Mourning in the Movies

29 Jun

This past week, I watched The Godfather on the big screen with my dad and my nephew. Obviously, it is a great movie, and I have seen it many times. However, this time was different. In a dark theater with no distractions, I was able to focus on details  that I had missed and also fully enjoy some of my favorite scenes.

One of those scenes is the funeral of Don Corleone. Movie funerals have always fascinated me. Usually, they are essential to the plot, but that does not have to be the case. For me, a well filmed funeral scene stands out, and I do not know why. Perhaps, it is because a movie funeral makes the film more realistic. It could be because it provides the ceremony of a funeral without a person really being dead. It could simply be the drama of it all. Whatever the case, some of my favorite scenes are funerals.

The funeral of Don Corleone is especially good because of all the underlying consequences. The heads of the other families get out of their limousines for the burial of the Godfather while they are plotting to bury the entire Corleone empire. Michael knows a betrayal is coming but does not know who the culprit will be. As people mourn his father, Michael is set up to be assassinated by Sgt. Fish from Barney Miller.Godfather

Another great movie funeral actually involves an assassination. Before Paul McCartney sings the iconic theme song. Before Jane Seymour makes her appearance as a Bond Girl. Before Roger Moore makes his debut as James Bond. Before all of that, an American agent is killed in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He watches as a jazzy funeral procession passes by and does not realize until too late that it is his funeral.Jazz

With that, Paul McCartney is cued to sing, and Live and Let Die begins.

Before the death of the agent, the jazz band is playing “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” a traditional gospel song. Other movies have also used well-known religious songs to great effect. This is where I have something to confess. In my mind, one of the most beautiful sounds in the world is “Amazing Grace” being played on a bagpipe, and no movie does this better than Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. As Spock is buried in space, Scotty plays the pipes.Spock

Then, Spock is shot into a dead planet that immediately springs to life.

I guess that you could say Spock went out in a Blaze of Glory. That can also be said Valeria, Conan’s girlfriend in Conan the Barbarian. After being killed by a poison snake arrow fired by James Earl Jones, Valeria is mourned by Conan and burned on a funeral pyre. The wizard thinks the pyre will not burn, but the fury of Arnold makes it burn.Funeral Pyre

Another dramatic exit took place in V for Vendetta, the graphic novel inspired story of a masked terrorist. When he dies, his muse, played by Natalie Portman, puts him on a train filled with explosives and flowers.Vendetta

She then sends it down the tracks toward Parliament. Once there, he finishes what Guy Fawkes started way back in 1605.

As far as funerals for graphic novel anti-heroes go, V has nothing on The Comedian from The Watchmen. His death drives the plot of the movie, but there is more greatness. It is a miserably rainy day.Comedian

The other anti-heroes show up.  Dr. Manhattan even wears a suit. However, those are not even the best parts. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel plays over the scene to greater effect than it did that scene in The Graduate.

Then, there is the mourner who hides during the service. My favorite movie funeral scenes have someone watching from the distance who feels like they should stay away. Once everyone leaves, they go to the grave for their own private ceremony. In The Watchmen, Rorschach is the outsider who moves in after the fact.

In Cooley High, it is Preach who comes upon Chochise’s grave after everyone else has gone. This is another awesome scene. A drunken Preach reads a poem over the grave as a classic tune plays over the scene.Preach

Then, he wads up the paper and takes off into the gloom. This movie is also cool because it tells what happens to the characters as they grow older.

Alright, those are cool, but my favorite funeral scene with a distant viewer is in a western called The Sons of Katie Elder. The sons have come back home for the funeral of their mother. There preacher says some great words, and mourners tell the sons how great their mother was. However, one son is missing. He is a gunslinger who does not need to make a public appearance. He is John Wayne, and he is standing in the rocks looking down on the funeral.Katie Elder

John Wayne is also part of another great movie funeral. As his family is being buried in The Searchers, the Duke shuts down the ceremony because the time for praying is over.Searchers

The time for vengeance has arrived.

The time to end this post has also arrived.

15 Responses to “Mourning in the Movies”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong June 29, 2014 at 21:15 #

    We had a bagpiper at our wedding. The song to which we walked into the church was (what else) “Amazing Grace.” When the bagpiper stopped, my friend sang and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Nothing beats “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

    • Rick June 29, 2014 at 21:58 #

      It must have been a beautiful wedding. We used to have bagpipes at graduation. They were always to hear.

  2. Andrew Petcher June 30, 2014 at 04:57 #

    Some good choices – allow me to add the funeral scene from The Magnificent Seven.

    • Rick June 30, 2014 at 15:25 #

      I totally forgot about that one.

      • Andrew Petcher June 30, 2014 at 15:33 #

        It’s one of my favourite films and an important character building scene.

  3. akb_TheProjectionBooth June 30, 2014 at 05:41 #

    I love the funeral scenes in the two John Wayne movies you mentioned, particularly the one in “The Searchers” (which is one of my favorite movies). “Shall We Gather At the River” is probably my favorite hymn.

    • Rick June 30, 2014 at 15:26 #

      It is a classic scene with a classic song. I thought about the casket scene in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, too.

  4. paintlater June 30, 2014 at 12:27 #

    I played the bagpipes but after it was played (not by me) at my Dads funeral, can’t bring myself to play Amazing Grace on the pipes anymore. Great blog, love The Godfather too! Another good one is the UK Death at a Funeral for a comedy.

    • Rick June 30, 2014 at 15:28 #

      I have never seen Death at a Funeral, but I think it’s something I need to watch. It’s awesome that you play bagpipes. Do you still play other songs?

      • paintlater June 30, 2014 at 22:44 #

        No, I don’t have the pipes anymore and havent played for years. I was never an expert just a student and practice never went down well with the family or the dog who would howl like a banshee.

  5. DyingNote July 1, 2014 at 05:18 #

    Oh beautifully written, Rick! I saw V for Vendetta just a few days back (yeah, don’t ask – not much of a movie person). And in spite of all the fan ire it got, I loved The Watchmen. That Bond funeral is one of my favourite Bond movie scenes.

    • Rick July 1, 2014 at 13:46 #

      Thanks. I liked V for Vendetta, but I really liked The Watchmen.


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