When Hearing “Hallelujah” is No Time to Rejoice

When Hearing “Hallelujah” is No Time to Rejoice (photo)

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There’s no shortage of songs that get overused on the big and small screen, and whether the result of unimaginative hacks or some ill-conceived notion of what audiences want (uninformed hacks), it’s always baffling. Staples like “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Let’s Get It On” and James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” should never be heard in a film again. Then there are songs that have been so overused they should never be heard again, period. Bad to begin with, mindless garbage like “Takin’ Care Of Business” and “Walking on Sunshine” are musical trans fats — artificial, monetized and bad for society, they should be banned as such.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a different sort of song altogether. It’s far from bad, nor is it really a staple that’s overplayed its welcome. In fact, it should be acknowledged, once the mind’s cleared of the cynicism wrought by overexposure, that it’s one of the best folk songs ever penned. That’s precisely why, as a soundtrack choice, it must be earned. It’s a special song that should be brought out only when nothing else on God’s green earth will do. Instead, it’s been used and abused dozens of times in both film and TV, in its original form or in one of the over one hundred cover versions that have been recorded.

The first soundtrack appearance of “Hallelujah” that I can find is in “When Night Is Falling,” a 1995 Canadian film that centers on a lesbian love affair between a literature professor and a hot carny performer. It’s a forgettable cover that takes away all the power of the song and replaces it with a gospel chorus and bongos. A more memorable early use is John Cale’s respectable interpretation in 1996’s “Basquiat.” It should have stopped there, but Cale’s cover was used again in the animated feature “Shrek” (though it was Rufus Wainwright’s version on the album), the Johnny Depp-directed short stuff, and other titles. It’s after this that the primacy of Jeff Buckley’s version arises. The first time I heard “Hallelujah,” it was Buckley’s beautiful voice and melancholy guitar that I fell for. A girlfriend played it for me by candlelight in her bedroom on a cool summer night — a “from your lips she drew the Hallelujah” kind of night. But it seems everyone’s had this same girlfriend and this same unforgettable moment with this song. And even Buckley can’t keep its potency from fading in everything from an episode of “The West Wing” to the Nicolas Cage flick “Lord of War.”

The latest “Hallelujah” shame (and mockery of that once magical evening) is the excruciating moment in which Cohen’s original version of the song scores a sex scene in Zack Snyder’s recent “Watchmen,” which plays out like a bad joke told by a sad clown. Worse, you have to sit there while the sad clown painfully explains the punch line to you when you don’t laugh. I also have to mention the completely unearned “The Sounds of Silence” travesty — Snyder, man, you have to earn Simon & Garfunkel.

This easy payoff/Wall Street approach to film soundtracks where nothing is sacred is all too common. But since it’s poor form to criticize without offering solutions, here are a few suggestions to consider in place of any iteration of “Hallelujah.” Amazingly, none of these have been used before in any film that I can find, or if they have, it was a cover that never should have been made and that’s now totally forgotten. At least hopefully — no one should have to recall Blind Melon’s take on “Candy Says,” as heard in “The Cowboy Way.”

The top 5 songs off my record shelf to use in place of “Hallelujah”:

  • “Candy Says,” The Velvet Underground
  • “Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac
  • “Brother,” Jorge Ben
  • “Never My Love,” The Association
  • “New Partner,” Palace Brothers

There’s another film coming out this week that features “Hallelujah,” though co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson”) use it sparingly in their forthcoming “Sugar.” It’s unnecessary at best in a naturalistic film with an otherwise deftly done soundtrack. It’s certain not to be the last time we hear the song either — I can easily imagine a future with James Franco as a tragic Jeff Buckley singing “Hallelujah” on some moonlit pier. Oh, the mobs of breathless teenagers, it’s inevitable.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.