Guest Post by Matthew Di Paoli
With the Oscars looming and Les Miserables making everyone remember why we hate the French, there’s no better time to look back at the greatest soundtrack moments in the history of film. This isn’t a list of greatest musicals or Will Smith classics; this is all about unforgettable tracks that impacted their movies so much that they are now inexorably linked.
There are, and always will be, omissions. But these five soundtrack moments demonstrate that music should never be used to manipulate the viewers into feeling something, rather the music should allow them to feel what was already there.
5. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
It’s impossible now to think of a western showdown and not hear Ennio Morricone’s theme song in your head. Sergio Leone’s tension-filled finale, filled with extreme close-ups, constant cuts and the gritty Spaghetti Western stylization could not have been complete without the soundtrack. When combined with Morricone’s epic yodeling theme song, it made for one of the greatest scenes in all of film history. You can’t help but think of Clint Eastwood’s scruffy face and sand-caked poncho when you hear “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
4. The Royal Tenenbaums
The opening sequence of The Royal Tenenbaums is one of the great opening, expository sequences in modern film. Wes Anderson’s impeccable musical taste led him to choose the Beatle’s “Hey Jude” to anchor our introduction into the dysfunctional Tenenbaum household. Alec Baldwin’s authoritatively husky voiceover guides us through each sibling’s miraculous childhood. “Hey Jude” builds to its famous crescendo as Mordecai flies off of the familiar, green-tiled Tenenbaum rooftop to freedom only to eventually return somewhat wounded, altered as each family member would one day do themselves.
In a decade known for its gaudy montages, one stands alone for its pure, unabashed cojones. With Paul Engemann’s “Push It to the Limit” in the background, complete with synthesizers and whip cracks, Tony Montana, the greatest and worst accented coke dealer of all time builds his empire. In the three minute and twenty-eight second span of “Push It to the Limit,” Tony is able to launder millions of dollars, walk extremely confidently in a white suit, buy his sister a salon, launder more money to the dismay of the stereotypical white banker, get married (in a white tux), buy a tiger, unveil a portrait of himself, and buy a new dress for his sister. The scene ends with Michelle Pfeiffer blowing three lines, drinking vodka, and smoking a cigarette. If that isn’t conspicuous consumption what is?
2. A Clockwork Orange
Few films could ever capture horror, joy, feral sexuality and ineffable violence the way that Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange does. This ultra-violent dystopian masterpiece juxtaposes the revulsion of murder, thievery and rape with one of the most beatific, happy songs ever created: “Singin’ in the Rain.” In the scene, Malcolm McDowell actually improvised the singing and Kubrick loved it so much he went out and bought the rights the next day. The scene still holds great power due to the joy Alex (McDowell) takes in his wretched actions. The song itself becomes the one of the key ingredients to the horror, so much so that it returns in a later scene. (Warning: Video NSFW)
1. Pulp Fiction
This list would be abjectly incomplete without including the sultan of the soundtrack, the master of movie music, Mr. Quentin Tarantino. Now, there are countless scenes in which Tarantino adeptly uses music to set tone, explicate plot, or even illuminate character. From Kill Bill’s whistling “Twisted Nerve” to Reservoir Dogs’ demented torture sequence to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle with You,” there are dozens of worthy Tarantino soundtrack moments, but none more defining and mesmerizing than the dance scene in Pulp Fiction. Uma Thurman catapulted to stardom and John Travolta resurrected his career in just one gyrating dance number to the tune of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” This sexy, unexpected, stylized 50s dance contest is one of the great examples of diegetic sound—music that exists within the confines of the story. It was this brilliant scene where, perhaps, moviegoers first saw Tarantino for what he was: a genius.