fan."  If the Silberling's
film is suggesting that it is no business of an angel to "fall," that it
is not within his nature to want to touch a mortal woman's hair, that he's
misbehaving, or seeking one not of his race, class, or species, or that he
allies himself with the Sons of God who lusted after the Daughters of Men
and begot on them a race of giants (Wings of Desire makes much better
reference to scriptural and pseudepigraphal writings about aberrant
angels) then is this where Silberling expresses what should have been an
issue in the movie?

Could that be what the director was after?  Or is it just a cool melody?
Production for production's sake and a neat thing to have on the

Thanks in advance,

Post Script:  I think the credits is becoming a site for musical (or
visual) commentary that either reinforces or counters the "message" of the
film, and this is something I want to draw the attention of my impatient
students to.  What has been said about this?  About 90 percent of the
audience gets up from a movie during the credits, but I find filmmakers
using the credits to give extra information, however obliquely, to those
curious enough to sit through them.

On DVD's, people will pore over the commentaries to get the Easter egg,
but still get up during the credits.

Sarah L. Higley                            [log in to unmask]
                                           [log in to unmask]
Associate Professor of English                office:  (585) 275-9261
The University of Rochester                   fax:     (585) 442-5769
Rochester NY, 14627
Py dydwc glein / O erddygnawt vein?
"What brings a gem from a hard stone?"               Book of Taliesin

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