Some Good Scenes Require An Even Better Song Choice

After various discussions recently with a number of people I’ve realised how lucky I am to be at an age where I talk with an all manner of different people with different interests. I may be someone who is a fan of films but I would find it considerably dull if all I talked about all day was films and I would end up driving myself mad. But then by the same token it’s always interesting when two interests cross because it sparks off a very interesting debate indeed. Just recently I found myself engaged in quite an in depth conversation about music which lead on to the use of music in films. A topic I feel very strongly about.

The discussion turned eventually so we were talking about specific song choices for films and the songs we felt were placed at the perfect moment in a film. Having written about the topic of soundtracks a couple of months ago, it made me realise that it’s not just an entire soundtrack that can make a film good, sometimes the scene can be brilliant because of one specific song.

Thinking back to some of the songs used in films that really made me shiver because of what it added to the scene, one of the first that jumped out at me was the use of the remix by Jon Brion of ‘He Needs Me’ for the film ‘Punch Drunk Love’ one of my favourite films and a perfect display of Paul Thomas Anderson’s talent as a writer and director. The song was used to show the positivity that was flowing in to the life of Barry Egan, a character whom we see conflicted and targeted before to the point of instability. The music reflects the positive influence that love has had on a man who has experienced so much unhappiness previously. It made the scenes of Barry frantically rushing to Hawaii to see the woman he loves seem realistic and made me feel somewhat overjoyed. Aiding in the artistic development and character building of the film I feel it was perfectly utilised, and is still a song I hold close to me.

Whilst on the topic of songs that made me feel overjoyed when they appeared in a film, I still get shivers when I watch the Richard Curtis film ‘The Boat That Rocked’ and it reaches the scene in which ‘Dancing In The Street’ by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas plays. It’s a perfect reflection of the atmosphere of a film filled with young love, rock’n’roll spirit and having a good time. Seeing a montage of various people dancing to the song and having a good time made me feel both happy and uplifted. It was similar to the scene when ‘Lets Spend The Night Together’ by The Rolling Stones plays. It’s an uplifting, positive spirited song that makes people across the country (within the film) dance their feet off and leaves me with a smile on my face.

Dancing as some followers will know is quite an interest of mine when it comes to films. Just recently I posted an entry (entitled ‘the talent behind dance sequences in films’) about the use of dance sequences in films and how effective they can be if they are done well. Part of this for me is the song choices because it’s crucial when showing the different entities characters are when they dance, to have a song that expresses their emotions. Personally I feel that this was achieved in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ during the end dance sequence at the competition. All of the song choices suited the scene well, but one of my favourites was ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ by The White Stripes. It was a loud and vicious song that allowed the characters of Pat and Tiffany to express all of their anger they have towards the members of society that judge them and all of the people that have upset them, but then it also reflected the chaotic friendship they have where neither of them know where they stand. It added a different level to who they are as dancers as well which worked brilliantly.

Songs can be used for two different purposes in films, which works when they are contrasted against each other to show a change. An example of this is the use of ‘Shipping Up To Boston’ by Dropkick Murphys in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ in which the song is used during the opening credits (seventeen minutes in incidentally) and then later when the film is drawing close to it’s conclusion. The pace and the volume of the song are used to show a contrast between the police unit and the mob being confident in their plan and comfortable in their position, to then later feeling exposed and concerned for their safety. Hearing the song play during a fast car journey while Jack Nicholson shouts at someone really left me feeling like his character was coming to the end of his tether and as though the king was getting his crown taken off of him so to speak. It developed a sense of excitement at the beginning with a feel that anything could happen but then was used to create tension later, with both working brilliantly from my perspective. How the song is used twice is also important to consider when you realise that much like the character of the mole with either party it has two different sides to it.

On the other hand of course you have to consider the fact that a song can have the opposite power on a film, it can make a scene feel awkward and stale when it’s out of place. I still feel that the soundtrack for ‘Shutter Island’ is very poor, being too loud and clangy for a film that is supposed to be tense and chilling. It was too loud and didn’t suit the idea of mystery and deception that the story was attempting to convey. Instead of large landscape shots of the prison accompanied by quiet and disturbing music, you have darkened shots of the island accompanied by the bursting of your eardrums.

However when I talking about out of place soundtracks I once again (for the third time) have to talk about the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation of ‘The Great Gatsby’ which is filled with out of place songs. Set in the 1920s American party scene you’d expect it to be filled with heavy Jazz music with loud trumpets for dance numbers. Instead you’re watching scenes accompanied by Jay-Z and The XX? I don’t think so Mr Luhrmann. If you really loved the book as much as you say you did then you’d respect the source material and act accordingly. You don’t add too much of your own image to the point where the original image painted by F Scott Fitzgerald has been altered in to something quite ugly. You can try and be quirky with your party scenes but this isn’t ‘Moulin Rouge’ anymore, and you are not a teenager anymore! I addressed him directly in the hope that he might see this one day. I have doubts but it’s always worth trying.

I’m not suggesting that the songs and films mentioned are the best combinations, they’re just combinations that had an impact on me and sprang to mind when discussing the topic. There were a lot I could have mentioned but I assume that people have already lost interest by this point so I didn’t want to make it longer. If anyone is still reading by this point then thank you. I hope you’ve all had a pleasant day or are going to have a pleasant day, depending on where you are in the world.

I’m going to take pride in the fact that I’ve managed to talk about film soundtracks without mentioning ‘Submarine’ by Alex Turner!


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