Think of some of cinema's most iconic moments, and they are often inextricably linked with a song or piece of music; the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Renton's overdose in Trainspotting, the Jack Rabbit Slim's Twist contest. And in the pre-internet age, such moments were often a gateway into a band or an artist that otherwise might have passed you by; in my misspent youth, many a soundtrack was purchased purely for the one or two golden tracks that lit up a film and couldn't be found anywhere else.
In honour of Oscar season, DiS decided to ask our writers about their favourite musical discoveries in film, and which scenes led to lifelong love affairs with the bands that soundtracked them. Enjoy.
The Stooges – ‘T.V Eye’
It was 1998 and myself and a friend headed hopefully to the big multiplex cinema in Cambridge to get our fix of teenage kicks a few decades away from the present world, where Britpop was showing severe signs of rigor mortis and Celine Dion was still wishing her heart would go on. Directed and co-written by Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine charted the rise and fall of ‘70s glam rock star Brian Slade; a character so thinly disguised as David Bowie that the Thin White Duke forbade any of his tracks from being used in the film. But let’s forget Brian as our teenage minds were firmly focused on a fresh from Trainspotting Ewan McGregor, who was now newly bleached and squeezed into a pair of leather trousers for his character, Curt Wild.
Despite being scarred by the sight of Iggy Pop a few years previous, after I’d watched him perform in nothing but a pair of see-through trousers on Channel 4’s The White Room, I’d never heard The Stooges. Watching Ewan McGregor strut out onstage spitting “See that cat yeah I Iove her so” to Ron Asheton’s lacerating riffs for ‘T.V Eye’ I knew I had to hunt down the original. Although McGregor’s performance lacked Iggy’s primal potency, despite some trademark Iggy nudity, the track’s effortless cool shone through in a seriously uncool film. Velvet Goldmine may not have lived up to the hype, but The Stooges never disappointed me.
David Bowie - ‘Queen Bitch’
The Life Aquatic
Bill Murray waits on the steps outside the premiere of his character’s ill-fated documentary following his fantastical journey to catch and kill the elusive Jaguar Shark. Dedicated to his son, Ned, Steve Zissou’s eventual 180 decision to not kill the creature due to its beauty (well, that and not having enough dynamite…) receives a standing ovation. As he strolls away from the paparazzi with his son on his shoulders and the ensemble cast reassemble in a triumphant strut, the staccato drumroll of Bowie’s Velvet Underground tribute snaps in over the ending credits. As the crew finally boarded the ship again after Zissou’s aquatic, existential misadventure, all I could think at the time was “this is the coolest song I’ve ever heard” – for a kid raised on rock, it took me a startlingly long time to click with Bowie, but this was the moment.
The Beat - ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’
Grosse Point Blank
I’m not a movie buff. At all. Peeps around me will casually say things like “oh, that’s so Wes Anderson” and I have no fucking clue what they’re going on about. Indeed, when prompted with this assignment, I knew exactly what film I wanted to boost, but the lead actors, director, even the frickin’ title escaped me. All I remembered was a) it’s the wittiest spy spoof I’ve ever seen, which evolves sneakily into a brilliant love story; and b) the soundtrack consists of killer 80s tunes, each fitted to ingenious situations. I WISH I could find the scene where a mad chase begins with the loud part of Guns n’ Roses’ ‘Live and Let Die’, then transitions to a muzak cover of the slower part when the action slips into a gas station, because I don’t recall when else the music alone made me laugh so hard. But this ambush at a high school reunion, where ‘Mirror in The Bathroom’ blasts into focus as former spy Cusack resorts to his old killer ways, is pretty damn apt, too.
David Bowie - ‘Modern Love’
I’ve been converted to a piece of music through celluloid wizardry countless times, not least David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ via Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. Far from a favourite, I’d always considered it disposable ‘80s pop. But as Greta Gerwig’s character dances her way home through the streets of Manhattan in a moment of self-prescribed escapism to that very song, I finally got it. The dance is neither polished, or particularly graceful, but it’s carried out with such elated exuberance and charm you’re with her for every spin and leap (it’s also the kind of unselfconscious public act we all would secretly love to have the balls to carry out). In turn, it opened up the unabashed joy of Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ to me. As a simple character who sometimes needs visual aids, I stand happily corrected.
The Jesus Lizard - ‘Panic In Cicero’
Clerks has always been a big movie for me. I was actually pretty surprised to read, (especially because it was such an economic affair) that Kevin Smith and producer Scott Mosier spent a total of $28,000 acquiring the rights for the music; that's about half of Clerks'total budget. The rooftop hockey scene was the first time I heard The Jesus Lizard: the demented 'Panic In Cicero' perfectly encapsulated the crazed, topsy-turvy atmosphere of that scene. Up till then, I had never heard guitars that sounded like a booming truck horn...wait, I still haven't.
Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi’s Dead
I’ve only recently revved up my sex drive, but I’m fairly positive that Peter Murphy introduced me to the orgasm. Through this scene, in particular. It’s horrible, as the director even edged out the rest of the band just to spotlight the bony prince of darkness - Daniel Ash’s elbow juts out for three seconds - and Bauhaus were already dancing on a knife’s edge with their prima donna front man when this came out. But who else would be on in a nightclub when two vampires stalk in? And really, given the choice between 1984 Bowie and 1984 Murphy, who would you rather allow to sink their teeth into you? Oooof. (For the record, tho, Murphy lost his appeal fast once I learned that everyone else in Bauhaus were, indeed, way better musicians and people than him. So it goes.)
The Flaming Lips - ‘Bad Days’
Another one worth mentioning is The Flaming Lips' 'Bad Days' in Batman Forever. It was during the scene when The Riddler's lair was introduced. I remember watching Batman Forever with my dad in the cinema when I was about 12 or 13 years old, ignorant of the fact that I would end up viewing the film as a silly camp adventure twenty years down the road. But strangely enough, I was always also ignorant of the fact that I was listening to music that would later change my life.
Jesus & Mary Chain - ‘Just Like Honey’
Lost In Translation
There are loads of potential choices from Sofia Ford Coppola’s Lost In Translation, such is the strength of its soundtrack (the original tracks of which were composed my My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields) largely because it is a vital part of Coppola’s modern, anti-rom-com. Despite its status as reigning “Hipster film” leading some to deride it (also Coppola never being able to match her Oscar-nominated sophomore film) Lost In Translation remains a beautiful, poignant movie about two lost souls who find each other in a maddeningly alien metropolis. And then, there is its infamous ending, where Bob Harris (Bill Murray) imparts some inaudible moment of magic to Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) before that iconic Phil Spector aping drum beat rattles through the tears of everyone in the cinema. Lost In Translation remains (subjectively) my favourite film and the use of the (now reformed) 80s Glasgow “shoegaze” band is a perfect example of effective music in film.
Skip James - 'Devil Got My Woman'
Ghost World isn’t just an amazing film, but a fantastic soundtrack, Graduation Rap being stricken from the record of course, that is the perfect introduction to anyone wanting to get into blues music. Despite the inclusions by Lionel Belasco, Craig Ventresco and Vince Giordano the star of the show is Skip James’ classic ‘Devil Got My Woman’. In the film, after dying her hair green and going ‘punk’, Thora Birch’s character Enid Coleslaw washes it out and puts on a record she bought a few scenes earlier. ‘Devil Got My Woman’ comes on and the world stops. Enid was immediately calmer and my objective for the rest of the day was mapped out. Get drunk and find that song!
In the intervening years since Ghost World was released my appreciation for, and record collection of, the blues has grown. I’d like to think that I would have eventually found these records, but in all fairness, I’ve got to thank the soundtrack for accelerating this.
L7 - 'Shove'
Tank Girl had it all. A massive budget it was never going to recoup. A wisecracking female lead. A massive tank and an amazing soundtrack. While many won’t join in with me as I proclaim Tank Girl as one of the best soundtracks from the 1990’s, it's a brilliant snapshot in time. Devo rubbed shoulders with Veruca Salt, Belly Hole, and Bush while Portishead, Bjork, and Ice-T showed that music didn’t have to be guitar based. But for me the best, and the reason I adored this soundtrack, was the L7 track.
Liking L7, and Tank Girl, meant I could talk to people at school who, a few days before, I had nothing in common with. We tape traded and showed each other stuff in magazines we thought the other would like. Most of these people I am still in contact with today and we still send each other links to songs and reviews. Thanks L7 for forming lifelong friendships with a song about pushing people away!
Ry Cooder - ‘The Theme From Southern Comfort’
Okay, okay I’m a dirty little cheat and I deserve to be chased through the swamps of Louisiana, but I didn’t actually discover Ry Cooder because of this movie but stay with me, it had more influence than most... As a child, my sense of adventure roamed more eclectic for film rather than for music, so as a young teen I’d have been hard-pressed to pick out Ry Cooder over JD Lang or Joni Mitchell, despite knowing their names (but not their music) from the LPs in my parents’ bookcase. So when I was told Southern Comfort was far better than Deliverance, it came as quite the surprise to find myself falling completely in love with Cooder’s delicate yet dirty Country-tinged arpeggios and his mastery of acoustic space. I’ve never been the same since – I now work with film soundtracks every day.
Pixies - 'Where Is My Mind?'
For someone who has been obsessed with music from the age of 14, I have some annoyingly large gaps when it comes to certain classic bands and pop culture gold. I've never really listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac for example, and I still haven't properly explored the back catalogue of Hüsker Dü (I know, I know - for shame). Pixies were another; I'd heard of them, sure, and occasionally caught snippets here and there, but I'd never known anyone who had one of their albums.
That all changed one rainy, hungover Sunday at university, in 2002. Someone had rented Fight Club on video - which I'd also somehow missed - and so we settled in with some takeaway and Coke for an afternoon viewing. The film is, of course, great, but it was the closing credits that made me sit bolt upright and ask "Who is this? This is fantastic!". A trip to Fopp the very next day yielded Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, and down the rabbit hole I went; I was hooked. When they announced their comeback shows in 2004, I was giddy with excitement, and immediately bought tickets to the festival in Madrid that would mark their first European appearance. Frank Black walking out, strumming those chords on his acoustic guitar before that riff kicks in, remains one of the most magical moments of my gig-going life.