John Sayles’ 1983 film Baby It’s You, the story of a class-cross teen romance in 1960s New Jersey, is unlike the other high school and nostalgia films of its release era. Instead of a romanticized vision of the “glory days” Sayles portrays a gritty and realistic past. The film becomes an antithesis to the nostalgia genre, mobilized by the use of anachronistic music. This takes the audience completely out of the film’s 1960s world, using Bruce Springsteen’s hits from the 1970s. The scene we will look at uses “She’s the One” from the groundbreaking 1975 album Born to Run.
Before this scene, Sheik got in a fight with a teacher, expelled from school and banned from prom. Jill has to go with a boy she could care less about while Sheik engages in a nocturnal crime spree with his friend Rat. The scene begins with a shot of Rat, wearing a cartoon rat mask as disguise, turning from front to profile. The camera follows his gaze to Sheik in a wolf’s mask, rummaging through the tuxedo shop cashier drawer with the piano softly tinkling underneath. Between Rat and Sheik is a male mannequin wearing a tuxedo with a corsage pin, above Sheik a sign reads “prom special.” These glaring reminders signify what Sheik has been denied, which the store owner has made a profit from. Sheik manages to usurp the school’s authority through this particular robbery.
When the owner discovers them “She’s the One” gets louder, and by the time the camera follows the pair outside to the Ratmobile, it is in full blast. “With her soft French cream, standing in the doorway like a dream” Springsteen sings. We can read these as Sheik’s visions of what prom would have been–seeing his beautiful girlfriend in her dress for the first time. The song softens as we cut to Jill driving in her car, upset from the disappointing night, the voices of her friends loud in the background. It resumes with a thrumming Bo Diddley beat just as the Ratmobile and police cars round the corner, the song has pulled them into the frame and brought the car chase to explosive life. The cacophony of wailing sirens, joyful screams of Rat and Sheik, and squealing tires synthesized to the percussive song anchors us to the scene and the rush that Rat and Sheik feel on that chaotic night.
It is important to note that the entire prom sequence as a whole is a dark sequence, unlike any of the idealism of prom scenes in the nostalgia genre. The film’s couple doesn’t even get to go together, Sheik is nearly arrested and Jill discovers her friend attempting suicide. The dark and grating visuals: the fog, halogen lights, blood and glass, chain-link fences, gritty Trenton neighborhood, all craft a dismal iconography fueled by the rough music.
Sayles choice of Springsteen also creates an interesting intertextuality, for his music reflects 70s and 80s need to recapture the spirit of the 50s and 60s. The Born to Run cover features Springsteen in greaser attire, a leather jacket and Elvis pin. The album was set upon re-creating Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound and the vocals of Roy Orbison. It is also a perfect choice, Springsteen being from New Jersey just as the characters are. Springsteen sings of the struggles of the lower and working-class, which Sheik is apart of.
Baby It’s You is a somber portrayal of a high school couple’s romance and follows the couple past graduation to the real world. It shows the pain of growing apart from someone you were once so close to. Using anachronistic music in a film that so specifically recreates the period through costume and visuals is exciting and daring. Yet, the Springsteen songs manage to fit perfectly in the story. It is an overlooked film that got very little recognition, but worth noting for its unique spin on the nostalgia genre and high school teen movies.
Watch the scene below!