Sound Of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies begins on the BBC tonight. Inspired by the show, which is headed up by Neil Brand, here are a couple of our favourite examples of the use of music in film, be it original score or recycled piece of existing music.
Le Mepris – Theme de Camille is an appropriately ‘big’ piece of music for the film deemed to be “the greatest work of art produced in postwar Europe” by writer on film Colin MacCabe. By 1963 Georges Delarue was a figure already synonymous with the French New Wave, thanks to some startling work with Francois Truffaut on Jules et Jim and Shoot The Piano Player, but it is the main theme to his score to Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mepris that has had the biggest effect. Never so much has a piece of music captured the essence of a single character before, but that isn’t to say that Godard’s Camille has remained the soul companion to the song; Martin Scorsese reprocessed it for his Casino, while fellow Godard alumni Jane Fonda was scored to the song in a cosmetics advert.
The song Libertango, by Astor Piazzolla – An odd one, in that it’s been used to great success a number of times, in a couple of different films. It’s included here purely for the part it plays in the opening moments of Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord, as the audience is introduced to a side of Paris seldom seen on screen, but is perhaps best known for the rendition lyrically anchored by Grace Jones in Roman Polanski’s Frantic.
In either incarnation it *feels* just like Paris. Which is no mean feat for a tango written by an Argentinian.
There Will Be Blood – This truly avant-garde piece of music not only compliments the aesthetics of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, but serves to extra-dimension-alise the picture. Much has been said of the opening sequence of There Will Be Blood, which is largely dialogue-free and serves to create an impressive set-up to one of the most impressive and narratively out-there features of it’s time. Greenwood’s score to The Master is arguably more ground in the left field, and sits as an apt companion to his work here.
Day For Night – Perhaps the ultimate film of director as composer, Georges Delarue’s collaboration’s with Francois Truffaut reached their apex here. The film opens with the most remarkable credit sequence, in which a physical audio wave is given as much prominence as the image itself.
Goodfellas – It’s often said that one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest talents is his ear for a pop song. Mean Streets plays like the best mix-tape never committed to a C90, with the opening bars of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby synching to the site of a heavy head hitting a pillow, while there has seldom being a more note-perfect introduction to a character than Jumpin’ Jack Flash and a slow-motion Robert De Niro, while the director’s habits towards homage have already been mentioned above, but it’s his use of the post-script to Derek And The Dominoes’ Layla that stands as his single most impressive use of found-music.
Modern Love – David Bowie’s Modern Love is notable for having being used to score two very similar sequences. In Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang the piece of music served to drive one of the great moments of realisation in all of the cinema (the best bit is when actor Denis Lavant almost falls out of the frame, and speeds up with the drive of a cannonball to just keep up. Excitement personified). Earlier this year American filmmaker Noah Baumbach paid homage to Carax’s sequence with his own running down the street sequence in Frances Ha.
35 Shots Of Rum – Claire Denis’ films are notably musical. There stands a long-term collaboration with British indie rock band Tindersticks, with whom Denis has crafted scores of great value. Alas, it’s not the original score that stands out most here, with Denis’s inspired choice to stage a scene of familial transition to The Commodores’ Nightshift. On the surface it seems like an unlikely piece of music to find in such a picture, but it captures the tone of the movie so well that the entire picture is elevated.
It’s also worth noting that Claire Denis was behind this fantastic modern use of music too. Lavant is somewhat adept to really coming through when it comes to portraying a physicality of music on-screen.
Cinema Paradiso – Obvious, yes. Simply put, Ennio Morricone’s score evokes the cinema.
Honorable mention to Jurassic Park. The film ain’t all that, but the score is breathtaking, and manages to capture an entire generation of blockbuster moviegoing. The above rendition of the film by a Japanese guitar orchestra is all kinds of wonderful.