Scene Sound Off: Baby It’s You

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

1e6864b911e5aa5d232c8e5e25a20de8Baby 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!

Scene Sound Off: Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese’s biopic of the rage-fueled self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta is simultaneously painful and poetic. One of the most harrowing moments of the film comes near the climax when he is thrown in jail. The film perfectly captures the fruition of LaMotta’s inner conflict in this one scene.

Jake LaMotta is at his lowest point, he has finally hit rock bottom. Alone and imprisioned he is able to question and confront his life choices and behaviors. After cursing off the guards, he paces in the jail cell and tries to catch his breath. He puts his hand on the wall, and as the camera slowly moves in he starts banging his head against the wall nearly 10 times. He moves on to punching the wall tearfully screaming the word “why” each time he hits the concrete. Steadily at first, then faster and faster over and over as his screaming gets louder and more frenzied.

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Then he sits, crying in pain from the punches. He admonishes himself for being so stupid, and heartbreakingly cries “They called me an animal, I’m not an animal. I’m not an animal.” Because at this moment he truly feels like an animal, trapped and confined in a cage where he is unable to be a danger to anyone else, as he has been all is life. He is the only one left he can fight. The raging bull is tamed and left with nothing else but to finally face himself.

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The cinematography in this scene is stunning. His entire face is hidden in darkness, we see very little of him and can only hear his voice. He is shrouded in the shadows as if it uncomfortable for the audience to see him clearly. Such a vulnerable and devastating moment is too painful to watch and better peering in on than viewing nakedly.

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Although many of us don’t quite lead the life of such violence and high tension as LaMotta did,  there’s been times where all of us have felt like we were hitting a brick wall, making the same mistakes when we’ve sworn not to, doing something wrong instead of what we know is right. Whether we’re angry with ourselves or with life, we’ve all felt like violently breaking free of the confines we’ve found ourselves in. This scene not only does service to portray Jake LaMotta’s struggles, but also speaks on a human level by showing a type of despair that we’ve all felt at one point in our lives.

This is one of Robert De Niro’s finest work, demonstrating his much deserved Oscar win for the role. It is what I believe to be the greatest acting scene in film history. Watch it for yourself below. And better yet, watch the whole film for yourself. It’s a masterpiece.