By Stephen Vagg

The recent passing of Burt Bacharach prompted me, like many Spotify account owners, to trawl through his back catalogue and re-listen to the work of this great artist. Few composers have a more imposing track record, especially when it comes to movies. It’s hard to imagine films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, What’s New Pussycat?, The Blob and yes, even the 1973 version of Lost Horizon without thinking of BB. He was adored in Australia, and by Australian filmmakers who loved to put his tunes in their films. So, by way of tribute, I arranged this list of the top ten uses of Burt Bacharach in Australian films.

“Magic Moments” in Lex and Rory (1994) The feature directorial debut of Dean Murphy, better known as the Martin Scorsese to late career Paul Hogan’s Leo DiCaprio. This was an honest and open rom-com made on the sweat of an oily rag, but the budget did include putting in a Burt Bacharach song, and from memory, it got a fair workout.

“Say a Little Prayer” in Say a Little Prayer (1995). Most readers of this magazine will know how this song was used in P.J Hogan’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, but there’s a similar sequence in an earlier, less famous film. Directed by Richard Lowenstein (Dogs In Space), this now forgotten drama follows the relationship between a young boy and a junkie girl. Believe it or not, both films are very similar – people break out into song and everything.

“Say a Little Prayer”, “Wishin’ and Hopin’”, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”, in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997). The best known of the 90s Bacharach tributes came from, appropriately enough, an Aussie director who used the tunes in all their campy, kitschy Mike Walsh Show glory. Most people know the Rupert Everett sequence, but there’s a lot of other Bacharach on display, including “Wishin and Hopin” in the opening credits. Incidentally, director PJ Hogan used “I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself” in Muriel’s Wedding.


“This Guy’s in Love with You” in Two Hands (1999). Nineties Aussie directors really liked Burt Bacharach. The Reels’ cover version of his stunningly good ballad pops up during the crime classic Two Hands, used in that terrific scene where Bryan Brown is taking Heath Ledger to be killed. The fact that it’s The Reels; version of the song, and not Herb Alpert’s, is very cool (and appropriate for such an Aussie film).


“The Look of Love” in Strange Planet (1999). Dusty Springfield’s version of this song is probably best remembered for its use in the 1967 ersatz Bond flick Casino Royale, where Peter Sellers goes for Ursula Andress on a revolving bed, but it’s well used in the sweet finale of this Aussie flick.


“Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from Arthur (1981). It’s not an Australian film, but this tune was co-written by Tenterfield’s own Peter Allen (well, he provided the line “when you get caught between the moon and New York City”), which was enough to earn Allen a lot of cash and an Oscar. Nice work if you can get it. Mind you, it is the iconic line from that song. And Arthur did star Allen’s ex, Liza Minelli.


“Baby It’s You” in Holy Smoke (1999). Oz film directors don’t get more nineties than Jane Campion (not a criticism!), so it’s not surprising that she used a Bacharach track in one of her films – in this case, “Baby It’s You.”


“What the World Needs Now” in Love Serenade (1996). One of the many, many joys of this lovely film was its soundtrack, most of it consisting of tunes played by its marvelous DJ character Ken Sherry. There’s some Bacharach in there of course.


“Tower of Strength” – The Year My Voice Broke (1987) This masterpiece of unrequited love from the is-he-now-cancelled John Duigan features a memorable sequence at a smalltown dance where Noah Taylor struts his stuff while the Bacharach-penned “Tower of Strength” plays over the soundtrack. This is such a great film.


All the songs – Lost Horizon (1973) Bacharach wrote the tunes to a terrific stage musical (“Promises Promises”, based on the film The Apartment with a book by Neil Simon…the song “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” comes from that). For some reason, that wasn’t filmed, but this was. The film is based on the novel/film about Shangri La, and gets included here on the grounds of (a) camp and (b) the fact the lead is played by Aussie Peter Finch. The film damaged the career of everyone associated with it, incidentally – it broke up Bacharach and Hal David, and producer Ross Hunter never recovered.


Dishonourable mention – “Close To You” in Hey Dad (1987). I had this memory of watching an episode of this show where Betty sang “Close to You” and Dad got emotional because it was associated with his dead wife. I wondered if I dreamed it, but no! According to the internet, the song appeared in the 1987 episode “Meet Hector the Piano”.

RIP Burt. You made the world a better place.