Play Misty for me
Posted by keithosaunders on September 5, 2011
The other night I was flipping through the channels when I happened across Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film, Play Misty For Me. I came in at the halfway point, but ended up watching the remaining half. I’d seen it several years ago, but I had forgotten much of it.
Two things struck me about the film. One was how many similarities there are between Play Misty and For Me, and the 1987 thriller, Fatal Attraction. The most notable difference is that in Misty, Clint Eastwood’s character is a single man, whereas Fatal Attraction’s Michael Douglass is married.
On the one hand you have this 70’s era cautionary tale about the pitfalls of being a promiscuous single man, and on the other you have an 80’s allegory on what can happen when a married man strays from the path of the straight and narrow. Even though both movies are titillating in their way, in the end they are proponents of celibacy, and in that way they are conservative.
In both films a psychopathic woman attempts to commit suicide by slashing her wrist as a means of getting attention from her obsession. And both films feature a final confrontation between the lovers, culminating in the grizzly death of the woman. It’s interesting that both films paint the woman as an evil temptress — like the snake in the garden of Eden.
The other striking facet of Misty is the music. Of course you are treated to a generous helping of Errol Garner’s Misty, but that’s not all. In the middle of the film there is a ten minute scene of uninterrupted music without dialogue. While Clint is falling in love with a new girlfriend, Roberta Flack is heard on the soundtrack singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. The song eventually went on to become an enormous hit, due in no small part, I m sure, to this film.
The very next scene shows Clint and his new girlfriend attending the Monterey Jazz festival. Again, there is no dialogue — the music takes center stage, both literally and figuratively. The scene begins with a burning trombone solo played by a man named Gene Conners, aka the Mighty Flea. The solo goes on for several choruses. Conners is playing in the Johnny Otis band. Otis was a rhythm and blues musician, as well as composer, and his heyday goes back to the ’40s.
After the trombone solo the scene switches to none other than the Cannonball Adderley Quintet! They are playing a funky boogaloo and you can see his brother Nat on trumpet, as well as a young Joe Zawinul on piano. (he even had some hair then) You can hear the great drummer, Roy McCurdy on the track, but he is unseen in the film.
I thought it was striking to see such a long scene without dialogue in a mainstream film that was not a musical. That would never happen in today’s market-tested, corporately-driven films. This was as if Clint (who is a huge jazz fan) was saying, “Fuck it, it’s my film, I love jazz, and I’m going to shoehorn these great artists into the scene if it’s the last thing I do!”
I’m glad he did.