Saturday, May 5, 2007

What "Jungleland" and "Magnolia" Have in Common

I was on my way back from seeing Modest Mouse in Philadelphia and the song "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen came on shuffle. Now, it took me a long time to come around to Springsteen, because I thought he was just a New Jersey moron with a band who had a couple of pop hits, but then I listened to Nebraska and realized he's a damn good musician, and then he started getting his almost-inexplicable indie cred when The Hold Steady's third album was released and had a piano part ripped from Born to Run on its first track and the Arcade Fire included several musical nods to "the Boss" on their second album, so he's now offically an artist I listen to. And so, "Jungleland" came on, and the lyrics are great ("and the kids out there live just like shadows/always quiet, holding hands/from the churches to the jails") but then, there's that saxophone. Now, saxophone is fine sometimes, but I just don't like it in rock music. It seems out of place, like someone is trying to force Jazz on the music that stole from Blues. But I was sitting there, hating the saxophone, but still liking the song for everything in it that exists next to the very annoying solo ("Born to Run" has one of these, too, by the way) and I think that it's just a fact that as much as you may like something, there can always be a part of it that annoys the shit out of you, and it could be that this is a part of actively liking something: taking that part that just completely doesn't belong there, breaks up the experience for you, and ignoring it completely.

Which brings me to "Magnolia." It's a movie I've always had a hard time with, because the first time I saw it, I loved it, and the second time I saw it I hated it, and have proceeded to waver back and forth between these extremes on subsequent viewings and probably always will. But I think I essentially like the movie: the opening is perfect and sets the tone for the whole movie, and the interweaving plot lines (before "Crash" and "Babel" ran that concept into the ground) revolve around my two favorite actors (John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman) trying to keep the variously disturbed and unbalanced characters around them from falling into complete chaos. If I remember correctly the two never meet although their jobs as a police officer and a nurse link them to the same characters, and the whole movie does a great job of letting you believe that this is all possible, because, according to the opening sequence, "These things do not just happen" and chance and probability work in funny ways. But then, pretty far into the movie (or maybe not too far, it's a long film), everyone starts singing the same song in a montage of shots, and every time I see it I want to throw my hands up and walk away. I never do, because I love to see William H. Macy's total breakdown (and I don't even mind the frogs, I'll even buy that) but it just seems to destroy the illusion for me that the film creates. I hate the scene. So now, when I watch "Magnolia," I use that scene to go to the kitchen and make some popcorn, knowing that I can return when it's over, watch the ending, and still like the movie. It's just like muting the sound for the whole saxophone solo in "Jungleland": if I can just ignore that one thing, it's perfect.