Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"And Let the Rest, of the World, Go By": Streep & Redford Simply Are New Year's Eve for Me

One of my favorite cinematic New Year's is in Out of Africa, Sydney Pollack's lyrical film loosely based on Isak Dinesen's memoir. Karen Blixen and Denys Hatton meet up at the British East Africa colonials' New Year's Eve dance as 1918 becomes 1919.

They waltz to a tune played on a solo violin that is just audible enough to make out:  "Let the Rest of the World Go By," words [not heard] by J. Keirn Brennan, music by Ernest R Ball. It's anachronistic for this scene, because it was only written in 1919, so it couldn't be played on December 31, 1918, but it's close-enough for Hollywood work. If I had to bet, I would say that Pollack's mother sang it to him as a child. That's the most frequent comment on all the YouTube versions, and my mother sang it to me too. (It must be in the manual they've been giving out since 1919 when you become a mother.) It's part of YouTube's endless charm that you can learn that a detail about a very small part of your life can have such a widespread connection.

The solo violin then goes into Auld Lang Syne. The scene is a beautiful visualization of nostalgia and melancholy—and doomed love if you know the story, although you can guess even if you don't—as one is want to feel on the last day of the year.  And Meryl Streep and Robert Redford are the perfect actors to bring these feelings to life: so physically beautiful, Hollywood avatars of the ideal of "man" and "woman" and all that that means.

Gordan MacRae and
Jo Stafford have a beautiful rendition of the song. They correctly sing  the waltz beat at the very beginning, which most versions do not. The second note is clearly a half note; I don't know why most people make it 2 even quarter notes.  Thanks to very much to Duke University library for scanning the original sheet music. It also shows the intro verse, which they do not sing.

Here is the scene from the film

But melancholy does not get the last word, even in this year of unrelenting global pain.  I have never thought about next year "being better." That kind of comparison never appealed to me. But it is an opportunity—however arbitrary and artificial the calibrating—to do things differently, to handle things differently and see things in a new light, and I try to hang on to that idea of "freshness," of the New Year's baby image, as long as possible. 

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets/Little Gidding