Film, Music

Music Makes a Scene

For a change, this week I (note the pronoun) would like to share with you an article a bit more of a personal nature. Though I have not written much about it yet, I can assure you that I am quite the film fan. And, of course, I also enjoy my fair share of music. Sometimes the two come together in spectacular fashion. Music in movies is usually used to convey a mood or help set the scene and employed in the background or in short bursts. But there are times when dialogue takes a back seat and music is given a more prominent place in the scene. It is then used to help tell the story, through lyrics and rhythm. Below are a few such scenes featuring some of my favourite music. I’m sure I missed many good ones, but here goes.

Moloko, “Sing It Back” – Repo Men

“When you are ready, I will surrender
Take me and do as you will”

Repo Men is a sci-fi action movie starring Jude Law as Remy, a man whose job it is to reclaim artificial organs from people who have failed to make their payments. To do so he has to cut the organs out of the person and scan them so they are removed from the system. Caring about the fate of those whose organs are reclaimed, however, is not part of the repo man’s job description. However, when he himself is implanted with an organ he cannot pay for and falls in love with Beth, a woman who’s behind on a multitude of payments, he rebels against his employer. In this scene, Remy has taken Beth to a facility where he intends to scan her organs in a slightly less than orthodox manner. The scene is accompanied by Moloko’s “Sing It Back”. The song is about surrendering yourself completely to another person and putting your life in their hands. This is exactly the position Beth is in. She has to trust Remy with her life and accept that what he’s doing to her is for her own good. The sexual undertones of the song are also reflected in the way the scene is shot as if it were a love scene.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Free Bird” – Forrest Gump

“Lord knows, I can’t change
Lord help me, I can’t change”

In this scene, Forrest Gump’s childhood friend and future lover Jenny, played by Robin Wright, is on a road to self-destruction. High on heroin, she contemplates suicide to the tones of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. As Ronnie Van Zandt sings about not being able to change, she is confronted with the belief that she herself cannot change – cannot crawl out of the dark place she finds herself in. The rising tempo of the music drives her to the balcony and up the railing, almost urging her to jump. Only when the rhythm breaks is the spell broken.

Regina Spektor, “Hero” – (500) Days of Summer

“I’m the hero of the story
Don’t need to be saved”

(500) Days of Summer is about a failed romance between Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the titular Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel. A recurring theme in the movie is expectations and reality’s failure to live up to them. This distinction is made abundantly clear in the above scene where Tom attends a party thrown by Summer. His expectations of being with Summer at her party and the harsh reality of the situation are displayed side by side while we hear Regina Spektor’s “Hero”. Though there are many interpretations (from the Jewish view on Christianity to Communism in Spektor’s country of birth Russia), what can be gleaned from the lyrics is a sense of powerlessness, of not being able to get what you want. However, the hero of the story, as she calls herself, does not need to be saved. It ties in with another theme of the movie, which is acceptance. As she concludes, “no one’s got it all”.

Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth” – Lord of War

“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”

The opening credits of a movie are a good place for music to shine. And it does with Lord of War, a crime drama which casts a satirical eye on the weapons industry. The opening credits show us the life of a bullet, as it is fabricated in a factory, shipped to an African country and ends its life embedded in a young boy’s skull. All the while we hear Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, a Vietnam War era protest song. Despite such lines as “there’s a man with a gun over there” and “battle lines being drawn” it is not actually a song about war, but about protests unrelated to the Vietnam War. Over time the song has become an archetypical protest and anti-war song and in that light it fits perfectly here.

Metallica, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – Zombieland

“For whom the bell tolls
Time marches on”

Another opening credits song, Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is the heavy metal classic that helps set the tone for horror-action-comedy Zombieland. While James Hetfield sings in earnest tones about inevitable death, we are treated to several slow motion scenes of man vs. zombie action in glorious high definition. The effects are more funny than scary, but you have to acknowledge the fact that for everyone the end will inevitably come, and in a land overrun by zombies that will probably be sooner rather than later. Of course, death may no longer be as final as it used to be. Even for those for whom the bell has tolled life, in some twisted way, goes on.

The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” – Take This Waltz

“In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far”

Take This Waltz is about Margot, played by Michelle Williams, a married woman who begins to develop feelings for her new neighbour Daniel, played by Luke Kirby. As the two spend more time together, it begins to strain Margot’s marriage. She begins to wonder whether she should stay with her husband or leave him for Daniel. In the above scene, Margot and Daniel are in an amusement park, enjoying one of the park’s rides. The song that plays is The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. It is suitably upbeat for the whirlwind of colours and lights the two would-be lovers find themselves in. But as the two look into each other’s eyes they are confronted with the feelings they have for each other and can’t deny. They know that Margot will soon have to make a choice. They try to shake it off and enjoy the rest of the ride when it comes to a sudden stop. The music shuts off, the lights go up, and the moment is gone. It is one of those beautiful little scenes that convey so much without a single word being spoken.