/Mirror, Mirror/ believes in love and bad folk songs.
Recently, I learned about a new Snow White movie called Mirror, Mirror. It could be good, despite the trailer’s best efforts to rub the most annoying, unfunny bits in our faces. There seems to be some charm to the flick, less appealing parts aside, and there is also some good advanced word. We’ll see. What I really want to talk about here is the song at the beginning, which stopped me dead in my tracks.
Are you up on your early Milos Forman films? And your early ’70s semi-independent cinema? Here’s a crash course. After the smash success of Easy Rider, an independent film that came out of nowhere and became perhaps the most important film of 1969, Universal decided to experiment with independent cinema to see if it could recreate the Easy Rider phenomenon. The studio started an independent division and funded five movies with $1 million apiece. The results: George Lucas made his first big hit, the nostalgic American Graffiti; special effects master Douglas Trumbull made his first movie, the thoughtful environmentally-conscious space film Silent Running; Easy Rider star Peter Fonda directed his first film, the quiet, meditative western The Hired Hand; Easy Rider director Dennis Hopper destroyed his career with the non-linear film The Last Movie; and Czech director Milos Forman made his first English-language film, Taking Off.
Forman’s movie contained a lot of folk rock songs played on acoustic guitar by young women, most of whom have only a rudimentary knowledge of the instrument and nothing interesting to convey musically. You’ve heard of the White Guy with Acoustic Guitar Song? Sorta like that, but with bland, socially conscious folk music sung by hippie chicks. There are a couple nice ones in there. Actress Katherine Bates, before she was kidnapping famous authors and breaking their ankles, did a song called “Even the Horses Had Wings.” Pretty song. I like it. Carly Simon shows up to contribute “Long-Term Physical Effects,” which is ok, if nothing too spectacular. But the one that leads the pack — the first song in the film — is a song called “Love” by a woman named Nina Hart. From what I read, she previously played a role on As the World Turns. The song is memorable for how dull it is. This woman is trying her DAMNEDEST to make this song pedestrian, and she succeeds with flying colors!
God DAMN, that is some bland music! What really sticks out about it is how fantastically wrong the filmmakers were to think this was a good song. This is the song they chose to lead up with, so they obviously thought they had a winner! It’s so bland and ordinary, it’s actually offensive! The lack of effort that went into the writing is staggering! Take the stereotypical late ’60s-early ’70s message of people not loving one another, reduce it to its most puerile form, add some rudimentary minor-key strumming, and you have this song! There isn’t a single ounce of imagination or originality to be found here!
So imagine my surprise when I put on the trailer for Mirror, Mirror and heard this song! What the hell was it doing there? Did director Tarsem actually watch Taking Off, hear this song, and say, “I want that song in my next movie!”? How could anyone do that? The song sucks!
Well, guess what I turned up in my research into the matter?
Turns out an Iranian disco singer by the name of Googoosh did this song in 1978. Seems somebody on her end saw Taking Off and just had to produce a cover of that opening song. Well, Donna Summer did do “MacArthur Park,” after all. Given enough disco singers in foreign countries, I guess we could eventually have disco versions of everything from the flower power era.
Only one person on the internet seems to have noticed that Googoosh’s song came from Taking Off (I wonder if Nina Hart ever received royalties.) I haven’t seen anyone make the connection between Taking Off and the Mirror, Mirror trailer yet, but I have seen a number people make the connection between Googoosh and the Mirror, Mirror trailer. Googoosh seems to be a big deal in her native country; evidently a bigger deal than Milos Forman’s film is in the entirety of the world. Tarsem comes from India, so it’s conceivable that he heard Googoosh’s recording there. He may not even know about Nina Hart’s original version.
That may explain what the song is doing in the trailer for Mirror, Mirror. Partly, anyway. I still don’t understand how a song this bland gets rescued from obscurity twice. How do people labor under the illusion that this is a good song? Why do they think it’s good enough to put at the beginning of their movies, or to make cover versions, or to put into movie trailers? This was a song that never needed to be written or performed in the first place. Chalk up its use in Taking Off to naïveté. It was the early ’70s, and a lot of people didn’t know any better. As for the disco era, if they still thought a song with the lyric “like a stripèd pair of pants” was acceptable, they must not have known any better either; let’s make the obvious joke and attribute it to cocaine. But by now, everyone should have known better. There’s no excuse.
(Why the hell would Jimmy Webb write the lyric “like a stripèd pair of pants” anyway? “Spring was never waiting for us, girl./It ran one step ahead/As we followed in the dance…” Very nice. Then it continues: “…Between the parted pages, and were pressed/In love’s hot, fevered iron…” Good, good. Go ahead and finish the verse. “…Like a stripèd pair of pants.” WHAT!? Just because it was the ’60s doesn’t mean there weren’t limits on how corny you could be during sentimental moments!)
Update (4-3-12): The Huffington Post ran a story about Tarsem’s search for this song. Tarsem knew it through Googoosh, as I suspected. And yes, her performance is much more well known than Milos Forman’s film. So much so that Tarsem’s people had a hard time tracking the song to its source. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/30/mirror-mirror-song-i-believe-in-love_n_1387609.html
“‘It was just one of those songs that you wrote in about two hours,’ [Nina Hart] Griffiths said.” It shows, honey. It really does.