I’m excited to launch a brand new column on the blog. jazz on film is an idea that I’ve been toying with for awhile now. I hope to use this column as a place to discuss all this at the intersection of jazz and film. Here, you will see biographical films about jazz musicians, films with jazz-centric stories, films staring jazz musicians, film adaptations of broadway musicals from the jazz age, or, as is the case today, films with a jazz score. A word of warning before we start, this column contains spoilers. Ok? Let’s begin!
Set in 1965 rural Iowa, The Bridges of Madison County follows the romance between a farm wife, Francesca Johnson (played by Meryl Streep) and a National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid (played by Clint Eastwood). The relationship takes place over four-days while Francesca’s husband and two children are away at the State Fair.
With the exception of the love theme (“Doe Eyes” composed by Clint Eastwood and Lennie Niehaus) all of the music in this film comes from organic sources; the kitchen radio, the car radio, and live music at the bar. However, the jazz doesn’t start until Robert enters the film. Francesca listens to opera when she is alone. When they share their first car ride out to the bridge, Robert is looking for a station he heard out of Chicago that “played some good blues music.” From then on, the radios throughout the film stayed tuned to that station.
After helping him find the bridge he was looking to photograph, Francesca invites Robert in for a cold drink. He stands in her kitchen for the first time and fiddles with the dial on the radio. He stops at Blue Gardenia by Dinah Washington. The first lyric we hear is “…now I’m alone with you…” Five minutes later, Easy Living by Johnny Hartman comes on. By this time, conversation is flowing easily between Robert and Francesca and she invites him to stay for dinner.
The two part ways for a moment to get cleaned up before dinner and Francesca catches a glimpse of Robert washing himself at the water spout in the yard from her bedroom window. In the next scene a moment later, Dinah Washington’s I’ll Close My Eyes is playing on the kitchen radio. The first lyric we hear is “I’ll close my eyes to everyone but you…” It continues to play while Francesca and Robert cook dinner together. Throughout this scene Francesca steals glances of Robert’s arms and has trouble concentrating on the words he’s saying. When Robert leaves the kitchen to get beer out of his truck, you can see the mix of emotion on Francesca’s face – she’s obviously taken with him but she knows she’s getting herself in trouble. In a way, some lyrics of this song outline her conflict with their irony:
I’ll lock my heart
To any other caress
I’ll never say yes
To a new love affair
In another way, they foreshadow the end of the film:
And through the years
In those moments
When we’re far apart
Don’t you know I’ll close my eyes
And I’ll see you with my heart
This concludes part one of the very first jazz on film. Part two will be posted next Friday. Please let me know what you think of this column in the comments below.