Have you ever noticed how music has the power to create more texture to life?
Take for example a montage sequence in a movie where a key song of recognizable lyrics or tunes can help further a plot along, deepen your appreciation for the characters, or simply bring you that much more into the artificial world you've been a spectator to. In some ways, a piece of pop music or a solid instrumental can even turn a "nice" movie into a masterpiece.
"Spiderman 2" - Burt Bacharach/BJ Thomas - Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head
In one scene Peter Parker decides that life would be much easier without worrying about being a superhero. Having thrown his costume in the trash, we're treated to a walkabout montage of how his life is rather... well, "swell." There's one moment when his professor affirms him, and then the motion freezes as a smile creeps up on Parker's face. Classic tongue-in-cheek humor through the carefree song.
Now... check out this difference - here's the way the scene originally was shot using a Danny Elfman tune behind it.
See the difference?
A few more of my favorite examples of songs making a scene "work":"My Date With Drew"- Hall & Oates - "You Make My Dreams Come True" (note - this is not a scene from the movie but rather a great, cheesy version)
This peppy song has been used in at least a couple movies these days (including "The Wedding Singer"), mainly because it's bouncy beat and soulful vocals are likeably infectious. You may not have seen this very smart and funny documentary about a guy trying to get a date with Drew Barrymore within 30 days, but when you do this scene when this song plays makes absolute sense. (By the way - if you haven't seen this movie documentary, go rent it right now - seriously... that means you.)
"Ocean's 11"- Debussy- "Clair De Lune"
When I saw Ocean's 13 I realized how much I enjoyed the ending of Ocean's 11. There's this great scene at the end where there is no dialogue - yet so much is understood and unspoken among the main characters... powerful stuff. It allows the cool heist fick to take on a deeper layer of class... one that elevates it to something of a classic.
"Say Anything" - Peter Gabriel - "In Your Eyes"
So there's this guy named Lloyd who has in serious like for a girl he will soon love and be loved back by. Only she breaks up with him, asking for space and trading him a pen for her heart back. Time goes by, and finally Lloyd stands outside her bedroom wearing a trenchcoat while holding a boom box. I know, I know... sounds rather stalker-esque. Yet really what we're talking about is that last ditch effort when you have no other word to say and simply have to rely on the tunes to speak for you.
"Flash Gordon" - Queen "FLASH! AAAAAAAAAAHHHH!"
If you saw the movie, nothing more needs to be said. If you didn't see the movie, nothing more needs to be said.
"Napoleon Dynamite" - Patrick Street - "Music for a Found Harmonium"
The artist "Patrick Street" didn't get any credit for this tune in the quirky film, nor did it even show up on the soundtrack. Nonetheless, without this underscore you would have a very different ending to the movie. The backdrop it gives the final four minute summary at the end of the movie glue and helps you decide whether or not you understood the film and its characters.
"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - The Beatles - "Twist and Shout"
Perhaps you'd rather go with Yello's "Oh Yeah" on this one, but I think the scene where Ferris takes over a polka parade made every guy my age who grew up in the Chicago area think, "Yeah... that could be me... if only I had a friend who's dad had a cool car."
Original instrumental scores are great, too, with my favorite composers being John Williams (Star Wars, Superman, etc) and Michael Giacchino (Lost), but there's something extra special about an existing piece of music - maybe one that you've heard a thousand times - being used in a film in just the perfect way. It can be funny and give the perfect sense of irony (i.e. the "punch dance" scene in "Hot Rod" that mimics Kevin Bacon from "Footloose"), or maybe its just tough-guy bad (i.e. that blues tune in "Better Of Dead" as he pulls the Camaro out of the driveway).
For whatever reason, music just affects us and moves us in ways that help process life (or simply feel like you've found the perfect payoff after 2 hours of cinematic adventure). I think the real question of what you're sorting through in life is often found in the songs you sing and the songs you don't... I remember the power of singing songs of hope during hard times as well as some that we too hard to lift up because I hadn't yet developed the soul muscles to sing them with authenticity.
Which leads me to two questions...
- What are some of your favorite songs these days?
- What are some of your favorite "underscore" tunes in movies or TV shows?