Jul 132010

STOP, in the name of love!

Last night I watched most of Taxi Driver for – what – the 25th time? [Make that 26th time – the cable station that was playing it played it again, back to back, so I had to watch it again to see what I’d missed earlier, and then I wanted to see the rest of the movie in sequence.] No director’s movies resonate with me more deeply and consistently than Martin Scorsese‘s classic films, from this 1976 breakthrough through Raging Bull (maybe my favorite move of all time), The King of Comedy and After Hours, and ending with Goodfellas. Since then he’s been a hollow run of the movie director’s equivalent of the Stones’ “best album since Exile.” Even Kundun was a letdown.

I blame Scorsese’s decline on his late-midlife crisis of chasing all the blonde cheerleader types who’d never looked his way when he was a young, awkward nobody, going through his own set of anxieties. It was one thing to work out his neuroses by having Travis go off the deep end in response to rejection by Cybill Shepherd’s character, but it’s something else to cast Cameron Diaz and ask her to speak in an Irish brogue for some 19th century Riverdance. But this is not exactly what I’m here to discuss.

I bet you’re all familiar with the concept of what I call the screeching halt movie, one of those movies that, when flipping channels, brings your remote control to a screeching halt and keeps you locked into the film from whatever point you entered until its conclusion. (You’re probably thinking of one of your screeching half faves as you read this – feel free to share it.) I’m not sure that the screeching half effect is as applicable in our music-listening practices, especially in this age of being tapped into our personal iTunes playlists and other tailored digital programs that have allowed us to fulfill David Bowie’s dream of being the DJ. However, when we actually spent more time in our cars, slaves to the limited options of “terrestrial radio,” we may have been more familiar with the notion of coming to a screeching halt while flipping through the radio dial. (I suspect most of our readers are old enough to have actually turned a radio dial.) Do we still think of songs in this screeching-halt sense, where we drop everything and make sure to listen closely until the song concludes?


  19 Responses to “Screeching Halt”

  1. I can’t be the only person who stands in one aisle of the supermarket, because that’s where you can hear the speaker best, or sitting in the car, after parking, until the song ends.

    I had a moment with my wife a few months ago, we’d arrived at our destination, but “She’s Gone” was playing. We cracked up, realizing we had to wait for that big falsetto “She’s Gooooooone” toward the end.

    For me, this mostly happens for “guilty pleasure” kinds of songs.

  2. I don’t know why, but Billy Bob Thorton’s Slingblade always garners my attention when it’s on. To me, the film kind of peters out by the end, but there’s something about the quiet way the film rolls along. Plus, Dwight Yoakum is GREAT.

    A song that always brings me to a screeching halt will be “Good Vibrations”. I can dig it anytime, anywhere.


  3. Last night, I watched the last half-hour or so of L.A. Confidential. Total screeching halt moment. Plus, I was conflicted because another screeching-halt movie was on, Jaws.

    Song-wise, the first thing that came to mind was “All the Young Dudes.” I was very happy to hear that in a state store a few weeks ago, and even happier that the line was long enough so I could hear the whole song.

  4. misterioso

    Alas, I probably have a lot of screeching halt movies, but one that definitely comes to mind is Patton. I have probably only ever seen it in its entirety twice, but I have seen large chunks of it innumerable times. Always pulls me in. Has he slapped the soldier yet? Another that I have seen countless times but seldom would pass over is The Third Man.

    As for songs, All the Young Dudes is a good one. When I was a kid and used to hear it on the radio once in a blue moon I was always riveted by it because it is a great song and for years I did not know who it was by. Who are these guys?

    But my definitive screeching halt song is Positively 4th Street, which, back in day, I used to randomly encounter more than seemed normal and it was always a favorite song and called for complete attention. I would add that Someone Saved My Life Tonight also calls for that level of stop and listen attention. What this says about me, I will ask you to keep to yourselves.

  5. I mostly stop in my tracks only when something I like and also consider to be not widely known pops up in everyday situations. I was inexplicably happy to hear Lou’s “Dirty Blvd” at a deli counter the other day. And speaking of terrestrial radio, one of the local classic rock jocks used the Replacement’s “Nightclub Jitters” as a bumper and it used to trick me every time.

  6. BigSteve

    I never listen to music on the radio anymore, so I don’t really have screeching halt songs. I don’t like coming in in the middle of a song anyway, though I do remember the concept of sitting in the car to let a song finish. I do that when I’m playing a CD in the car too.

    My only screeching halt movie is Life with Father with William Powell. For some reason I find that one fascinating, and I usually hate classic Hollywood films.

    And misterioso, I love Someone Saved My Life Tonight too. Beautiful record.

  7. I get sucked into Goodfellas and the Godfather almost every time they’re on tv. We don’t have any premium channels so the versions I get sucked into have been sanitized and chopped up with commercials.

    I can also get seriously distracted by Roadhouse. I think it has a higher “Entertaining Bad Movie Quotient” than Plan 9 From Outer Space.

  8. I have a few

    Raising Arizona & Fargo
    Caddy Shack
    Scarface (Al Pacino version)
    Rebel Without a Cause
    Thin Man movies (love Myrna Loy)

    Already mentioned:
    Godfather and Godfather II
    Sling Blade (great performances — even John Ritter)

    About a year ago I started heariig random Replacements and Paul Westerberg solo stuff in restaurants.

    I hung out in a few different places to listen to Achin’ to Be, Love Untold, and These Are the Days.

    It is kind of weird to hear these songs in a public place, since I thought I was the only one who ever listened to this stuff anymore.

  9. “Slap Shot”

  10. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve wrote:

    I don’t like coming in in the middle of a song anyway, though I do remember the concept of sitting in the car to let a song finish.

    When we get around to making the Rock Town Hall Yearbook, you will definitely get the “Most Likely Not to Like Coming in in the Middle of a Song” title and possibly the Most Likely to “Sit in the Car and Let the Song Finish” title:) I can imagine a few others vying for that latter designation.

    I’m with you on Myrna Loy, funoka, and her onscreen partner William Powell is excellent too!

    I’ve got a ton of screeching halt movies. I won’t bore you (or me) with listing even half of them, but a few others that are frequently on tv and that immediately come to mind, thanks to countless hours of sleep I’ve stayed up watching them once again, include:

    Barton Fink
    Point Break (“100% Pure Adrenaline!”)
    To Have and Have Not

  11. machinery

    Funny Mr. Mod. Raging Bull is my all time #1 fav, too. For a while there I would seem to stop and watch 2001 Space Odyssey at anytime of night and watch it till the end. Love that freakin movie. Mid-period Woody Allen movies too will supercede whatever else is on.

    As for songs, God Only Knows. I can’t imagine a better build-up/ending with all those harmonies at the end. How do you not stop and listen to that?

  12. mockcarr

    I probably have watched more bits of Godfathers than anything else, but I’m much more likely to have a backlog of syndicated tv sitcoms in my youth I’ve done this with over the years, Odd Couple, Barney Miller, Mash, Cheers, Seinfeld, Simpsons, etc.

    What’s interesting is that we probably already own these movies and songs, yet still will listen/watch when we are not making the conscious decision to play them. I do this when pretty much when any Marx Brothers film comes on, although I’ve been free to watch them for the umpteenth time at my leisure for twenty years.

  13. BigSteve

    Seriously, other people don’t sit in the car and wait for a song to end, what NPR advertises as a ‘driveway moment’?

  14. Mr. Moderator

    I definitely do this, BigSteve, that’s why I said you might have some competition for that “Most Likely to…” category.

  15. BigSteve

    I also have an aftermarket device that tells me when to turn on the radio by lighting up right before a song is about to start. But that’s probably just me.

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    My geeky, weird radio music habit is — I’ll sit in the car until the song resolves to the tonic. Makes me sit for quite a while when I’m tuned to the classical station.

  17. Speaking owning the movies/records, I have been known to catch a film I own on TV and put the DVD in when a commercial comes on. “Why am I watching the pan-and-scan edited version when I can see it in full glory?”


  18. “Dirty Blvd”

    ya mean, Lou’s last good song?

  19. Screeching Halt Movie:
    The Terminator by James Cameron

    Screeching Halt Song:
    Just Remember I Love You by Firefall

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