In response to Diane’s somewhat painful list, I thought I’d find some (mostly)nicer versions, this time from the world of cinema. Auld Lang Syne has appeared in dozens of films over the years – from the 1920s to the present day. Sometimes it’s pivotal to the action, sometimes not, and some are memorable perhaps not for the best reasons. Here’s a small selection, complete with clips where I’ve been able to find them.
When Harry Met Sally (1989) (twice)
Okay, so it’s a bit of a cheat including the same film twice, but there is good reason for it. Auld Lang Syne is particularly important in When Harry Met Sally and, arguably, makes good use of the song as a cultural signifier: it’s shorthand, if you like, for the end of the year, the start of the new year and the automatic celebration this is supposed to bring. It’s also sexy. Auld Lang Syne is used reasonably early on in the film when the eponymous characters are still in the “friend zone” – or are they? A Hogmanay party is the scene and they are dancing together quite the thing, when suddenly there’s a frisson between them. It could go either way but, as the strains of Auld Lang Syne begin, they almost visibly shake it off and kiss – somewhat uncomfortably, maybe, but platonically.
It’s a different story at the end of the film the song comes up again. At this stage, the lyrics even merit a discussion. Harry asks what the words mean, saying he’s been singing it all his life and doesn’t know. How can you remember old acquaintance if you’ve forgotten them, he asks, quite reasonably. Sally, a bit tearful, says that maybe you’re supposed to remember you’ve forgotten them, or something – but that in any case, it’s about old friends. (At that point, presumably, they go home to shag –see the power of this song?). Here is the ending:
Nora Ephron, who wrote When Harry Met Sally, clearly recognises the filmic value of Auld Lang Syne: she also used it to good effect in the lesser Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which itself was reprising its use in the Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr classic, An Affair to Remember (1957), and so on.
Sex and the City (2008)
I’m “indebted” to a US academic for drawing my attention to this Mairi Campbell version of Auld Lang Syne, as featured in the first movie outing of the Sex and the City girls. Indebted has the sarky quotation marks round it, not because it isn’t a beautiful version – it is, sung hauntingly and not to the usual tune – and not because it isn’t a fabulous sequence (it’s lovely, and apparently it’s the best bit – only good bit? – of the film). The scene shows Carrie deciding to bolt (or waft, rather, with a permanent look of surprise) down to the other side of New York to share the bells with a chum who is going through a hard time. Her race against the clock cuts away at various points to update us on what’s happening with the other characters. Anyway, my sarkiness is because the academic – who was giving a talk on the use of Burns in the movies at a Royal Society of Edinburgh event – treated us to a running commentary of who ended up with whom and who didn’t by the end of the film – with no spoiler alert! I had been planning to watch the DVD the following weekend – guess what, it’s still in its wrapper.
Wee Willie Winkie (1939)
Sometimes something can be memorable for the wrong reasons.
A favourite scene in my beloved Chalet School books* involves a charming little girl known as The Robin, singing a Russian folk song called The Red Sarafan at the bedside of the heroine, Joey Bettany, who is thought to be dying after rescuing another girl from an icy lake in the Austrian Tyrol.
Joey survives and it’s thought that the sweet tones of The Robin saved her life.
Surely the opposite must be true in this 1937 Shirley Temple vehicle, directed by John Ford. Temple, whose nickname gives the film its title, sings a couple of verses of Auld Lang Syne while clutching a pith helmet to her breast (lest we forget we’re in Colonial India) at the bedside of a dying soldier. The highlight is her pronunciation of “gie us”. Unlike Joey, the good sergeant – a Scot – passes away as the little songbird trills by his side. One can only imagine it was something of a relief. Judge for yourself in this Youtube clip:
*The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. This particular episode occurs in The Rivals of the Chalet School, first published in 1939.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Home loans to poorer people under threat, slum landlords abounding, runs on the bank and a good man brought to his knees – it might be a film for our times. Given so much misery, however, why is It’s a Wonderful Life considered such an uplifting Christmas classic? Perhaps that’s summed up not so much by Clarence, the angel seeking his wings, but by the choice of the song which brings the townspeople together. A rousing version of Auld Lang Syne appears to break out spontaneously with – and does this ever actually happen in Scotland these days? – everybody knowing all the words. Youtube has it here:.
Director Frank Capra, incidentally, was quite a fan – using it in other films such as Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) with Gary Cooper and that other famous James Stewart vehicle Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
Thanks due to Wikipedia, by the way, for this piece of Capra information. That source also reveals many other instances of the use of Auld Lang Syne in cinema, although its list isn’t exhaustive. It includes John Ford’s The Black Watch (1929), Blake Edwards’ Operation Petticoat (1959) (with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis) and The Apartment, where it is the backdrop to the Shirley MacLaine character’s decision to leave her lover.
It’s also played in The Poseidon Adventure – just before the ship begins to sink…..