There is a moment in Danny Boyle’s magnificent Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor injects heroine and falls through the floor. He is subsequently dragged down a flight of stairs onto the street, tossed into a taxi, and brought to a hospital. This series of events would not be nearly as good if not for Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” playing throughout. And I’m not talking a 30 second clip, I’m talking all three minutes and forty-five seconds, full song action. Trainspotting was released 17 years ago this month and in celebration, let’s raise a glass to the directors of today who are keeping the movie soundtrack alive and so well.
Joel & Ethan Coen
All the folks walking towards the water in peasant-like garb chanting an unearthly hymn. Standing in a line for their baptism. Arguably more successful than the movie, the Coen brothers O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack brought—weirdly enough—Americana back to the American mainstream. The trailer has just been released for their new flick, Inside Llewyn Davis about a singer/songwriter pushing his way through the 1960s New York folk scene. In true Coen brothers fashion, we’ll be in for a surprise.
Although wordless, Squarepusher’s “Tommib” is on equal ground with the overwhelming view of the Shinjuku District of Tokyo in Lost in Translation. In 45 seconds, we feel isolated and surreal. Sofia Coppola carefully creates mood and tone with her music selections above all else. She makes Gwen Stefani’s “Cool” work elegantly in Somewhere and The Cure’s “Plainsong” sound as lush as ever in Marie Antoinette. We are taken to a different place, a divine place, and that’s exactly the point.
Let’s face it. Whether we love him or hate him, his movies take music seriously. Here in The Royal Tenenbaums, the combination of slow motion and Alec Baldwin’s baritone voice-over set up Nico’s “These Days” perfectly, her voice almost mimicking Baldwin’s boom. Wes Anderson isn’t afraid to push the sonic envelope. Moonrise Kingdom places Françoise Hardy beside Leonard Bernstein and of Benjamin Britten’s, Noye’s Fludde, Anderson stated: “It is the color of the movie in a way.” With an impressive catalog of big music and big color, he rarely disappoints. And always a big kudos to Mark Mothersbaugh, whose scores push Anderson’s soundtracks into classics territory.
Each of Gregg Araki’s films is an intro class to shoegaze: songs that use the Wall of Sound or the vacuum effect to establish one constant textural layer, among many others. This is very much the way Gregg Araki approaches music in his films. By coating his scenes with distortion, he creates these ominous environments. In the opening scene of Mysterious Skin, cereal is falling slowly from the sky as Slowdive’s cover of “Golden Hair” rolls along. The audience is greeted with big noise that, thankfully, never seems to end.
We all know Des’ree from when she listed all the things we gotta be but when she appeared on that stage in Romeo + Juliet and Leo and Claire longed for each other through that fish tank, our souls cried. Baz Luhrmann went on to kill it with Moulin Rouge! and now that Jay-Z has officially signed on for The Great Gatsby soundtrack, Luhrmann has proven he doesn’t mess around.
Nicolas Winding Refn
A moment of clarity and light in an otherwise pretty aggressive film, this particular moment in Drive uses a heavy synth-laced track but manages to do so in a carefree way. A relatively new name to the ears of filmgoers, director Nicolas Winding Refn and composer Cliff Martinez created a chilly landscape for a chilly movie. It makes you pretty pumped for his upcoming film, Only God Forgives, and judging by this movie poster, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
Uma Thurman presses play on Urge Overkills’ cover of the Neil Diamond track “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” dances a bit, has a smoke, and then overdoses on some serious heroine, blood immediately dripping from her nose. Tarantino is direct, he doesn’t waste time. His song choices mirror his storytelling. Just like the marriage of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” and ear-severing in Reservoir Dogs, it is only Tarantino who can make us feel as though we are witness to an opera.
After a night of partying and a drug-induced rooftop jump, the motley crew in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous retire back onto their bus, fatigued, and reflect on their place in the world. One by one they join each other in singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” mending fences and reassuring their status as a family. Because of Crowe’s history as a young journalist for Rolling Stone, he dedicates his films to song and is often joyous with his selections, building soundtracks that tell stories of rises and falls, and he does so with such a big heart.