Of all the weird pop-culture benchmarks of getting older (no longer recognizing any songs in the top ten, writing with boring old-school capitalization instead of ~liKe*tHe*COol*kiDs*nOw*do~), perhaps the strangest is when you find yourself actually watching Olympic figure skating and ice dancing–un-ironically.
I have a good excuse though. I can rationalize the fact that I’ve watched all the ice performance events these past two weeks by noting that many of the skaters perform to movie scores. See, it’s job-related! It’s research!
Quite a few skaters both in figure skating and ice dancing use movie music–sometimes it’s more obscure pieces that most viewers wouldn’t instantly recognize as being from a film. (“Hey, isn’t that Hans Zimmer’s music from Beyond Rangoon?!”) Occasionally performers will use instantly recognizable themes, but that can backfire if the audience starts drifting away into fond memories of the movie and forgets about the skaters.
More often, a piece of movie music is used that is vaguely recognizable, but you’re just not sure where you heard it. (Chances are you heard it in other ice skating performances.) For a while in the ’90s and ’00s it was Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Mission (a personal favorite)–it was dusted off this year by Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Yannick Kocon in the couples long-form skate. And American Pairs skaters Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig won me over on Valentine’s Day by using a Craig Armstrong medley from my beloved Love Actually. (I have no idea if they can skate–I’m just here for the music.)
But it appears if you’re going to ice dance at this year’s Vancouver Olympics, you are required by pop-culture law to do it to Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna” from the 2000 Darren Aronofsky film Requiem for a Dream. Because when I think ice dancing, I think lives of harrowing despair, banally drained of all hope and meaning by the abuse of drugs. Only with more sequins.
“Lux Aeterna” first showed up this Olympics a couple weeks ago during the Pairs Short Program of Canadians Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison. But last night the piece really got a workout during the final Free Skating Ice Dance performances, where not one, not two, but three couples skated to Mansell’s haunting, driving music (initially composed to invoke the desperation of addiction…Yay!). Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia used it, as did Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, and Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat from France.
It’s like that old saying I just made up: If two women show up at a party in the same dress, it’s an embarrassment. If three do, someone must of invited the Andrew Sisters.
The catch is, the music they were all dancing to is never actually heard in Requiem for a Dream. You can watch the movie over and over and over again, and assuming you don’t end up throwing yourself off the top of a Ferris wheel in despair (I love the film, but yeesh… it’s a downer, baby), you won’t hear the hard-charging, dramatic music played on the ice.
Technically “Lux Aeterna” simply refers to Mansell’s motif, repeated constantly in the film as performed there by the minimalist Kronos Quartet. The more fully orchestrated, heart-pounding version everyone’s dancing to these days is in fact Mansell’s theme as re-orchestrated in 2002 by Simone Benyacar, Dane Nielsen, and Veigar Margeirsso for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers trailer. Hence its informal name “Requiem for a Tower.”
So you see, that makes it more appropriate–and apparently mandatory–for ice dancing: it’s not really about jonesing for heroin, it’s about using your battle axe to split the skulls of blood-thirsty Uruk-hai! (The re-orchestrated “Lux Aeterna” kicks in at the halfway point.)
Over the jump, a BONUS Olympic Hum Along: The stirring 2010 Apolo Ohno theme music!
If you’ve been watching NBC’s Olympic coverage this year, you may noticed they’re often using the same background music during their numerous profile pieces about American short-track skater Apolo Ohno. The darkly epic track just happens to be one of my favorite bits of film music from the past decade: John Murphy’s theme from Sunshine, a cut sometimes known as “The Surface of the Sun” or “Capa’s Jump,” but now officially titled “Sunshine (Adagio In D Minor).”
Sunshine was Murphy’s third soundtrack collaboration with director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and while I’ve sung the composer’s praises before for his 28 Days Later pieces, it’s Sunshine that’s my favorite. If you haven’t seen the beautifully tense and intelligent sci-fi thriller yet, I highly recommend it, and you can hear the just music in question directly below without fear of climactic spoilers.
But if you’ve seen the film want want to relive the amazing (spoilerish) penultimate scene during which the music is heard, then enjoy this second clip. (If you haven’t seen the film, the events of clip will make no sense to you and have very little dramatic impact on their own):