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May 19, 2011


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Gordon Cameron

>And I'm pretty sure ALIENS is his very best score, not just one of his best. Since then his scores have pretty much all been a hazy pink cloud that connect as one.

I'm fond of his score for "Star Trek II" although he lifted wholesale a lot of his work from "Battle Beyond the Stars." Even so, he caught the whole sailing-on-the-wide-open-sea feeling -- it's the only Trek movie theme that comes anywhere near Goldsmith's superlative work in The Motion Picture.

/puts on Vulcan ears and crawls quietly away

Gordon Cameron

>Even "Silence of the Lambs" had Brooke Smith singing along to "American Girl"--an inspired way to introduce her character. Ditto Soderbergh's introduction of Fonda with "King Midas in Reverse"...

Plus the contrast of Dr. Lecter's bloody work with the aria to the Goldberg Variations. Subtle? No. But it works...


"I'm fond of his score for 'Star Trek II'"...

Oh crap, yeah, I like that one a lot, too.



"Sutter, you should take another look at CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and the use it makes of the Schubert Quartet."

Absolutely. Fantastic work by Allen there, and probably the single best use of music in any of his films, although several others, such as some of what he does in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE and RADIO DAYS, comes close.

Gordon Cameron

I like Allen's use of Bach -- one of the English suites, I think -- in the background when we see the footage of Professor Lewis Leavey (sp?), the philosopher about whom Allen's character is making a documentary in CRIMES.

On the one hand it's a joke -- here's this guy talking in an inscrutable accent about deep philosophy and wearing coke bottle glasses and on top of that there's BACH in the background f'chrissakes -- but on the other hand it totally works "played straight," too. Allen's character describes him as "an intellect," and the contrapuntal piano lines winding in the soundtrack convey precisely that. They also establish a distinct auditory world from the usual upbeat jazz that accompanies Allen's comical scenes (e.g. when he is following Alan Alda around with a camera), and the grim Schubert mentioned above.

Allen also does good stuff with Bach in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, in the scene where Michael Caine first attempts to seduce Barbara Hershey.

The Siren

I will plump for Allen's use of Gershwin in Manhattan.


Gordon, that's the HANNAH scene where to change the music to a frantic passage he has a character bump into the record player, right? I guess I found that kind of gimmicky. Also, while I don't have any absolute objection to the use of music as an simple indicator of personal type (Bach = intellectual) it seems hard to deny that some of the other filmmakers we're discussing use music in a much richer way than this. Think of Tarkovsky's various uses of Bach.

However, I vividly remember loving the Schubert quartet in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, and I haven't seen the movie in at least a decade, probably more. And in any event, I'm sure we all can agree on the jaw-dropping opening of DAYS OF HEAVEN; I know the makers of VISIONS OF LIGHT do.


The Siren is right. (I hadn't seen her comment before.) I don't like the movie very much, but the Gershwin in MANHATTAN is not at all the kind of background mood-setting device I'm criticizing in, for instance, HANNAH.

Gordon Cameron

>it seems hard to deny that some of the other filmmakers we're discussing use music in a much richer way than this.

Maybe -- I've generally read Malick's use of music as a straightforward evocation of mood (usually elegiac, transcendent, etc.), which doesn't seem much (if at all) more sophisticated than what Allen does; but perhaps I haven't looked into it enough. Kubrick, of course, is famous for playing music against the scene, and thereby creating effects like the waltz in 2001, the nuclear explosions under "We'll Meet Again" in Strangelove, the soldiers marching to the Mickey Mouse theme in FMJ. That persistently ironic approach to scoring might itself be deemed "gimmicky" if one were in an uncharitable mood -- but then again, I wouldn't dispense with the Blue Danube docking sequence for all the world.


Thanks for your response, Gordon.

"Sophistication" has nothing to do with what I often find so haunting and heartbreaking about Malick's use of music. I just think that the effects he achieves with music are a lot more nuanced, elusive, and original than what you get in most movies' use of classical music; and that he pairs music with his stories and images in an extremely precise way, much more precise than Allen; and that the flows of his images, voiceovers, music, and narrative somehow come together to create something really extraordinary.

To be clear, I don't think Malick and Kubrick use music similarly at all. As you suggest, with Kubrick there's often a lot of wit and irony in his use of music; sometimes this is just straight-up sarcasm, but sometimes it's creepy, horrifying hints of dark wit and dark irony, like in that beautifully extended scene with the Schubert trio in BARRY LYNDON, where Barry meets the Countess.


Linklater's pastiche of seventies pop and rock in DAZED AND CONFUSED! And I think Tarantino has his moments, especially in RESERVOIR DOGS.


I also think Sophia Coppola has proven herself to have an excellent ear. SOMEWHERE is, I think, her best yet in that respect.

Gordon Cameron

I would only rejoinder that for his comic purposes I think Allen's use of music is very precise indeed; but that he is aiming for something more easily put-into-a-box than what Malick does, particularly in films such as Crimes & Misdemeanors or Hannah, where the emotional lines and character motivations, as well as the quasi-Shakespearean schema ("high" tragedy or melodrama interposed with "low" comic bumbling), seem pretty easy to suss out. Unless there's a whole other layer I'm missing, which could certainly be the case. Whether he's sticking Gershwin under a skyscraper, or Bach over a pontificating intellectual, Allen is often wonderfully on-the-nose, but I think this suits the meticulous carpentry of some of his best comedies... he is indeed playing a very different ballgame than either Kubrick or Malick do (and they from one another too, of course).

Kent Jones

Yes, I think Gordon is right about Woody Allen. He's just as "precise" as Kubrick or Malick, just going for something very different. Having said that, I find the use of the Sidney Bechet song over the opening montage of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS very haunting. And there's the Josephine Baker song, "La Conga Bilcoti."

Edo, I don't remember any of the music in SOMEWHERE, but it's a beautiful film. But Linklater is a very special case. In general, I think he's the most underestimated American filmmaker. He's doesn't usually use music in the manner that's under discussion here, but of course DAZED AND CONFUSED is the exception. As someone who is only a few months younger and lived through the same moment, I was amazed by his choices in that film and the uses he out them to. Especially "Slow Ride" over the closing images - an ode to freedom.


There's a wonderful use of a song by The Strokes in the film (it's in the trailer as well). In LOST IN TRANSLATION, there's an amazing use of Sometimes by My Bloody Valentine, and, of course, Just Like Honey at the end.


Yeah, if you were within a couple of years of the ages of the characters in DAZED AND CONFUSED, you had to be struck by how true it all felt, and the music was a huge part of that.

With some films, I do wonder if the director is relying on the music a bit too much. Not everyone in the audience will have the same emotional or nostalgic connection to a composition. So while one person is swooning over the use of a favorite tune, another may be saying, "Why is this cheesy piece of pop/soul/rock/classical/whatever playing over this scene?"


Check and check again re. Allen (particularly, as The Siren notes, Gershwin in Manhattan) & Linklater.

@ Kent - Agreed about Linklater being the most underestimated (interesting to say that instead of "underrated" - I know you choose 'em carefully) American filmmaker. Another director who gets somewhat overlooked for not having an immediately recognizable "style." DAZED, besides having a terrific soundtrack, is also probably the best American film made about High School Life. For me, anyway, it's bar none. Besides its many virtues, there's a great sense of place, and I say that as someone who went to school in rural NY, not suburban Texas. The film is transporting - also a laff riot.

Also, as for EASY RIDER - I had always assumed that it had a special stature, soundtrack wise, for *first* including current pop songs in the soundtrack, paving the way for Scorsese et. al. But I won't claim my history is solid on that account.

Kent Jones

Zach, when it comes to "paving the way" for MS, I think SCORPIO RISING is the movie you're looking for, as opposed to EASY RIDER. Marty had already used pop music brilliantly in WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR by the time EASY RIDER came out, the "Watusi" scene in particular.


I guess I hold the minority view on Allen's use of classical music.

It feels totally silly to talk in terms of a "precision" scale, so I'll just say that the effects he achieves with music often seem generic to me. This is certainly true with [Bach = intellectual], but for me it's also true of his more emotive use of Bach in HANNAH. I think the effects he achieves are blunt enough that a number of other pieces of music would have worked similarly.

Trying to describe the effects of the Bach in SOLARIS, MIRROR, or SACRIFICE makes me feel really inarticulate; it's something unique, I struggle for words. Whereas, while it'd be wrong to reduce the effect of the Bach in HANNAH to, say, wistful romanticism, I don't have that sensation of radical inarticulacy. I don't have the sense with Allen's use of music, as I do with so much in Malick -- or Herzog, to name another -- that "I can't even BEGIN" to describe the effect of the music in that context. (Probably like most who post here, my first reaction with that kind of thing is to then try, fumblingly, to describe what's going on; but that's another matter.) So I stand by my use of Allen as an illustration of what's special about Malick and Kubrick's uses of classical music, though I will take another look at CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS.

Anyway, when it comes to pop music, for my money Lynch seems like very tough competition.


No one has mentioned Godard's use of classical music, especially from "First Name: Carmen" onwards?

Tom Block

>"Slow Ride" over the closing images - an ode to freedom

I wish I could see it like that, or at least only as that. The final fade-out--it's one of the most beautifully timed ones I know of--puts me in mind of a camera shutter closing for good, with the movie's events shifting over from the present-day highpoints in a young man's life into the ghetto of memory. It's loving and it's inevitable, but it's happening just the same.


As well as I can remember, there are only a couple of pop music cues in Fassbinder's IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS (those being Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop" and Roxy Music's "A Song for Europe"), but they're perfect, and they've stuck with me.

Tom Block

RWF was great with music. "The Great Pretender" at the end of "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" instantly expanded the film's scope in my eyes--made it a different experience for me.

Bruce Reid

I think Terence Davies's emotional connection to the music he selects is so naked it overwhelms the nostalgic limitations jbryant warns against. Wong Kar-Wai as well, "I Have Been in You" no less than "California Dreaming."

Glenn Kenny

@ BLH, I LOVE the way RWF lets "A Song For Europe" play out in its entirety, as I recall, in "13 Moons." An insanely galvanic moment. And yes, "The Great Pretender" is a massively wonderful punchline, as it were, to "Petra," and again, allowed to play out.

Zappa music doesn't get much play on feature film soundtracks, maybe because it's hard to fit in; maybe also because some filmmakers consider him louche or something. In any event, Wong Kar-Wai did right by Zappa for sure, as did Cauron in "Y Tu Mama."

James Keepnews

In re: Zappa, as did Timothy Carey.


@ Kent - thanks for pointing out the Anger precedent.

Since we've crossed the pond(s), I'll second Wong Kar Wai having a wonderful knack for pre-recorded music (Chungking Express is only the beginning...In The Mood For Love, Happy Together, and so on...) as well as, of course, Godard, whom I first neglected to mention when I was thinking specifically of American directors. I was first introduced to Mozart's resplendent Sonata #18 through WEEKEND, in a sequence I will never forget.

Also, Carlos Reygadas seems to have learned well from some of his forbears - the musical cues in JAPON are pretty brilliant.

And how could I forget Leos Carax? His use of Bowie's "Modern Love" over the long tracking shot of Denis Lavant run/dancing his heart out in Mauvais Sang floors me every single time, and that's just one of a few stellar examples.

And, to stump again for PT Anderson, much of what works in Boogie Nights is propelled by excellent cues, up to and including ELO as the coda.

Oy vey. Jarmusch! Waits. Young. Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Lurie. Whew.

Kent Jones

nrh, the discussion had been confined to American filmmakers. Invoking Godard broadens the scope.

Sutter, it's not that I disagree with you - Woody Allen does use music in a less mysterious manner than Tarkovsky or Malick. But it's not like he's trying and failing to work the way they do: it's a lighter approach and he knows it. It doesn't strike me as something that needs to be seen in a hierarchical framework.

Peter Lenihan

To continue in the Godard/Carax vein, Garrel's use of The Kinks' This Time Tomorrow in Regular Lovers and VU's All Tomorrow's Parties in She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps. And maybe this is too obvious but pretty much all of the pop tunes in Denis' films.


Outside/Inside America: Antonioni with "Heart Beat,Pig Meat" and "Tennessee Waltz" in ZABRISKIE POINT. Wim Wender's amazing soundtracks starting with his early days using Dylan and The Kinks.
Going back to Scorsese I gotta say Mott the Hoople on ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE blew me away in 1975.
But,I don't get comparing Herzog and Malick's use of Wagner's Das Rheingold prelude. It seems to me as fruitless as comparing Ulmer and Boorman's use of Beethoven's seventh symphony in THE BLACK CAT and ZARDOZ.

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