Every movie has a soundtrack. And let’s be honest – most of them are as unmemorable as … well, as the movies themselves. At its best, though, the music captures the spiritual essence of the auteur‘s vision, interacting with the film in ways that are simply transcendent. One plus one equals infinity, and it’s impossible to ever conceive of song and scene independently again.
There are three such instances that stand out in my memory, and they run the gamut from ridiculous to sublime. Rather than picking one, let’s consider all three.
First, a comedy. In fact, one of the greatest comedies ever filmed. Silly, yes. Inane, certainly. But enduring, absolutely, in ways that precious few attempted laughers ever are. I’m referring to the National Lampoon classic, Animal House, and part of the magic was in how music was used to establish the backdrop against which the boys of Delta House could play. The producers understood that the song wasn’t there to upstage the scene, but provide a tension, a context of plausibility for the actors. Here is a college campus in the early ’60s. Here is the music that was on the radio at that moment in time.
And here is the future Senator Blutarsky running amok while Sam Cooke sings one of his greatest songs.
Next, the adventure film. Or whatever kind of craziness you want to call Natural Born Killers. The characters and the plot line were so over the top that, again, music was needed to provide dynamic tension, a baseline of normalcy against which our emotional meters could register the gratuitousness of the violence.
Leonard Cohen delivered with a certain understated foreboding – perfect.
Finally, the love scene. Blade Runner has been my favorite movie since I saw it in the theater the weekend it opened. Granted, it was a flawed film, although Ridley Scott’s Final Cut, the 25-years-on version that he wanted to make in the first place, now stands as one of the greatest movies ever made. The challenge for Vangelis: dark near-futurism played as noir, with an android (possibly two) struggling with the question of actualization. How to frame the moment where two machines fall in love in the garden, where technology and flesh are indistinguishable?
Synthesizers. A saxophone. And the most perfect love scene I’ve ever encountered.