When you think of folk music within the context of a movie, a certain type of film comes to mind.
The soft, often acoustic sound is perhaps suited to romantic comedies, sprawling biographies and films with a little subtlety to them, much like the music itself. A great example is the music of Fleet Foxes, often used in films and TV shows. Their track ‘White Winter Hymnal’, for example, featured in Boy Erased, an interpretation of the memoir of Garrard Conley.
Where you do not expect to find a folk song setting the scene is in a big, brash blockbuster full of fancy costumes, fights and explosions. Yet in the case of ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ by Traffic, that is exactly where it can be found. The 1967 folk-rock classic featured right at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame, one of the biggest blockbusters in recent years.
We all know what much of the film world truly thinks of the Marvel franchise. Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese is reported by Mental Floss as saying they are not real cinema, but their overwhelming popularity with viewers cannot be ignored. The films make stars of the actors and actresses who appear in them, with the characters permeating every level of pop culture. Spider-Man, Thor and Captain America can be found everywhere, not just on television screens, but across a range of media. Video games boast their imagery, from console releases such as ‘Marvel Avengers’ on the PlayStation 4, to mobile devices too. In fact, Marvel characters also appear on a range of mobile games, directly and indirectly linked to the core concepts of the films. Gala Casino has several slot games that reference Thor, such as ‘Thor Infinity Reels’ and ‘Thor’s Vengeance’, whilst the Android title ‘Marvel Unlimited’ widens the scope of characters to a fuller roster. Marvel is a behemoth and that sort of reach means not only great exposure for the stars of the show, but also the music it features.
That is how a 50-year-old song that blended acoustic folk with charged jazz and psychedelic pop suddenly found a new audience.
Steve Windwood’s haunting vocals added something far more subtle to the opening credits of Avengers: Endgame than a simple title. Of course, the title ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy‘ seems to directly reference the core concept of the film to follow, but there was more to it than that, a layer of poignancy and real artistic interpretation that some cinema-goers may have missed.
There is a dark foreboding in the tune and lyrics, a hint at a struggle from the songwriter which truly reflects the film to follow. Endgame tied up loose ends and brought a conclusion to a saga that spanned many films, and kicking it off in a dark and yet oddly lifting way was a masterstroke by the music team. Yes, there were fights, excitement and loud noises to follow, but ultimately the whole experience was to be about more than superheroes and villains. It was a time to contemplate, interpret and even reflect on the previous movies’ themes and morals, something a good folk song, or rather a great one, hints at before a fist is raised in anger.
Pigeon-holing folk music as suitable for one genre, as the first paragraph here implied, might be easy, but in general it does a disservice to the flexibility and adaptability of the genre, not only for a listener but as a contemporary accompaniment to icons of pop culture. What is especially nice is a generation of new fans being led to Traffic, Windwood and hopefully, folk in general.