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Wake Up – The Arcade Fire

Yet another posting by regular contributor Matt Thurston. You can also read his reviews of Elton John’s “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters” or “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen or his description of the curse of being Michael Jackson’s younger brother Jermaine.
the_arcade_fire_funeral1Two months ago I was sitting in a movie theater as the lights dimmed to black and the screen turned to that familiar deep shade of emerald green. Before I could read the words that appeared on the screen – “The following PREVIEW has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.” – my Pavlovian response to the emerald green screen had already kicked in: my muscles relaxed, my senses primed, and my mind poised, eager to be thrilled, amused, and intellectually challenged by the imminent celluloid images.

I Love a Great Movie Trailer

Who doesn’t love a great movie trailer? It’s the food equivalent of that thimble full of chocolate frosting you steal when you poke your finger into a corner of a freshly-baked chocolate cake when no one is looking. Whether movies or cakes, this little taste is the best part of the whole condensed to its pure sugary essence. What the taste and the trailer have in common is the tease, and the tease is almost impossible to mess up – it’s all promise and potential. It’s the thing itself that’s difficult to perfect, and sadly, just as the slice of cake often fails to measure up to the promise of the taste, the film itself often fails to live up to the promise of the trailer.

The secret ingredient for most movie trailers is the song that accompanies the images. It’s the proverbial flour that holds the whole cake together. The song creates the mood, the vibe, the attitude, and it’s this “feeling” that is the lingering takeaway from the trailer. One week later you might find yourself chatting in your cubicle with a couple of co-workers about upcoming movies, and while you might not be able to recall a single moment from the trailer you are trying to describe for your co-workers, you’ll be able to confidently state that the movie seemed really ______ (fill in the blank: cool/intense/sad/bizarre/etc.). Credit the song (or score) for that feeling.

The movie trailer song – especially if it is a familiar song – acts as a kind of emotional shorthand for the audience. Hear a few bars of the melody, and the emotions associated with the song are instantly transformed onto the movie. One movie-trailer director (yes, it’s a job) said he often used U2 or Coldplay in movie trailers purposefully in the hopes that the uplifting or inspiring equity inherent in their songs would rub off on the movie.

“Wake Up” Brilliantly Used in Where the Wild Things Are Movie Trailer

Which brings me back to the trailer from two months ago… The emerald screen disappears, and we see an image of a young boy being carried through a forest of tall trees by what appears to be a giant, hairy monster. For seven or eight seconds all we hear are the sounds of the monster’s footsteps tramping on dead leaves on the forest floor.

And then the guitar hook kicks in…

Within seconds I recognize the familiar sound of one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands of the past decade: “Wake Up” by The Arcade Fire. A few seconds later, additional clues make it apparent that this is a trailer for a movie version of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.

The trailer is wonderful, and the song was the perfect choice for so many reasons. Besides being topically ideal, “Wake Up” gives Where the Wild Things Are the same kind of hipster or indie credibility that E.L.O.’s “Mr. Blue Sky” gave Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” gave Lost in Translation. Finally, The Arcade Fire has that kind of Bono-esque or Coldplay-esque ability to inspire, so difficult (and risky) in an artistic medium largely dominated by cynicism and irony.

Watch the Where the Wild Things Are movie trailer

Watch a live performance of “Wake Up” by The Arcade Fire and David Bowie

Buy the song and album Arcade Fire - Funeral

Finally, go out and purchase Funeral and Neon Bible, The Arcade Fire’s critically acclaimed first two albums.

Coming soon: My Top Ten Songs Used in Movie Trailers.

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I'm an obsessive music collector, cataloger, commenter and trivia nut. Sometimes I'm even a listener. One-hit wonders have always been a guilty pleasure.

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