Music in movies

Film scores and soundtracks were once a haven for classically trained musicians, though the tide is turning as the alternative kids take control. Daniel Rossen talks us through his favourites.

This past week saw the announcement of the nominees for the Oscars. As is the usual case, the major categories of Best Actor (now known as the “Colin Firth”), Best Actress (the “Natalie Portman”) and Best Film (now the “Ha! F*ck you James Cameron!”) garnered the majority of the attention. Further down the list, however, were the categories of Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

Admittedly, the Best Original Song category has long been dominated by Randy Newman, Phil Collins and Elton John’s Disney offerings, abysmal songs about hope and overcoming adversity, etc.

However, in the last ten years, we’ve seen wins for Eminem and Glen Hansard, as well as the likes of the utterly unlistenable ‘It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp’ from Hustle & Flow. It still galls me to this day that Eddie Vedder wasn’t nominated for any of his fantastic creations for Into the Wild.

Best Original Score, too, has long been the foray of the likes of Ennio Morricone, Randy Newman, John Williams and Alfred Newman (the latter two have over forty nominations each), though the practice of scoring a film is gradually changing.

This year’s Golden Globe for Best Original Score is sitting on the mantelpiece of none other than Trent Reznor (pictured), of Nine Inch Nails fame. In the last few months we have also seen great scores composed by Daft Punk (for Tron: Legacy – the only thing the film had going for it too), Grizzly Bear (for Blue Valentine), the Chemical Brothers (their adapted score for Black Swan makes the film a harrowing and intense ordeal), Johnny Greenwood (of Radiohead) and more. Suddenly, the indie and alternative kids are the darlings of the film scoring world.

And the end product is all the better for it. As mentioned, the Chemical Brothers backward and looped adaptation of the music from the original Swan Lake is breathtaking in parts, while Daft Punk’s work on Tron was, undoubtedly, the best part of the film.

The Social Network was an endearing and powerful film from start to finish, yet the scene that sticks in my mind is the boat race in England. ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ by Edvard Grieg is played over the images and results in the race being depicted as an outright battle.

Danny Boyle is one who has nailed the use of music in his films. The scores to Slumdog, 127 Hours and The Beach are near-perfect, while his selection of tracks for his films is rarely wide of the mark. Think Iggy Pop and Underworld in Trainspotting, All Saints in The Beach (it shouldn’t work, but it really does) and Sigur Ros in 127 Hours. More often than not, I find myself enjoying the music in Boyle’s films just as much as the film itself!

This led me to ask, however, what is the best use of music in a film? There are classic instances (‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’ and ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs respectively – Tarantino nailed it), and the more overlooked ones (Doves’ ‘Kingdom of Rust’, the Black Keys ‘Your Touch’ and Metallica ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ in Zombieland).

Two that stick vividly in my mind is the use of Grandaddy’s classic ‘AM180’ in 28 Days Later (the scene on the motorway with the windmills – it is such a stark contrast to the darkness of the rest of the film) and the stunning end scene in Fight Club, with the Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind?’ playing.

It can genuinely make or break a film. Average films with great scores or soundtracks have made huge splashes (Little Miss Sunshine, Garden State) on the back of creative soundtrack selection. Hollywood is looking to the indie kids more and more and we are all the benefactors. Can’t stand to watch Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams break-up in Blue Valentine? Don’t – close your eyes and listening to the stunning work put in by Ed Droste and Chris Bear instead…

Did you like this? Share it: