Music In Film

donnie-darko-movie-image-4

I’m sure a lot of you are like me when it comes to music and the way it affects and attacks your emotions. It’s amazing the way music can have a deep-seated effect on you in any given situation and how it ends up manipulating your mood. I’m convinced that this is possibly why I can’t enjoy music with lyrics or sentiments like “Damn you’re a Sexy Bitch.” This type of expression really doesn’t make me feel emotionally vulnerable at all and the only tears I’m blinking back are for the little faith in humanity I have just lost.

Good music has the capacity to make us feel an entire spectrum of emotions from sadness to joy and everything else in-between. I find that great music has the ability to make me sit quietly in a contemplative state and as I listen I can feel the swell of emotions make the hairs on my arms rise involuntarily. That kind of experience always illustrates that there is nothing more powerful than music to me; it is the be all and end all.

So being the self-proclaimed film buff that I am, I feel that music has the ability to change the emotion of a scene significantly and in turn affect your own interaction with that movie as a whole. The best example I like to use is my favourite film “Donnie Darko.”  After you meet me it will only be a matter of time before I recommend this movie. There is a catch though, regardless of whether you have or haven’t seen the movie (Fuck Ass, “What’s a Fuck Ass?) My advice will always be for you to watch the Directors Cut. The reason why I insist on this version being consumed over the normal cut isn’t because of the altered scenes but rather the fact that the soundtrack is significantly better. The Directors Cut contains all of the music that the Director Richard Kelly originally wanted to use and the difference is indeed noticeable.

A great example of this is the opening scene of the film which sees Donnie riding into town on his bicycle. In both cuts of the film, the scene itself remains the same but the one thing that is different is the music used to soundtrack this moment. The original cut of the film has “The Killing Moon” by Echo and The Bunnymen but in the Director’s cut it is “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS. Both of these songs are wonderful but on a personal level I much prefer “The Killing Moon” if we were to compare the songs in terms of personal taste. That being said, “Never Tear Us Apart” does a better job of soundtracking this scene and totally sets up the film to be viewed from a completely different light. All of the original music from the normal version of the film is still used throughout the Directors Cut but just in different contexts. It really does shuffle around the emotional experience of watching Donnie Darko.

Maybe I’ve just overanalysed this specific scene and example over and over again but for your listening pleasure here is the original scene with “The Killing Moon” as the soundtrack.

Donnie Darko – Normal Cut (with “The Killing Moon” by Echo and The Bunnymen)

Now here is “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS. If you watch that scene again and listen to it with this song playing, you can see just how much the emotion of the scene changes.

Never Tear Us Apart – INXS

It is amazing how much of a difference the soundtrack makes to your emotional connection to a movie.

Donnie Darko is not the only film for me where this type of connection has occurred. There are so many films that have become iconic due to the placement of the music and the way this then manipulates your emotional interaction with a specific scene. A great example is that dancing scene in “Pulp Fiction.” It wouldn’t be as iconic as it is if it wasn’t for Tarantino’s use of “You Can Never Tell” by Chuck Berry as opposed to a song of like “I’ll make Love to you” by Boyz II Men which was one of the top pop songs of the time. It would have been plain ridiculous for a song like “I’ll Make Love To You” to be used, but again by using Chuck Berry over something more popular it illustrates the smarts and great use of music by Tarantino to help make a scene iconic.

Here is that awesome scene for your viewing pleasure:

Now mute it and play this

It’s clear how ridiculous that scene would have been if Boyz II Men were played. I know it’s a drastic example, but a great way for me to illustrate the power of music in a film.

This brings me to horror films and the way music is used to help build the tension and to have you on the edge of your seat. There are movies like “Scream” that I really love but one that doesn’t really break new ground when it comes to build up music. Not that “Scream” was about breaking new ground in this area, it was more about using already established scary movie formulas which in hindsight has made “Scream” a little safe. In saying all of that though, imagine if in a movie like “Scream” or any other horror movie where you see the heroine running away from the monster or killer, that instead of the generic scary music (you know, the stuff played beautifully on accordion and viola) that something like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” was soundtracking it. All of a sudden that scene goes from “scary” to just plain creepy. Some movies may use this technique to great effect and it always ends up being “holy mother of god” creepy. This could of course be something unique to me considering I find kids songs incredibly creepy by themselves.

There are so many films that have great soundtracks and I wanted to take the time to list a few of my favourites. All of these films use music beautifully to help give rise to the emotional impact of each pivotal scene.

· Amelie – despite everything including the music being in French it all sounds and feels beautiful

· Scott pilgrim Vs the world – We all know some of the music was made specifically for the film but the best song on the soundtrack is ‘Black Sheep’ which is originally by the band Metric (I’d go so far as to say I like this movie solely because of the music.)

· Pulp Fiction – (obviously)

· Hesher – Metallica rarely lets their music be used in movies and this movie is pretty damn awesome. (METALLICA APPROVED)

· Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind – This is the best example where the songs in the soundtrack really complement the movie.

· Juno

· A Hard Day’s Night – Not entirely sure if this one counts? Oh well too bad.

So my challenge to you is next time you watch a film or a TV Show, listen to the soundtrack and the way it is providing context to the emotions being communicated. Make sure you also watch the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, or Chut Up.

By Kat Gibson

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