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After taking to the stage at Los Angeles’ iconic The Troubadour nightclub, Elton John (Taron Egerton) does what any skyrocketing musician would do following their first major career triumph. As depicted in Rocketman, he moseys along to the after party at Mama Cass’s house. He’s understandably buzzed, all thanks to his own electric performance, the enthusiastic crowd response to "Crocodile Rock", and the hordes of eager onlookers slinging applause and compliments his way. That said, he also feels out of his depth at the jam-packed shindig, especially when his friend and lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) announces that he’s following a girl he’s just met off into the night. Alone and unhappy at a raucous gathering in his honor, he finds his way onto the back deck and lets his feelings out in song; Rocketman is a musical biopic, after all. The track: "Tiny Dancer".
It’s a tender scene, accompanied by an aptly crooned tune — delicate rather than rousing in this rendition. In reality, the song hadn’t yet been released, with Taupin penning the lyrics in response to their US trip; however Rocketman is guided by mood and emotion rather than historical accuracy. Naturally, for anyone who has seen Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, something else springs to mind as John ponders blue jean babies and L.A. ladies. Thanks to a standout sequence in the 2000 film, the track instantly conjures up visions of another crowd of musicians and hangers-on, all joyously belting out the track on a bus. Indeed, as evocative as Rocketman proves in blending John’s music with his life story, it also possesses another skill, reminding viewers of the many stellar movie moments that John’s songs have accompanied.
The list is lengthy, as well as diverse. After Almost Famous, Moulin Rouge! soars to the top of the pile. Baz Luhrmann used tunes by everyone from David Bowie and Queen to Nirvana and Madonna in his 2001 musical romance, but John’s "Your Song" just might be the most memorable inclusion on the stacked soundtrack. Sung by besotted writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) to courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), the tune becomes a passionate serenade — as it always was, before it featured in the film, just with its lovelorn swooning dialed up several notches. It helps considerably that McGregor’s smooth tones, soulful delivery and earnest twinkle in his eye suit the song perfectly. Also crucial is Luhrmann’s approach, staging the scene as a whirlwind romantic fantasy just as the movie demands.
Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho mightn’t instantly pop into John-loving cinephiles’ heads, but it still adopts the pitch-perfect song for its tone and tale. "Blue Eyes" is ruminative and poetic, a description that also applies to the 1991 film about hustlers Mike (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reeves) as they attempt to navigate Portland’s streets, Idaho’s roads and a soul-searching trip to Rome. Van Sant spends ample time peering at the expressive faces of his two main actors — especially at Phoenix — that his choice of track hardly comes as a surprise. In fact, that remains the case even considering the obvious: neither Phoenix nor Reeves’ eyes are blue.
Hailing from the quickly forgotten heyday of Katherine Heigl-led rom-coms, 27 Dresses gave cinema not just a great scene set to one of John’s all-time greatest tracks, but a great sing-along scene too. So popular and ubiquitous for so many years, his music lends itself to hearty on-screen renditions, with the crooning characters often becoming the audience’s surrogates. That’s certainly the case here, just as it was in Almost Famous. When Heigl’s Jane and James Marsden’s Kevin get drunk in a bar, then take part in a lively version of John’s already lively "Bennie and the Jets", they mirror an experience that many watching can relate to. We’re not saying that karaoke requests for the track increased dramatically after the film’s release, but just as art imitated life, life undoubtedly returned the favour by imitating art.
American Hustle doesn’t ask its high-profile cast of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams to sing "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". David O. Russell’s ’70s and ‘80s-era drama doesn’t need to. The song serves its purpose as it is, adding a wistful tone to a pivotal scene. Not only does it echo as the film corrals all of its main players at the same place, but as it tasks them with exchanging loaded looks. It also provides an ideal soundtrack of sweeping grandeur to an eye-catching shot that sees Cooper and Adams emerge from behind a cloud of smoke.
Singing is a part of Sing, however, as the name suggests. Before Egerton became Elton John, stepping convincingly into his electric boots and over-the-top suits, he sang like him anyway — as an animated gorilla. Johnny is a teenage simian who just wants to use his voice instead of his brute force, as his crime kingpin father wants, and enters a singing competition to make his dreams come true. The character’s rendition of "I’m Still Standing" is his finest moment, one that Egerton gets to ape in Rocketman. He was cast in the biopic after the animated feature, and after appearing on-screen with John in Kingsman: The Golden Circle as well, which coincidentally features the song "Rocket Man".
The big source of John-scored movie magic, of course, stems from another animated source: The Lion King. Film fans everywhere have felt the love for the 1994 animated classic for a quarter of a century, and for John’s emotive songs along with it. And they’ll get to do so all over again very shortly, because Disney’s photo-realistic remake couldn’t arrive with better timing when it hits cinemas in July. In the space of three months, moviegoers will see John’s early antics brought to life in Rocketman, then revisit the other film that he’ll always be linked to. That’s an apt circle of life — and proof that his musical movie moments are set to continue.