There's such a lot of world to see

One of the things we left behind in the 1960s was the strange convention in films where the leading lady would, for some reason, sing a song, even though the movie was not a musical.  

Barbara Stanwyck (actually it was Martha Tilton, but no matter) sings "Drum Boogie" in Ball of Fire.  Humphrey Bogart walks into a room at a party in The Big Sleep and there's Lauren Bacall, inexplicably leading a huge ensemble in singing "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine."

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) is dated in a great many ways, some of them more problematic than others (I'm looking at you, Mickey Rooney). It too has the requisite scene of the leading lady strumming a guitar and breaking into song.  It's never explained how or when Holly Golightly (or Lula Mae Barnes, for that matter) first picked up a guitar, or why she sings.  She just can and does.

Of the many songs that Henry Mancini wrote for Blake Edwards over his career, "Moon River" is the loveliest and most wistful.  It's sweet, and simple, and a little bit opaque (what does "my huckleberry friend" mean?), and in the context of this movie, it makes sense.  "There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl, who lived alone except for a nameless cat," writes Paul Varjak, just before the lovely frightened girl, who has just stepped out of the shower, sits on her fire escape and sings a song.  Like one does.

Strangely for a song written in 1961, "Moon River" has had a resurgence in the last year.

Here's Frank Ocean's, from 2018.  It starts out a little weird, with a voice that seems inflected by helium. But then it spreads out and settles in, and the result's just crushingly beautiful.  Hepburn's version is that of a young woman who's yearning for girlhood because the adult world's too much for her, but Ocean's seems to be from a more confident perspective, a man who's found his place in the world but who still longs for a simpler, safer time.  (It's not for nothing that this version was used in Ava DuVernay's When They See Us.)

Jacob Collier released his version this June.  Even for him, this is maximalist.  Its nearly-four-minute intro is longer than Ocean's entire rendition.  It opens with a quiet but amazingly dense chorus of nearly 100 people, and then several hundred Jacob Colliers take over.  (The Logic project for this recording has over 500 tracks.)  It builds up into something like an R&B version of Thomas Tallis's "Spem in Alium," with even more voices.  It's a beautiful composition, but it won't leave you flattened the way Ocean's will.


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