The Auteur Hook: The Honeydogs, “Wilson Boulevard” (2000)

There is a controversial approach to film criticism that looks to a film’s “author” (auteur), usually the director, as the main cause of its meaning and value. Obviously the approach fits some films better than others. Defending auteur theory, the great Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris argued from the benefit of sheer noticing:

 I recently saw Every Night at Eight [1935], one of the many maddeningly routine films Raoul Walsh has directed in his long career . . . The film keeps moving along in the pleasantly unpretentious manner one would expect of Walsh until one incongruously intense scene with George Raft thrashing about in his sleep, revealing his inner fears in mumbling dream-talk. The girl he loves comes into the room in the midst of his unconscious avowals of feeling and listens sympathetically. This unusual scene was later amplified in High Sierra [1941] with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino . . . If I had not been aware of Walsh in Every Night at Eight, the crucial link to High Sierra would have passed unnoticed. Such are the joys of the auteur theory.[1]

Popular music is densely populated with auteur hooks at the level of signature phrasings, favorite chord changes, distinctive guitar sounds, and so forth reminding you that one of your cherished artists, that very one and no other, is at it again. Indeed, forcibly reminding you; noticing this doesn’t make you as smart as Andrew Sarris. At this level, as repetition and commodity, the auteur hook is just a gimmick. But there is another level where we find pleasure in noticing what is not so obvious. Here the auteur hook is a slightly surprising bit of evidence that one of your cherished artists is at work again on a proprietary artistic objective, getting somewhere with it.

The funny thing about associating the Honeydogs with a “proprietary” hook is that I first wanted to write them up for their especially charming theft of someone else’s music, namely, John Barry’s theme for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, in “Rumor Has It.”

“You Only Live Twice”

“Rumor Has It”

But then I heard the pattern stolen for “Rumor Has It” in 1997 returning in “Wilson Boulevard” in 2000, gorgeous and integral, no longer a stunt, hommage, quotation, or theft.

“Wilson Boulevard” 1

By Honeycanine alchemy it has definitely become a Honeydog motif. Forget James Bond in Japan. Maybe it always belonged to the Honeydogs, lodged in Adam Levy’s or someone’s eternal soul.[2]

Another serving, even sweeter:
“Wilson Boulevard” 2

Once we’ve found an auteur hook, we must keep our ears open for it, even through many a long track.  Hmm. What’s this, coming along in 2003?  Do you hear what I hear?

“Last War Lullaby”

Such may be the joys.

__________________________________________________________

[1] Andrew Sarris, “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962,” in Film Theory and Criticism, 6th ed., ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (New York: Oxford U., 2004), p. 564.

[2] Actually, we could just as well be discussing this very hook as John Barry’s auteur hook, because he reworked the figure from You Only Live Twice in his Midnight Cowboy theme two years later.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Identities, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Auteur Hook: The Honeydogs, “Wilson Boulevard” (2000)

  1. Steve Smith says:

    Jim Hartmann reports he hears the same descending pattern in “Over You” (1996) and strong out of the gate in “Wrong” (2001) (and again at the end of “Wrong”).

  2. SplendidMonkey says:

    Steve, Another song that opens with this theme is “Surgeon” by St. Vincent (Annie Clark).

  3. Steve Smith says:

    Interesting mutation of it! To figure out exactly what she’s doing it helps to listen to her sing it solo in the live youtube.

  4. JH says:

    Nilsson Sings Newman – Cowboy (1970) at the end of the song, the same theme!

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