In one of the most memorable romantic moments in movie history, John Cusack defiantly raises a boombox above his head in the 1989 film Say Anything to serenade his true love with the song In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel. The clip is devastating in its combination of an angry young man’s outright rebellion, and his search for love and truth. But, as with all great art, the making of the cinematic moment was a bit torturous for all involved. First of all, John Cusack was uncomfortable with the scene, and in fact, didn’t want to do it. According to the film’s director, Cameron Crowe, Cusack felt strongly that raising the boombox above his head was too subservient for his character to serenade the beautiful valedictorian Diane Court played by Ione Skye. Rather, Cusack wanted to be sitting on the roof of his car with the boombox beside him. But Crowe argued for Cusack to hold it up with defiance. “He held up the boombox, and on his face is the whole story of the character—the love of the girl, and I think, John’s feeling that it was a little too subservient but he was going to do it anyway,” Cameron said. John said he finally followed the direction, satisfied enough that he could lift the box without an expression of “longing and adoration.”

Also, while shooting the scene, John Cusack opted to blast the sexually charged Bonin’ in the Boneyard by the prototype punk-funk outfit Fishbone. But while in the editing room, Crowe realized Cusack’s character appeared more like a fanatical Fishbone fan than a young man desperate for romantic love and existential meaning. Fearing his romantic dramady would be seriously compromised at such a pivotal moment, Cameron arranged to play Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes over the Fishbone track, and the rest as they say is cinema history.

Although Cusack came to see the value of holding up the boombox and playing In Your Eyes, he’s purportedly somewhat embarrassed by the scene to this day. However, the scene is arguably his most memorable moment on film. Which begs the question, was Cameron Crowe right in insisting he raise the boombox so high above his head? Or would the scene have worked better with Lloyd lounging atop the car with Fishbone’s slammin’ funk grooves of Bonin’ in the Boneyard cranked at volume eleven?

Clearly, Cameron did something right as the celebration for the 25th anniversary of Say Anything is in full swing; the film is beloved by romantics of all ages–and is indeed seen as the embodiment of young love by cinephiles everywhere.

So, what do you think of the quintessential love scene at issue here? Is it eighties tripe or archetypal cinema romance? And have you ever had strong convictions of how a scene should be played, but were overruled by the director? If so, was the scene better or worse off?

 

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