'The Big Chill' tunes up Turner Classic Movies, Motown-style

It's the reunited-friends movie that hardly put a chill on Motown hits.

To the contrary, "The Big Chill" reheated classic songs from the 1960s and '70s so successfully that it yielded not one soundtrack album but two (released, appropriately, on the Motown label).

Director Lawrence Kasdan's superbly cast 1983 film gets a Turner Classic Movies showing overnight Wednesday into Thursday, April 14 and 15.

A big factor of "The Big Chill" is the timelessness of the music it makes such clever use of. That's evident right from the start, as Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" helps set the plot in motion: A suicide draws several acquaintances back together for the funeral, then a prolonged weekend gathering that pushes old wounds and passions back to the surface.

(Trivia note: Alex -- the suicide -- is played by Kevin Costner, most of whose scenes were cut.)

The way Kasdan structured "The Big Chill," each song has a specific purpose. Here are some of the tunes and the moments they underscore.

"You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones: Alex's classmate Karen (JoBeth Williams) plays it as an organ solo at the end of his funeral, and also as a prelude to the Stones' version that kicks in as several other friends greet one another outside the church and as the hearse leads the procession toward the burial site.

"Tell Him" by the Exciters: The guests of Harold and Sarah ( Kevin Kline, Glenn Close) unpack their bags, the contents saying a lot about their owners, as this tune plays.

"Good Lovin' " by the Rascals: The brief "stop" in the song is timed perfectly after Alex's girlfriend, Chloe ( Meg Tilly), offers a short, very telling account of her final night with him.

"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Temptations: In maybe the movie's most famous scene, the friends hit the kitchen after a big dinner ... cleaning up while moving to the music's beat.

"Gimme Some Lovin' " by the Spencer Davis Group: This energetic song accompanies an equally energetic touch-football game.

"The Weight" by the Band: The slow pace of this tune is perfect for a time-lapse sequence showing various characters entering the kitchen early in the morning, some trying on the running shoes Harold has gifted them with.

"Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival: John Fogerty's vocals provide a perfect coda to married Karen's proposition to television detective show star Sam ( Tom Berenger) that she'd like to get to know him much, much better -- her wedding band notwithstanding.

"When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge: As this song starts up, it's clear from Sarah's face that she's hatched the selfless idea of asking Harold to help businesswoman Meg (Mary Kay Place) fulfill her dream of becoming a single parent, through biological means.

"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin, and "In the Midnight Hour" by the Rascals: There's a whole lotta lovin' going on in and around the house while these tunes play. Chloe makes her move on war veteran Nick ( William Hurt), Karen and Sam get amorous, and Meg has her intimate encounter with Harold. Magazine reporter Michael ( Jeff Goldblum) isn't quite as lucky, though, with Sarah.

"I Second That Emotion" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: The morning after a monumental night that has unexpected results for some, the guests prepare to leave … and Nick has a surprise to announce.

"Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night: The movie ends as it began musically, though the first time this song is heard, it comes from the mouth of Sarah and Harold's bathtub-bound young son (Jon Kasdan, one of the director's offspring, in his screen debut).

"The Big Chill" is so smart in its use of music, you may not realize until much later that no tunes were created specifically for the film. All the songs already existed, and for the most part, they were hugely familiar.

Of course, it's nothing new for a film to borrow popular songs for its own purposes … but "The Big Chill" is one of the rare examples of a movie that built its entire soundtrack on them. And that's a very good reason its fans continue to feel so warmly toward it.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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