Dream Valley Music’s Top 5 Favourite Movie Soundtracks
1. Ghost World (2001)
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Score by David Kitay
Soundtrack – Various artists
A film based on the graphic novels of Daniel Clowes. The story centres around two teenage girls (Thora Birch & Scarlett Johansson) whose relationship is put to the test in the summer after their high school graduation.
The Ghost World soundtrack is an eclectic mix of proto punk, funk, soul, rock, blues and ragtime. In the first half of the film the music comes from a variety of sources. The house band (Orange Colored Sky) at the High School Ball, the juke box at a diner, a car radio outside the local store (“workin’ overtime. 16 hours!”), and Thora Birch’s own record collection.
But when the girls hook up with a dorky record collector played by Steve Buscemi, the music takes on a central role as Thora Birch is intrigued by an LP of blues music she buys from Buscemi’s yard sale. Back in her bedroom, she plays Devil Got My Woman by Skip James over and over and becomes enchanted by the simplistic charm of early Blues.
From then on the film is imbued with the sound of blues, ragtime, country and bluegrass as we’re treated to a variety of sides from Buscemi’s vast collection of 78s.
The film also features a beautiful theme by David Kitay which complements the scratchy old blues recordings by offering a lush piano and cello aria that swells & dips its way through Ghost World’s coming of age narrative.
The film never attempts to preach its music from a snobbish high ground. Quite the opposite. The viewer is taken on a musical journey alongside the characters as they’re introduced to music that becomes a part of their life. Each character having their own personal musical motif.
But Ghost World’s ace card is undoubtedly the opening scene where we pan across the girl’s neighbourhood to the sound of Jaan Pehechaan Ho performed by Mohammed Rafi. A 1960’s Bollywood gem with big brassy horn stabs, tabla percussion and twangy James Bond guitar licks. This sublime title sequence is the perfect introduction to this surreal & slightly unhinged universe, inhabited by the weird and wonderful residents of Ghost World.
Jaan Pehechaan Ho. Bollywood comes to Ghost World in the film’s title sequence.
Graduation Rap. High school chicks do hopeless Hip Hop.
What Do I Get. Buzzcocks at max volume in Enid’s bedroom.
Devil Got My Woman. Enid is blissed out by Skip James’ haunting vocal.
Solid as a Rock. Steve Buscemi’s awkward dance with a bowl of ice cream.
2. Shutter Island (2010)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Soundtrack – Compiled by Robbie Robertson
Two US Marshals travel to a hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a female patient. However, all is not as it seems & as a storm hits the island, the entire reality of the situation is thrown into question.
As you’re channelled into the disturbing world of Shutter Island you begin to feel as on edge and queasy as DiCaprio’s sea sick US marshal, Teddy Daniels. The soundtrack reinforces this feeling of unease with a variety of unsettling pieces of music. Symphony #3: Passacaglia underscores the journey to the island’s institution with huge overbearing cello & brass stabs that grow at a terrifying rate until they reach a climax as the marshals are driven through the huge, imposing metal gates.
This passage reappears a number of times throughout the film as does Music For Marcel Duchamp, a prepared piano piece by Philipp Vandre. Particularly effective during Daniels' harrowing flashback sequences as he stares in horror at the frozen bodies of women & children stacked up outside a concentration camp.
Throughout Shutter Island the music is used sparingly and is even more effective as a result. Max Richter’s On The Nature of Daylight wells up as Daniels recalls his wife’s body crumbling to ashes in his arms. But it hits the mood of the scene so perfectly that you would swear it played a lot longer than its fleeting appearance.
Of all the soundtracks featured here, Shutter Island is the one that I would encourage people to invest in as a CD or download. You can absorb much more of the atmosphere than the brief edits that appear in the film. And it scans beautifully as a concept piece in its own right.
Mahler’s Piano Quartet rings out in Doctor Cowley’s plush quarters as the storm builds outside.
“It wasn’t warfare, it was murder.” Music for Marcel Duchamp accompanies Daniels' disgust as he prevents an SS officer from taking his own life.
Suite for Symphonic Strings . “Baby, why are you all wet?”
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3. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
soundtrack – Various artists
Score by Carmine Coppola
US army special ops officer Captain Benjamin Willard is given a top secret mission to terminate the command of Special Forces commander Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. To terminate with extreme prejudice.
The soundtrack and score of Apocalypse Now merge together to paint a vivid brutal & uncompromising picture of life (and death) in the Vietnam conflict.
Symphonic classics sit side by side with psyched out rock n’ roll & eerie futuristic synth themes.
Originally Coppola intended the entire film to be soundtracked by The Doors, having been pals with Jim Morrison at UCLA. But temporary Doors tracks were replaced until all that remained was the iconic opening scene, where images of Huey helicopters circling around a napalm drop was underscored with The Doors’ paean to death & insanity, The End. Sound designer Walter Murch’s synthesised chopper blades then morphed seamlessly with Morrison’s explicit lyrics as they built to a frenzy while Willard faced the post traumatic hell of his Saigon hotel room.
“…Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.”
Originally Coppola had wanted Japanese synthesist Isao Tomita to score the film. But other commitments prevented him from taking part.
So the score was composed by the director’s father, Carmine Coppola. A flautist & accomplished film composer who had previously written music for The Godfather. The resulting score was first interpreted by musician Shirley Walker who accompanied the entire film on piano. These piano transcripts were then replaced with state-of-the-art synthesisers played by five world-renowned electronic musicians.
Add to this a bed of heavy tribal percussion and wailing electric guitar and what emerges is a music accompaniment like no other film before or since. An organic deeply personal score every bit as important as the film’s stunning visual feast.
“Charlie don’t surf.”
Aside from The Doors and Carmine Coppola’s score, Apocalypse Now has a series of set pieces where the music takes centre stage. One of the most thrilling is when Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duval) launches a dawn attack on a Viet Cong stronghold so that they can clear the beach for a display of surfing prowess by US surfing champion, Lance B. Johnson. The resulting massacre is underscored with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries thundering out at maximum volume from speakers attached precariously to the helicopter’s fuselage.
Later, as Willard and crew continue their mission, they arrive at a floating ‘R and R’ base camp, where Playgirls are choppered in to a soundtrack of Dale Hawkin’s Suzie Q, performed by Flash Cadillac. As the mayhem descends into chaos the eerie all encompassing synth theme re-emerges and the crew continue their deadly journey up river.
“Do Lung Bridge was the last army outpost on the Nung River. Beyond that there was only Kurtz.”
Coppola hired Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart and his band of Rhythm Devils to add to the score a primitive carnal intensity as the small boat is sucked deeper and deeper into the jungle towards Kurtz’s primeval tribe of warriors.
Add to this a resonant atonal feedback provided by Hendrix impersonator Randy Hansen, and the resulting cues elevate the film onto another level. Syncing in perfect harmony with the mission’s horrific conclusion.
“Even the jungle wanted him dead. And that’s who he takes orders from.”
The final scenes in Kurtz’s lair portray a man resigned to his inevitable fate. And for brief moments the music takes on a calm, submissive role. Gamelans and singing bowls are complemented with distant moaning synth lines as Kurtz reads poetry and tells stories to the ‘captive’ Willard.
That night at a ritualistic ceremony, Willard returns to the camp to assassinate the Colonel. Huge swathes of percussion were improvised in real time to create the underscore to this compelling climactic scene.
“The horror…..The horror.”
Then once again we return to the iconic sound of Jim Morrison’s stream of consciousness as Willard is heralded as the new leader.
“And all the children are insane.”
Boat and crew come under fire as the radio blares out The Stones Satisfaction.
“See how they break both ways?” The Beach Boys Surfin’ Safari accompanies Lance’s reluctant surfing display.
Randy Hansen’s waling guitar at Do Lung Bridge. “Hey soldier, do you know who’s in command here?” Asks Willard, “Ain’t you?” Replies the soldier.
4. Lost Highway (1997)
Directed by David Lynch
Soundtrack – Compiled by Trent Reznor
Score by Angelo Badalamenti
Fred Madison is sentenced to death after being convicted of the murder of his wife. The unbearable guilt brings on a bizarre psychotraumatic episode after which his identity is severely compromised.
Snatches of ethereal jazz sit side by side with industrial metal, atmospheric drones & dub rhythms in Lynch’s late 90’s psychotic film noire thriller. Gluing these disparate genres together are insidious swathes of score music by his long time musical accomplice, Angelo Baladamenti. The resulting montage of music & sound is bold, thrilling and intensely dynamic.
“Funny how secrets travel”
The haunting melody of David Bowie’s I’m Deranged accompanies a frenzied car ride as Lost Highway’s title sequence takes us on a desperate journey into the unknown, where Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife (Patricia Arquette) live out an unsettling, disjointed relationship in a strange Bauhaus-style apartment in the Hollywood Hills.
When they start receiving disturbing video tapes from an intruder, their relationship begins to deteriorate, blurring the borders between reality and nightmare.
Barry Adamson’s Something Wicked This Way Comes booms outs at a house party where Fred meets a mysterious man (Robert Blake) who convinces Fred he is at his apartment. “I’m there, right now.” The next morning Fred receives a video that shows him murdering his own wife.
Badalamenti’s score soundtrack’s the lonely desperation that Fred feels when he is locked up for a crime he is convinced he did not commit. That night, in the film’s inexplicably bizarre twist, Fred morphs into another person. Convicted criminal, Pete Dayton.
At this point, the film and its soundtrack take on a different, sleazier role as they underscore Dayton’s life of sexual encounters, post traumatic symptoms and his encounters with the evil porn baron, Mr Eddy.
Next, we’re treated to a sublime Lynchian moment as a distorted guitar riff reintroduces Patricia Arquette (now portraying alter ego, Alice Wakefield) as she steps from Mr. Eddy’s Mercedes to the sound of Lou Reed’s version of The Drifter’s This Magic Moment.
Pete & Alice begin a hot, clandestine affair as Alice recounts her first meeting with the notorious Mr. Eddy and her introduction to his murky world of violence & pornography.
As the two lovers decide to escape, the music choices become dark, visceral and uncompromising. Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails & Marilyn Manson (who also has a cameo in the film) ramp up the dark, progressive, heavily laden soundtrack as the film spirals into a world of sexually violent oblivion.
This Mortal Coil’s Song to the Siren appears in snatches throughout the film to illustrate the times where Fred (Pete) has brief moments of relief. The song is particularly effective when Pete & Alice make love in the headlights of Pete’s car in front of the Mystery Man’s cabin.
However, this 4AD recording by the Cocteau Twins spin off band does not appear on the Soundtrack as it transpired that the license was too expensive, even for the film’s $15M budget!
Fred Madison’s maniacal free jazz sax solo rings out around the steamy nightclub bar.
Gang Lord Mr. Eddy arrives to the sleaze driven jazz of Adamson’s Mr. Eddy’s Theme.
Rammstein by Rammstein played at ear splitting volume as Fred watches Mr. Eddy’s illicit snuff movie.
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5. Amelie (2001)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Score by Yann Tiersen
Raised by eccentric parents, Amelie Poulain develops an over active imagination & retreats into a world of fantasy. As she grows up, her strange perception of the world leads to mad adventures, unusual situations & ultimately to love.
Yann Tiersen’s mellifluous music pours from Amelie like vintage red wine from a bottle, but not all of the music was composed for this film at all. A number of tracks are lifted from Tiersen’s first three studio albums recorded independently years before the film came along.
Director Jeunet had other music in mind for the score to Amelie when his production assistant presented him with a Yann Tiersen CD. Jeunet thought this rapturous folk music was perfect and contacted the musician immediately. Enthused by the project, Tiersen not only composed 19 new tracks for the film, but granted license for the director to cherry pick whatever tunes he wanted to use from his back catalogue.
The result was a perfectly harmonious match of film & music. Alongside the wonderfully edited scenes it’s now hard to imagine the film without his music, or the music without the film.
This stellar combination turned Amelie into a huge box office success and it is still the highest grossing French language film in American cinema history. The soundtrack also became a best seller worldwide, reaching number one in the French album charts.
After the success of Amelie Yann Tiersen’s music was in great demand for film and documentary soundtracks and in 2003 he scored the Wolfgang Becker film, Good Bye Lenin. Tierson’s last album, Skyline was released in 2011.
Dominique Bretodeau is lured into a phonebooth where Amelie has hidden his childhood box of secret artefacts. The music builds from a simple melody line into a plaintive piano waltz.
Tiersen’s galloping accordion accompanies Amelie as she escorts a blind pedestrian through the busy streets describing every moment of their journey to him in glorious intimate details.
Accordion & glockenspiel play as Amelie sits on the station steps and leafs through a book of torn and discarded ID photos which have been meticulously glued back together by her future lover.
Other cool soundtracks
Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the Irvin Welsh novel features music from the likes of Iggy Pop, New Order, Underworld, Blur and Pulp.
Swing, soul, rock, ballads and much more. Scorsese’s mobster movie is glorious wall to wall music.
In 1994, Tarrantino’s black comedy crime thriller reinvented the soundtrack for a new generation of movie goers.
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