Instructional Media Center

• April Feature •

Brought to you by the annotation team of Holmes, Morefield, Conor & Stamm.  Movie soundtrack albums began as way for studios to make more money from films after the initial theater release had run its course.  Unfortunately, they are often haphazardly assembled and may not even feature the most memorable songs due to royalty and distribution considerations.  For the sake of this list, we’re talking about the actual accompanying soundtrack - where the music is a central character, running commentary, complimentary to the aesthetic.  And to narrow the scope - no musicals - that's another list.  As always, if you do not see your favorite and wish to correct such an injustice, please email Jim Holmes.

The Graduate - PN1997 .G7348 2007 DVD
Perhaps no pop song is as inextricably linked to a movie as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”.  While the duo’s songs provide the musical commentary for Dustin Hoffman’s character, it’s Dave Grusin’s e-z, lounge-y compositions that speak volumes for the adult generation.

Pulp Fiction - PN1995.9.F54 P84 2002 DVD
Quentin Tarantino used an eclectic mix of old and new music to color his classic neo-noir film.  Dick Dale’s “Misirilou” provides an unforgettable exclamation point to the film’s opening sequence.  Uma Thurman cues up (on reel-to-reel!) Urge Overkill’s uber-hip cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, sensually lulling the audience before things take one of many turns for the worse.

Saturday Night Fever - PN1995.9.M86 S3 2002 DVD
Shortly after its release, the Saturday Night Fever album became the best selling soundtrack all-time.  The movie signaled the apex of the dubious, hyper-fashioned disco era, which flamed out shortly thereafter.  This style-over-substance trend is played to perfection by one John Travolta, paint store employee by day, polyester clad dance machine by night.  Travolta’s performance and the choreography take center stage with the Bee Gees providing a solid beat and inimitable falsetto accompaniment. 

The Virgin Suicides - PN1997 .V5722 2000 DVD
Sofia Coppola’s feature directorial debut of Jeffrey Eugunides’ book by the same name.  Coppola took a chance when she asked formerly underground French electronic duo Air to score the film.  She was rewarded with a uniquely lush and moody electronic soundscape that personifies the story’s doleful isolation.

Requiem for a Dream - PN1995.9 D79 R475 2000 DVD
Darren Aronofksy’s glorified anti-drug PSA is an overwrought slog of pseudo-importance, but the mess is redeemed by Clint Mansell’s haunting score. Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna” theme is possibly the most famous bit of film music of the past ten years, and rightly so. It is a chilling, goosebump-giving composition that could turn a Snickers commercial into something epic and essential.

Suspiria - PN1995.9.I8 S872 2007 DVD
Goblin’s score for Suspiria is without a doubt the most frightening film music of all-time.  In fact, Dario Argento’s wicked bloodletting seems almost tame when paired with the eerie, whisper-haunted prog Goblin cooked up for this 1977 horror masterpiece.  John Carpenter stole Goblin’s sinister tricks for the Halloween score, and who could blame him? This is the real deal right here.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God - PN1995.9.G47 A4857 2002 DVD
Werner Herzog recruited Krautrock heroes Popol Vuh to score his mad, sublime masterpiece about a doomed band of conquistadores led by the utterly insane Lope de Aguirre (played by the utterly insane Klaus Kinski). Popol Vuh’s ethereal concoction of synthesized choral sounds pairs perfectly with Herzog’s vision of cracked transcendence, expanding the scope of the film to include an aural version of salvation, bliss, deliverance. The characters never get there, of course, but the soundtrack certainly does.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - PN1997.B74354378 2006 DVD
Harry Mancini's soundtrack to this iconic film earned him high praise from its star Audrey Hepburn, who told him after watching the film "you are the hippest of cats - and the most sensitive of composers!”  This adaptation of Truman Capote's novella would simply not be the same film without its jazzy soundtrack, which stayed on the Billboard album charts for 90 weeks. Hepburn's vocals on "Moon River" will make you cry.

Magnolia - PN1997.2 .M346 2007 DVD
Paul Thomas Anderson is a director known for his music savvy - evidenced by soundtracks that rival his films in popularity (see Boogie Nights).  For his third feature film, Anderson went to one of his favorite artists, Aimee Mann.  “…when he began writing the screenplay to Magnolia, he was listening intensely to Mann's music, which he intended to adapt for the screen much like adapting a book. He even took the opening line of her song ''Deathly'' and ''wrote backwards'' in telling the story of central character Claudia - around whom the film's complicated plot revolves.” (Bessman, Toronto Star, 1999).  The intensely visceral collaboration shapes the film, fusing lyrics and dialog, melody and emotion.  Wise up.

Drive - PN1997.2 .D75 2012 DVD
The highly stylized, critically acclaimed, film-noir/action pic took home only one significant award (best director, Cannes) but it made every critics top 10 list.  Danish director Nicolas Refn solicited former Red Hot Chili Peppers Drummer, Cliff Martinez, to score the film.  Martinez delivered a retro-synth collage of music that co-pilots the movie’s urban street motif, ramping up the tempo in perfect synchronicity with the tension.  Quite simply, cool perfection.

Stalker - PG3476.S78835 P552 2000 DVD
Andrei Tarkovsky’s third collabortion with composer Eduard Artemyev.  Legend has it that Tarkovsky rejected the first orchestral version. Artemyey came back with a version that included an amalgamation of synthesizer, traditional instruments and sound effects, which he mixes in occasionally indistinguishable fashion to add ambiance to the ample space of Tarkovsky’s “Zone”, which many feel was an eerily accurate prophecy of the Chernobyl disaster. 

Alexander Nevsky - DK93 .A43 2001 DVD
In 1938, the Soviet Union’s cultural dynamic duo of filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and composer Sergei Prokofiev teamed up to deliver this epic saga of Russian lore.  Considered one of the great film scores of all-time, the 11 minute “Battle on Ice” sequence remains one of the most seminal moments of picture and sound.

Easy Rider - PN1995.9.R63 E389 1999 DVD
America’s cultural dynamic duo of Hopper/Fonda captain this motorcycle freedom journey that doesn’t end all that well.  The soundtrack is sampling of late 60's pop culture with songs by Jimi Hendrix, Dylan, The Band, Roger McGuinn.  The most enduring musical image is Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” forever etched into cultural memory as a theme for hitting the road – and several awful commercials.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High - PN1997 .F389 2004 DVD
1982 coming-of-age dramedy written by Cameron Crowe, directed by Amy Heckerling.  In addition to being a career launch pad for the movie industry’s new generation, the film featured upcoming artists and a distinct 80s sound.  The Go-Gos “We got the Beat” opens the title sequence in totally awesome fashion.  Jackson Brown’s “Somebody’s Baby” serves as subtle melancholy reprise throughout.  The Cars “Moving in Stereo” - an indelible memory for a generation of teenage boys.

Purple Rain - PN1995.9.M98 P87 2004 DVD
Sadly, for Prince fans that grew up with this cinematic masterpiece of 1984 – played in heavy rotation on cable channels throughout the decade - the movie doesn’t quite stand the test of time.  Some bad acting and contrived dialog seems to have aged about as well as the equally ridiculous hairstyles and costumes of Prince and The Revolution. However, the movie was basically a vehicle for one of the greatest albums of the era, Purple Rain.  The concert scenes are some of the best on film – summed up in the triumphant ending medley.  Add in some infectious, funky tunes from rival band The Time and the gratuitously sultry Apollonia 6 - and this movie is a dance party for the ages.

Psycho - PN1995.9.H6 P8935 2000 DVD 
Much has been written about the musical score for Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.  Composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored several Hitchcock films, as well as “Citizen Kane” and “Taxi Driver”, was forced to work with a reduced budget, resulting in the use of a smaller string orchestra.  The resulting sound colors the movie with a unique dynamic timbre.  The shower scene in particular is one of the most recognizable segments of film music.

The Birds -PN1995.9.H6 B5 2000 DVD
Hitchcock originally intended to commission his usual collaborator, Bernard Herrmann, to write the score for this horror classic.  However, a letter from composer Remi Gassmann inspired him to hire Gassmann and Gassmann’s partner, scientist and musician Oskar Sala, to create an innovative new type of soundtrack.  Rather than utilizing a traditional symphony orchestra, Gassmann and Sala created a soundtrack using an electronic instrument of Sala’s design, the mixtur-trautonium.  Throughout the film, the sounds of the mixtur-trautonium blend with the natural sounds of birds in ways that create eerie and unprecedented musical effects.

Paris, Texas - PN1997.2 .P3757 2009 DVD
Wim Wenders’ 1984 film about a man trying to remember the family that left him.  Ry Cooder (Reed alum of one semester!) scored the film with minimalist slide guitar riffs that effectually compliment the expansive, uninflected Texas landscape. 

Buena Vista Social Club - M1681.C918 B83 2010 DVD
Another Wenders/Cooder collaboration.  In 1996 Ry Cooder went to Cuba to record legendary musicians little known to the outside world.  In the movie version, he returns to interview and document the extraordinary performers in concert and in their everyday lives.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - PN1995.9.W4 G664 1998 DVD 
Iconic spaghetti western by movie chef Sergio Leone.  Clint Eastwood (The Good) schemes with and against The Bad and The Ugly for bounties and lost treasure. Ennio Morricone’s famous soundtrack plays throughout as musical commentary - the main theme played with a different instrument for each of the three characters.

Dazed and Confused - PN1997 .D395 2004 DVD
Richard Linklater's movie about small-town teenage angst and ennui plays out with a classic soundtrack that is pure 70s rock. A melange of heavy guitar, funky beats, altered states, and feathered hair come together to make this movie about nothing, stylish and engaging in the most slacker sense.

Amelie - PN1995.9.F74 A54 2002 DVD
According to Wikipedia – “Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet chanced upon the largely accordion and piano driven music of Yann Tiersen while driving with his production assistant who put on a CD he hadn't heard before. Greatly impressed, he immediately bought Tiersen's entire catalogue and eventually commissioned him to compose pieces for the film. The soundtrack features both compositions from Tiersen's first three albums, but also new items, variants of which can be found on his fourth album, L'Absente, which he was writing at the same time”