Soundtrack Saturday: “Grosse Pointe Blank”
“They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they’ve all made themselves a part of something, and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? ‘I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?’” —Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack), from Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
High school reunions. Some people live for them. Some don’t really care about them but will attend one just to see if the popular kids got fat/ugly/stupid/lost their hair. And some people would rather chew gum made of asbestos than reunite with anyone or anything associated with high school. I fall somewhere in between the latter two groups.
I attended my ten-year high school reunion four years ago, and I’ll admit I had a good time. Actually, the reunion itself was kind of lame, but what made the night great was that almost my entire group of friends showed up, so we made our own fun. It was good seeing some people, but I doubt if I’ll ever go to another reunion (unless there’s a lot more alcohol involved).
While my reunion had its moments, it was nowhere near as exciting as the ten-year reunion of the fictional Grosse Pointe High School class of 1986 that’s depicted in Grosse Pointe Blank. Their reunion included an alumnus turned hit man.
I suppose if you disappeared for ten years and became a hit man who needs therapy, you might not want to go to your high school reunion and deal with all the people you barely liked and all the questions they’ll inevitably ask. But Martin Blank (Cusack) sucks it up and heads home, since he has to be in town for a job anyway. He figures the visit will also give him the chance to see his old girlfriend, the lost love of his life, Debi (Minnie Driver) and try to make things right with her. Seems pretty simple, right? Well, not so much. Two other hitmen have followed Blank to Grosse Pointe to take him out, one being an assassin named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who’s been trying to form a hit man’s “union” with him. And there are two NSA operatives after him as well. The guy can’t catch a break.
I think this is very easily one of Cusack’s best films, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. What I love most about it, besides the witty dialogue and great performances, is how infused it is with, for lack of a better phrase, the essence of Cusack. The humor, Blank’s mannerisms, the music that’s featured — Martin Blank is basically what Cusack would be like if he were a hit man.
Adding to the Cusackosity (I totally just made that word up), Grosse Pointe Blank also features three of Cusack’s siblings in supporting roles — sister Joan plays Blank’s dutiful (and hilarious) assistant, Marcella; sister Ann plays Amy, a former classmate that Blank and Debi run into at a bar; and brother Bill plays a waiter.
Some other fun facts about the film:
- Benny Urquidez, who plays assasisn Felix LaPoubelle, is a famous kickboxer whom Cusack’s character in Say Anything … (1989), Lloyd Dobler, mentioned as being a famous kickboxer. Because of that film, Cusack took up kickboxing (“the sport of the future!”) and was a student of Urquidez. Obviously, Cusack was responsible for Urquidez’s appearance in Grosse Pointe Blank.
- The film wasn’t shot in Grosse Pointe, Michigan at all. Most of the film was shot in Monrovia, CA. The filmmakers were denied the ability to film in Grosse Pointe, and at the high school, because the local government and school board did not like the fact that alcohol was used in the high school reunion scenes and they felt that it would be inappropriate to show that a Grosse Pointe alumnus became a hit man.
- The scenes at Grosse Pointe High School were filmed at high schools in California — according to the interwebs, Reseda High School and John Marshall High School were used. The only shot of Grosse Pointe South High School in the film is an aerial shot of the road next to the lake — you can see the school’s bell tower in the background.
Now, let’s talk about the soundtrack. It’s more like an epic mix tape someone who graduated high school in the ’80s might make rather than a film soundtrack. I’d say it’s probably one of the best film soundtracks of the ’90s that doesn’t feature much music composed specifically for the film (I believe Joe Strummer’s “War Cry” is the only one to fit that bill). It features one of the best mixes of punk, ska and new wave music you could ask for. In addition to that, the film’s score is credited to the late, great Joe Strummer, formerly of the Clash.
Alongside classic punk/ska tracks by the Clash, the Jam, the Specials, and the English Beat, you’ll also find songs by the Violent Femmes, Echo & the Bunnymen, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Faith No More, Bobby Bare, Pete Townshend, the Dazz Band, and Grandmaster Melle Mel. There are also a few more contemporary artists making appearances, such as Tracy Bonham, Eels, and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
Not only was the mix of songs incredible, some of the choices made about which scenes the songs appear in are fantasitc.
- The opening scene featuring Blank preparing to shoot someone from a hotel window is soundtracked by Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” informing the viewer that this is not going to be a typical movie about a hit man.
- Blank goes to visit his childhood home, and finds that it has been torn down and a convenience store stands in its place. When he first arrives at the location, Guns n’ Roses’s cover of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” is playing and, when he walks into the convenience store, the song seemlessly switches to a Muzak version. Cheeky and brilliant.
- When Blank makes a clandestine visit to Debi’s house. When she opens the door, she says in a (pretty bad) Jamaican accent, “You can’t come in,” directly refrencing the song playing in the background — the Specials’ “You’re Wondering Now,” which opens with the sound of someone knocking on the door, followed by the answer, “You can’t come in” in a Jamaican accent.
- After killing another hit man in the halls of his high school, Blank and his buddy Paul (Cusack’s BFF Jeremy Piven) are seen dragging the body down some stairs to dispose of it, to the tune of Nena’s “99 Luftballons.” I mean, c’mon! Genius.
The first volume of the official soundtrack album (which is still in print) sold quite well, and reached No. 31 on the Billboard 200 chart. A second volume, which is now out-of-print, was released shortly thereafter, prompted by the success of the first. Still, between the two volumes, several songs were still left out. Of course, I’ve managed to compile most of them for you (I think I’m only missing two). Enjoy!
Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now
Joe Strummer – War Cry
Violent Femmes – Blister in the Sun
The Clash – Armagideon Time
The Clash – Rudie Can’t Fail
Guns n’ Roses – Live and Let Die
The Jam – Absolute Beginners
The Specials – Pressure Drop
Echo & the Bunnymen – The Killing Moon
The Specials – Rudy, a Message to You
Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven
Motörhead – Ace of Spades
The Cure – In Between Days
Eels – Your Lucky Day in Hell
Tracy Bonham – Sharks Can’t Sleep
The Specials – You’re Wondering Now
Jimmy Reed – Big Boss Man
Bobby Bare – Detroit City
Faith No More – We Care a Lot
a-ha – Take On Me
Grandmaster Melle Mel – White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian
Queen and David Bowie – Under Pressure
Siouxsie & the Banshees – Cities in Dust
Pete Townshend – Let My Love Open the Door
Tones on Tail – Go
Dominatrix – The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – El Matador
Dazz Band – Let It Whip
The English Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom
Nena – 99 Luftballons
The English Beat – Doors of Your Heart
The Pogues – Lorca’s Novena
Violent Femmes – Blister 2000