A few years ago I was asleep on a car trip from Budapest to Krakow. After miles of barren Eastern bloc wasteland I finally awoke to the most picturesque mountain landscape this side of the Berlin Wall. The dark, stark cliff faces and foggy peaks had an almost cinematic quality, like something out of Game Of Thrones or a David Attenborough documentary. A terrific visual sure, but it wasn’t until Joy Division’s grandiose heart-stopper “Atmosphere” randomly popped onto my iPod that it became crystallised into an everlasting memory. There was just something about that perfectly placed piece of music that made the entire moment really stick.
This is essentially what music and film do for each other when properly executed. A well-chosen song in a poignant scene elevates the narrative to a level that would not otherwise be achievable through action alone. Conversely, the song undergoes this contextual transformation and somehow comes out sounding differently than it did before. It’s a magical, mystical combination that is best left unexplained and simply enjoyed. Like strawberries and cream, or Abbott and Costello.
The history of film is littered with these harmonious musical moments, where separately conceived works of art conspire to create an utterly transcendent emotional experience, and here are some of the best.
The Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody”
Revisited to the point of cliché, it’s hard to imagine a better pairing of music and film than this soft porn spectacular from Demi and Patrick. No wonder the girls were crazy for Swayze.
My Bloody Valentine “Sometimes”
in Lost In Translation
It’s such an innocuous sequence in the film, yet this song gives it some strange gravitas. Both the dreaminess and sense of alienation entrenched in this film are brilliantly encapsulated here.
Johann Strauss “The Blue Danube”
in 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s interstellar ballet couldn’t have been better soundtracked. A symphony of sounds and special effects.
Elliott Smith “Needle In The Hay”
in The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson’s use of music in his films has always been masterful, but none of his scenes are as intense, dark and utterly harrowing as this one.
Stealers Wheel “Stuck In The Middle”
in Reservoir Dogs
The brutality of the scene is perfectly offset by the light-heartedness of the song. Imagine there is no music here and how horrific it could have been.
Gary Jules “Mad World”
in Donnie Darko
It’s that final, what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here? moment in the film and no answers are to be found in Gary Jules’ eerie re-imagining of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World”. Spooky.
The Doors “The End”
in Apocalypse Now
“The End” actually appears at the start of Apocalypse Now and is a clever comment on the paradoxical nature of The Vietnam War. It’s also a nice play on the film’s title.
Des’ree “Kissing You”
in Romeo + Juliet
Picking music to match the meeting of the most famous lovers of all time can’t have been easy. Baz Luhrmann fucking nails it. Totally absorbing.
- Jimmy B