(I keep forgetting to say spoilers at the beginning of posts like this, though it was released in 1971 so it’s probably not important.)
I was inspired to return to this because I was looking at my old writing and thinking again about the merits of discontinuities in the sequence of events. Not jumping around in time, but skipping the less important or easily extrapolated (or intentionally to remain in the imagination of the audience), focusing on a sequence of scenes or events that flow without filling all the space in between. It’s a resolution to the traditional “we’re walking… we’re walking… we’re still walking…” problem of some traditional fantasy novels. I think I, in my head as well as in what I wrote or made notes about, was too intent on describing the whole journey as they went.
Now, it is after the part I described previously that Melody really throws in a series of scenes with time between them that is not explicitly filled. You aren’t even necessarily clear on the length of time between scenes, or the length of time from now to the end. You see the important things and the payoffs. You wonder about some details, but the story isn’t reliant on giving you those missing details? I’ll resist examples now and give them as I go.
The last storytelling scene I noted was the end of the preliminary setup of who is who, Daniel adapting to what we figure out is a new school, and establishing his friendship with Ornshaw, who is both wise and troubled. The next part establishes the crush and the build of the relationship with Melody, the fallout from that, and the resultant ending for them, the other kids, and most of the adults.
I stopped before the “meet cute” scene. Daniel and Ornshaw had cemented their friendship. Going into school and up the flights of stairs toward class, Ornshaw stops to be amused by girls in a ballet class rather than heading up the next flight. He grabs Daniel and another boy to get them in on the mischief. Ornshaw is jeering the whole time, but Daniel sees Melody dancing gracefully and confidently, hair swishing, and it’s all over. The score makes clear that the world has gone away for Daniel and nothing else exists. Then the teacher catches them and hauls them in there, making them dance along with the girls or else there will be a trip to the headmaster. Daniel actually tries, staring at Melody all the while. She keeps smiling at him. That’s the first vignette.
Do we need to see the rest of the school day? No. We don’t even need to see the conclusion of their time in ballet, and what trouble they get in when they arrive late to the class where they belong. We can wonder and imagine, but it’s not vital to the story. A book might have room for more of that, but it’s still not vital. Not that I don’t love me some Robert Jordan. Conversely, I found Martin boring and a poor writer, and was only able to get into A Song of Ice and Fire via the Game of Thrones show.
Next vignette. School gets out. Daniel is on a mission. He ducks aside to a water fountain (bubbler, in these parts) to wait surreptitiously for her to come out. Then he follows when she and three friends go to the old cemetery to have Muriel demonstrate kissing on a poster of a teen idol. Too funny. A branch snaps. Rhoda says “someone’s watching!” They all look his way. He whistles casually and walks away. They all laugh, except Melody, who just watches thoughtfully. Or seriously, at any rate. She looks serious a lot. I know that range of looks, from when I was 14. But that’s a different post. That’s the first day of being in love, as discussed in the timeline.
Now to see if I can remember the order of everything without speed watching as I write. I may need to review to make sure.
Vignette three of Daniel and Melody drawing together is an assembly, which conveniently places them in the same large room. They appear not to have classes together, despite being the same level. Daniel stares across the room toward her. Ornshaw notices and figures out where he is looking. Amused, Ornshaw starts a whisper brigade across and toward the front of the room. When it gets to her, she turns to look back at some length, and he looks away, as one does when caught staring. Later we see a still image of her that is smiling in this scene, but as shown as “moving pictures” she just looks serious, maybe even a bit annoyed.
Vignette four appears to be later the same day. We were introduced to Melody playing recorder early in the film, practicing Frere Jacques. In economy of detail, we did not know Daniel played cello, unless I missed something. Not really necessary, but not surprising, given his dreamy, artsy nature.
He clunks his cello down the hall, opens the door to the music room, and there are Melody and Rhoda, waiting while we hear a tuba tryout through a closed door. He pauses, there’s surprise all around, smiles uncertainly at her, goes in and settles on bench on another wall. Rhoda and Melody giggle a lot and whisper furiously, sounding like part of it involves the feeling in the back of her neck from being stared at.
The tuba kid, little bigger than his instrument, leaves and Rhoda gets called in by the teacher, leaving the other two alone. After a moment of uncertainty, Melody blows a few notes and then starts playing Frere Jacques to practice. Daniel joins in for a duet, starting behind and offset from her in a cool way, following her lead as she plays faster and faster. She looks his way through this, and in among the seriousness you can see her eyes smile a couple times.
The teacher bangs out, stopping them abruptly, and gives him a note to take to the headmaster. It takes no imagination to realize that she did this to shut them up because they were loud enough to disrupt what we presume is Rhoda’s singing tryout. I would even surmise that she knows exactly what is going on between the two kids.
One thing that just now came to mind. We are late in the school year. Why are there what look very much like tryouts? Is it just the start of an extracurricular thing, even though we are already in May or even June? Or is it placement for the next school year? Or are we not supposed to ask because the scene of making beautiful music together worked so well?
Daniel leaves with a look and sort of smile. She goes into a thoughtful pose and expression, startled when his cello falls. That was a nice touch. At this point, we will realize, she is sold. The next bits are interstitial to the couple together, but are important to the story.
After school, some of the boys go near the tracks for the latest in a series of tests of a homemade explosive. It fizzles, and the laughter from that segues into laughter at an awful dinner part Daniel must suffer through with his parents and their friends. This seems to serve the purposes of cementing how awful his family is, mostly his mother, and shows a mischievous act, where he drinks his mother’s whole glass of wine while she is distracted.
That segues into a comparative scene at Melody’s house. She is watching TV while eating with Mom and Granny. It’s a humorously lame romance scene, which I believe was created for use in the film. Big difference from Daniel’s house, at any rate. But then Mom asks if she remembered to pick up her pink dress from the cleaner. Here’s where we see her sense of humor and type of mischief.
She says she didn’t, and elaborates that “the man made me forget.” She grabs the alarm clock to wind it, as she is dressed for bed, so it fits the scene. When asked, she elaborates that it’s a man in the cemetery in a raincoat. This freaks out the elder women and they ask if he touched her. She leads them on, knowing darn well what she’s doing. Wonderfully acted, especially when you can hear the air quotes around touch when she says “no, he didn’t touch me.” “Did he show you anything?” What sort of thing?” LOL. ‘Did he show you his legs?” “Oh, yes, I saw his legs alright.”
That fires Mom up to the point of wanting to call the cops, the only reference to that house having a phone. She assures them ‘oh no, he’s not there now” because he ran away after the brick nearly hit him. Did she throw the brick? This answer was hard for me to hear all of the first few times I watched the seen, but in response to “what boy?” she tells them: “the boy with the green ears and the ginger mustache, with a spear running through his head, wearing frog man’ flippers with a machine gun.” That’s the kind of thing I would have done! Smart ass kid.
Speaking of things I had trouble hearing or parsing, it sounds like Mom tells Melody if her father were home she’d get a bloody goody ardin. I wondered what in the world she had said, even though it was obviously meant to be a spanking. Eventually I realized it had to be “hiding,” as in “I’ll tan your hide.” But I digress
That scene ends with Melody popping her head back into the living room after being sent to her room. She says, with a smile, “he’s not got green ears at all, Granny. He’s quite a nice boy really.” So we know who she’s talking about there, even if the cemetery brick throwing scene is purely made up. They have made clear she’s sold.
The next vignette is lunch at school, presumably the next day. This one leaves us wondering what would happen if Ornshaw hadn’t interceded, and sets up a rivalry between Melody and Ornshaw.
We see Daniel getting his lunch and then heading across the room. He goes to her table and asks whether he can sit next to her. She doesn’t say no. She says “well, I don’t know. My friend Maureen usually sits there.” The surrounding tables and Maureen, coming up behind him, laugh. She watches as Ornshaw comes over and guides Daniel away. She and Daniel look across the room at each other after he sits down there. Ornshaw notices, makes a face at her, and she reciprocates.
Next vignette is a dance on what is presumably Saturday. This is where the play in full the song about a shy guy trying to get a girl to notice him, after we heard it much earlier on the radio when Daniel was first introduced. We can see Melody and her friend Peggy dancing, then we focus on a group of boys being at the dance but not dancing. Daniel and Ornshaw are among them, but Daniel only has eyes for Melody. For her part, Melody is obviously trying to attract him. Ornshaw makes fun of her being a stuck up know it all and girls being useless.
This leads up to Daniel saying “I’ve got to dance with her.” “You’re mad!” Ornshaw isn’t amused, and Daniel tries to get him to come out there and dance with Peggy while he dances with Melody. The other boys razz Ornshaw into going along with it. Bottom line is Daniel gets to dance with a receptive Melody very briefly. Peggy is really the one to ruin it, once you see past Ornshaw kicking her and think about it. She should know this is all about her friend getting to dance with her boyfriend-in-waiting, and should put up with the scenario. Instead she insults Ornshaw’s dancing and breaks it up. This leaves Daniel sad and concerned, Peggy sad, and Melody mad at Ornshaw and frustrated.
All of this has been pretty rapid fire. We have quickly gone from Daniel falling in love at first sight to this point, and Melody wanting him right back.
It shows two sequences after the dance. The first is another explosives test. Daniel is with the boys this time. Since they are always duds, nobody takes cover. This one works enough to spray them with dirt. They boys are excited. Things are approaching an explosive conclusion!
The second is Melody, still in her pink dress from the dance, in the bathroom. She is spilling out the contents of what is presumably her mother’s purse or makeup bag. We see her apply lipstick. Then we see her pick her hair up over her head and look at herself in the mirror. She looks a little silly, with the hair like that and the sheer amount of makeup she applied. Then her mother calls her for tea and she has a somewhat panic reaction, wiping the makeup off rather crudely, then looking at herself sadly.
Finally, it’s field day, or maybe athletics day across the pond. This is the ultimate vignette in the course of the build to the two being together, while also starring Ornshaw as the supportive best friend. There’s a lot of them talking and Daniel being embarrassed by his mother hanging around. Lots of fun scenes of kids and adults, just hanging out or participating in events. We see Melody and her friends here and there, but she’s not featured the way Daniel is. There’s a fun bit of payoff to her friend Muriel’s obvious interest in an older, much more mature boy.
Daniel and Ornshaw talk about winners and losers, and who says who will be which. After their conversation ends, To Love Somebody starts playing. There are scenes of the activity through part of the song, cheering but no dialogue. As it nears the end, Daniel’s race in the 220 begins. He is not expecting to win, but to be the one looking foolish by doing poorly. As he runs and the song reaches its end, we see his face, then her, back and forth through the ballet class, assembly, cafeteria, and dance. He gets the inspiration needed to push through to finish first and Ornshaw bursts with excitement. Then Daniel collapses. Faints away.
That’s a great spot for not showing what happens next! Can you imagine his mother being around and seeing that? People checking on and reviving him? Nope. We don’t need all that. All we need is his love for Melody gave him the winning boost.
This is unimaginably great use of the song and what it means. It captures how I feel about that song, one of my all time favorites by any artist, and helps capture how it feels to be in Daniel’s position. Now that I’ve seen it, I’ll never not associate the song with the scene, and I can watch the video of the song set to that every day.
Everything changes after that. This could be a place to stop and move on in a part three. This segment of the film gives the best examples of scenes that are just enough, leaving blanks that aren’t necessary to be filled. Actually, I will stop here. I need to make supper. I was going to add to this while some of the cooking happened, but my son got in the way and I sat back down. The kids are dying for supper, but he slowed it down by making food for himself before he starves. Silly.