The Montage Song

So far, I have talked mostly about the kind of songs, which are character related. But there are also songs which mostly work as a narrating device. They are often (but not always) sung from the off and can roughly fulfil three different functions: World building, emotional insight and  compressing time. Today, I want to write about the last variant: The montage song.

A montage is a very handy device whenever a movie wants to show development over a longer time-span in a short time. Usually a montage is paired with music and/or narration, but there is also the option to take it on the next level and use a song. This has the advantage that the song (unlike the narration) doesn’t have to describe directly what happens on screen or voice the opinion of the narrator. Instead it can serve as some sort of comment.

The most well-known montage song in Disney canon has to be “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”. But to understand this song on all levels, one has to see it in connection with the other songs from the movie, so let’s talk toady about one, which often gets overlooked: Treasure Planet’s “I’m still here”. It is the only song of the movie, and played during one of it’s stand-out moments. The montage in this case has three purposes: Giving the audience the sense of a long travel, showing how the relationship of Silver and Jim develops and giving a glimpse in Jim’s soul by showing his traumatic memories of the days his father left him. The song mostly connects to the last aspect, expressing Jim’s inner turmoil.

I am a question to the world
Not an answer to be heard
Or a moment that’s held in your arms

And what do you think you’d ever say
I won’t listen anyway
You don’t know me
And I’ll never be what you want
Me to be

All of Jim’s defiance is in those lines. He doesn’t want to listen because he feels that the people judge him without really knowing him.  He wants to be his own person instead of trying to fit in.

And what
Do you think you’d understand
I’m boy, no, I’m a man
You can’t take me
And throw me away

And how
Can you learn what’s never shown
Yeah, you stand here on your own
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

In those lines are all the sense of abandonment. Jim, now in the difficult age between boy and man, has been left behind too often. He is feeling alone, but he is also not ready to trust anyone at this point. And why should he, more or less everyone is basically telling him that he is a looser.

And I want a moment to be real
Want to touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong

And how can the world want me to change
They’re the ones that stay the same
They don’t know me
‘Cause I’m not here

Fittingly, the montage shows at this point Jim watching the crew in a gathering, while he is sequestered away in a corner. He is still an outside, but the wish to belong is growing in him. But he is not reaching out because he is well aware of his status as an outsider.

And you see the things they never see
All you wanted – I could be
Now you know me
And I’m not afraid

And I want to tell you who I am
Can you help me be a man
They can’t break me
As long as I know who I am

This is the sequence which shows how Silver slowly develops a true interest in Jim, and Jim slowly starting to trust him. The lyric expresses Jim growing self-confidence. At this point, it doesn’t matter if others think that he is a looser, because he knows that he isn’t one. And as long as he has this knowledge, he won’t be one.

They can’t tell me who to be
‘Cause I’m not what they see
Yeah, the world is still sleepin’ while I keep on dreaming for me
And their words are just whispers and lies that I’ll never believe

Jim’s father leaving is here shown as the reason for his deep-seated distrust in other people.

And I want a moment to be real
Want to touch things I don’t feel
Wanna hold on and feel I belong

And how can you say I’ll never change
They’re the ones that stay the same
I’m the one now
‘Cause I’m still here

I’m the one
‘Cause I’m still here
I’m still here
I’m still here
I’m still here

Even the lyrics express the change in Jim’s psyche during the travel. At the beginning, it was “They don’t know me,  ‘Cause I’m not here”, now it is “I’m the one, ‘Cause I’m still here”. Jim has grown up, developed a sense for himself, and he is ready to take on the world, no matter what people are thinking about him.

All in all, this is one of the most complex constructs for a montage song I know, and it works on every level. The visuals go perfectly with the lyrics, and together they allow a deep understanding for Jim and his relationship to Silver, and that without having to spell it out for the audience. Even if you don’t like the movie as a whole, this sequence is certainly worth to pay attention to.

7 responses to “The Montage Song

  • The Animation Commendation

    “This is not my idea of fun” from ‘The Swan Princess’ is another good montage song.

    • swanpride

      It certainly is…up to a certain point. It kind of bothers me that they jump directly from “I hate him/her” to “ohhh…now he/she looks good!!!!”A little bit more built up would have been nice for that…but otherwise, great song, easily the best in The Swan Princess.

      • The Animation Commendation

        I dunno…I feel that they always did like each other, but went through the stereotypical trope of pretending to hate each other. I mean, even in their teens, I think it’s pretty evident that they have feelings for each other, even though they’re playfully bothering each other.

  • anii654

    While the idea of a montage song is great, I feel like many in film overall use it as a copout to get the development over with as soon as possible, and focus on the style and the action scenes. There are so many montage songs that are just to get the necessary stuff in a story (character development, relationship building, and pacing) out of the way. After recently writing my Treasure Planet review, I have to say that I’m Still Here is a very good song, and explains Jim in many ways (though I do not understand what a rock garage pop song needs to be in a film about space). Nonetheless, it is a great song.

    Son of Man and Stranger Like Me are good montage songs as well. One Last Hope is a bleh one.

    • swanpride

      You know, “One last Hope” is so forgettable, I first couldn’t remember what song you were talking about…but then, not a fan of Hercules at all.

      There aren’t really that many montage songs in Disney movies overall.

      Treasure Planet has it’s very own style…I think the “I’m still here” is a really good fit, but then, I am totally into the style of the movie.

      • anii654

        It really is forgettable. Hercules definitely does not hold up well.

        I’m Still Here is lyrically, but I guess it was a bit weird to find a pop song in a movie that takes place in space and where they all wear 1800’s clothes.

      • swanpride

        I know – I guess it don’t notice so much because if you have ever been on a gothic festival, you’ll see a lot of people running around in ancient looking clothing, partying to all kind of music. I guess the song would have worked even better if they had added either some spacey sounds or some traditional instruments. But I like it as it is, too.

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