Song Of The Day 8/27/2015: Shelley Duvall – “He Needs Me”

Robert Altman’s Popeye was not really a good movie, but it was swaddled in charm. They filmed it in a fabricated fishing village on the coast of Malta. The set’s still there, in fact, if you happen to be in Malta, but it looks prohibitively hard to get to. It’s situated right next to an embankment that just drops off pretty starkly, so I don’t know how you get there. Anyway, the movie. It was a hard mix of Altman’s very loose dialogue cadence and off-the-cuff choreography. I think one problem I had was that everybody muttered in it. They barely decided to make it: Paramount was looking over what popular franchises they had the right to and somebody picked Popeye out of the desk drawer with the bourbon. Next thing you know Altman’s involved and Robin Williams is wearing a forearm prosthetic and everybody’s happy.

The song score was written by Harry Nilsson, who’s been getting a lot of ink in this blog lately, somewhat by coincidence. Along with the Flash Harry album, the recording of which bookended Nilsson’s writing the Popeye score, it was the last organized major effort of his career. The songs were full of his compositional trademarks: old-time melody, simplified and twisty lyrics, communal choruses and Disney-rearing blitheness. One song, “He Needs Me,” was genius. It’s Olive Oyl (Shelly Duvall) newly realizing that she’s much more into men of the sea than mean-spirited brutes. The song was miraculously revived by Paul Thomas Anderson for his cross-examination of Adam Sandler’s acting chops, Punch-Drunk Love, in 2002. Sandler’s character Barry had the same simple life approach as Popeye, an over-exuberance in hope, but also Brutus’ uncontrollable explosiveness. It was a sweet, nuanced performance. Then he did Eight Crazy Nights and The Hot Chick. Kids gotta eat brand-name caviar, you know.

Popular Recent Posts