Various Artists - The Big Chill

2009-01-23 12:50
 
The Big Chill
 

It was the false dawn of Kevin Costner's acting career, famously cut from the film in all but one scene (in which he played a corpse). It was also a movie about the present facing up to the past. Six friends gather after the suicide and funeral of a friend, finding themselves changed and alienated from their younger, idealistic selves. The present is the Eighties, materialistic and harsh. The Sixties, and the parties and rallies and carelessness of youth, are gone.

Naturally, this not only uncovered the existential angst of six fictional baby boomers, but put The Big Chill's audience to the same question: "Are you happy yet? If not, why not?" Tough stuff indeed, but the poison came with an antidote: Motown soul. Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations: these are the reasons why I still regard The Big Chill as the best movie soundtrack ever.

In the Sixties, these Soul standards were the music of the moment. Now, they feel utterly timeless. Why? As Lionel Richie said, "'I love you' never goes out of style". Devotion, affection, loss: the pioneers of Rhythm & Blues explored them from every angle, knew what they were about, and how to write them. "You could have told me yourself / That you love someone else / Instead... I heard it through the grapevine," sang Mr Gaye, his betrayal sweet enough to melt our own.

To me, The Big Chill was also about one very, very special song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum. "Pale" was the only British contribution to the soundtrack, but in its own way, it was as Motown as anything else: in touch with its emotions & willing to share them. And yet, they were so complex! Even today, people argue about the real meaning of lyrics like: "The room was humming harder / As the ceiling flew away / When we called out for another drink / The waiter brought a tray". But these images have a way of translating to experience. In love and war, things seem  no less upside down and always, always, when overwhelmed by either, I would recall this American song by a bunch of Londoners and feel less alone.

Perhaps the name of the soundtrack is a little misleading. To 'chill' is to sit back and relax, to be left to your own devices in any kind of comfort zone. But Motown was born out of gospel: a rousing, exciting musical tradition that preferred the choir, and its audience, to stand up. The Big Chill is just as lively, finding its own kind of happy clappy goodness in swingin’ tunes like “Joy to the World” and “My Girl”, as fun on Karaoke night as they are with dancing shoes and Jagermeister.

It is disappointing to learn how little of modern pop is original. But to return to the source, the era that found a way to put the 'motion' in 'emotion', is an unforgettable homecoming. The Big Chill has a way of serenading our inner romantic and when that happens, no one really cares what year it is.


The Big Chill was many things to many people.
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Niel 2009/01/26 4:39 PM
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A great movie with a wonderful soundtrack - one of the best. Pity no Stones on the album. The most memorable scene was the funeral superbly dramatised by the build-up of "You can't always get what you want" - amongst the best half dozen or so Stones numbers.
JO 2009/01/27 8:22 AM
One of the very special movies to me. Last movie I saw with my wife. The next day she was murdered. So I always remenber this.
Colleen 2009/01/27 9:28 AM
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But WHERE can you get this album from nowadays anyway? The shops are just full of the latest junk......anyone have any ideas ....
Cibella 2009/01/27 10:31 AM
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Colleen, I agree with you! I never saw the movie, but I had the sound track on tape. Played it to death on the N1 thru the Karoo at night. Great driving music.
Niel Bekker 2009/01/27 10:38 AM
Colleen, you can buy the album from Kalahari.net. Just click on 'Kalahari' in the Related Links section on the right.
Poseletso 2009/01/27 2:27 PM
My Girl I love that song.
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