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Mix Tape: "Panic in Detroit" in The Kids Are All Right

Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr here, with my first guest contribution to The Film Experience. We're kicking off a new series called "Mix Tape," all about musical choices in film, with a look at some mood music that adds considerably to one of last year's Oscar-nominated supporting performances.

Creative song selections are scattered throughout The Kids Are All Right, but the one that really stands out for me—even though it only plays for ten seconds in a disjointed form—is David Bowie's "Panic in Detroit." It accompanies a sex scene between Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and Tanya (Yaya DaCosta) which, through the magic of jump cuts, also serves as an introduction to the wildness and fertility that make Paul an ideal sperm donor... and a not-so-ideal interloper into Nic and Jules' domestic status quo.

Right before the sex scene, we get our first look at Paul: carting around vegetables, flirting with Tanya (his business partner and friend-with-benefits), and generally being earthy. He also gets the troubling phone call informing him that somewhere out there, he has a biological daughter. He pauses, presses his hand to his mouth, and suddenly we're jolted away with the sound of Bowie's voice singing "He looked a lot like Che Guevara!" as Ruffalo and DaCosta bounce naked across a living room.

After the jump, more on Ruffalo and Bowie. [Warning: slightly NSFW images.]

Seconds later, we fast-forward in the song, and the energetic couple is in another position. Three seconds later, same story, and then suddenly Paul's lounging in a chair, his torso swathed in a jean jacket, telling Tanya about his youthful dalliance with sperm donation. This sex scene is, first of all, extremely economical, as it condenses the whole of their lovemaking into ten passionate seconds. This brevity and fervor, in conjunction with signals like the cowboy hat hanging on the wall, really get across Paul's live-and-let-love lifestyle.

The diced-up snippets of "Panic in Detroit" are a key part of that, as Bowie's feral, rough-edged voice and lyrics perfectly complement the animals-in-heat feel of the scene's sexual antics. Given all this, it's strangely appropriate for this scene to be underscored by a song about urban rioting, and it also heightens the contrast with the film's previous sex scene: the protracted, anything-but-feral oral sex that plays out as farce for poor Nic and Jules. Between the music, the editing, and the participants' frenzied motions, this brief transition doubles as an effective announcement of Paul's free-spirited virility. It's also my favorite cinematic sex scene (or use of Bowie music) in 2010.


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Reader Comments (4)

Great piece and great series concept. I can't wait for more.

Ruffalo's place in this movie is something I had to really explore when I was prepping for the last Distant Relatives and the more I got into it the more respect I developed for a film I already liked considerably in the first place. This is such a great intro to his character and making him into the oversexed free spirit is one of the many ways the film takes gay/straight stereotypes and flips them on their head.

February 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Love the concept. Looking forward to the series.

February 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

robert -- you know i hadn't even thought about his character as the promiscuous entity in a film about gay relationships... which is weird because i've thought about this movie so much this year.

February 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R
February 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhemant786

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