Anyone who has read my novel, Ladies and Gentlemen…The Redeemers, or has even seen the cover, knows that I have a passion for music.
I love how music can become so intertwined, so inextricably connected to a scene in a movie that its presence defines the scene or even the entire film. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about movie soundtracks, especially the ones on which movie producers put songs that are nearly impossible to detect in the film. No, I’m talking about how a song can set a mood or elicit an emotional response from the viewer that is so strong that it is forever associated with the movie.
With that introduction, I thought I'd share with you my picks for the best use of music in movies and then give you the chance to share yours.
This movie contains perhaps my all-time favorite movie scene. The movie, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, tells the story of a teenage journalist who follows the fictional band, Stillwater, for Rolling Stone magazine. At one point in the story, the band has had a long night that has left them not speaking with one another. The following morning, as everyone sits in the tour bus stewing in silence, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on the radio. Little by little, the travelers start singing along until the entire bus is singing the tune, all wounds healed. I can’t tell you how many times this song and this scene played through my head while I was writing the book and how much the song energized me every time I heard it on the radio.
“A candy colored clown they call the sandman…” Dennis Hopper’s off-the-wall crazy character is obsessed with Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” and this haunting opening lyric in David Lynch’s noir classic, Blue Velvet. The movie is a creepy, psychological drama that I love for the way it makes me want to keep watching despite Lynch’s uncanny ability to make me simultaneously want to look away. The peak of the creepiness occurs when Dennis Hopper kidnaps Kyle MacLachlan and takes him to a bizarre party where a ghostly Dean Stockwell lip-syncs the song while Dennis Hopper hypnotically mouths the words next to him. Lynch is a master at using music to set the mood in his films and this scene may be his best.
It’s difficult to single out one of Quentin Tarantino’s masterful music selections that so completely complement his storylines, but I have to give the nod here to his use of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” in Pulp Fiction. What makes this one stand out is the scene’s near absence of dialog, or frankly, action. John Travolta arrives at a spectacularly well decorated house to pick up Uma Thurman, who is shown secretly observing Travolta’s movements on security camera monitors. The only words are exchanged over the room’s intercom shortly after Travolta arrives, and the remainder of the scene is little more than Travolta pouring himself a drink and admiring the room’s décor while he waits for Thurman. I can’t explain why it works, but it does. Right down to the moment when the needle lifts on the record and Thurman announces in person, “Let’s go.”