Woody Allen’s love of jazz is one of many things that made his seventies comedies so endearing. Sleeper, in particular, makes use of the style of music to get its message across, however silly. How many other films set in 2173 are there that have a score based around ragtime, trad jazz and swing?
It works though. Especially during the “silent” moments, which are clearly inspired by Benny Hill. The giant banana routine is set to a Dixieland romp, and would be incomplete and half as hilarious without it. Somehow, regardless of the futuristic backdrop of the film, all of these cuts work in similar harmony. Then again, Sleeper is just as much about history as it is dystopia; its tagline is “Woody Allen takes a nostalgic look at the future”.
The more Joplin-esque theme that accompanies the opening titles says a lot. It reveals what kind of film you are in for by revealing… nothing. There will be robots, there will be giant fruit, there will be a fascist dictator in the shape of a nose. Why not crackly old jazz records?
The summation of this is a celebration of pure anachronism, something Allen used a lot for comedic purpose. But Sleeper is particularly rich in this field, and it contains more silent sequences than any of his other movies, giving the music a somewhat heightened role.
What I haven’t mentioned is that Woody Allen wrote all this stuff himself, showcasing his talents not just as a jazz clarinettist but as a worthy composer in his own right. Also, when a director scores his own films you know that nothing will be miscommunicated. Indeed, the idea here is simple: accentuate the fun, increase the ridiculous.
Do I have a favourite scene? All of these sequences are masterful, in terms of humour and music. Why did no one think before to shoot a jet pack failing to a Dixieland boogie tune. Why should a robot chase have electronic music? New Orleans swing is far more amusing. Slapstick goes hand in hand with light jazz no matter what century you are in. Even the main character’s name is an amalgamation of two jazzmen. He is called Miles Monroe.
There is nothing more to it. Sleeper has one of the most innovative and fun uses of music the science fiction genre has ever seen. Star Wars seems rather tedious in comparison.