8 Musical Moments Caught on Film

Image from the website: http://www.guardian.co.uk

In the Mood for punishment. Image from the website: http://www.guardian.co.uk

It’s been a rough week here on planet Earth, which is why I’ve decided to take a moment out of my day to celebrate two of my favorite things—music & film. That’s right, not only do I work in the Music, Film & Audio Department, but I also enjoy watching films and listening to music, occasionally at the same time. Nothing makes me happier than that scene in a film when the perfect song is cued up, and suddenly characters start walking in slow-motion, or sports-training-through-montage, or driving their motorcycles really, really fast. Seriously, is there anything better than these musical moments? (Other than cheese, of course?)

Come with me now, as I share 8 of my favorite musical moments in film…

Morvern Callar is a troubling little film, based on a novel by Alan Warner. Our amoral protagonist wanders through the film listening to a mix tape through a set of headphones, which becomes the soundtrack for the film. I hold this scene directly responsible for my love of Lee Hazelwood–after watching it, I immediately had to find out who was responsible for the song “One Velvet Morning”:


Wong Kar-Wai is one of my favorite directors because of the way he uses music in film. The film Chungking Express is an almost love story, where all of the characters are either trapped thinking about the past, or imagining their futures, but rarely meet in the present. I can no longer hear the song “California Dreamin” without thinking of this film:


And how could Wong Kar-Wai make a movie about people walking up and down staircases in slow-motion that is this good? Fair warning: don’t be deceived by the title of the film In the Mood for Love, as it’s less a film about love, and more a film about longing. (If regret is more your bag, you can check out the kind-of sequel, 2046.) This scene is like one, gigantic sigh:


The movie Ghost World (and the wonderful graphic novel it’s based on) is one of the best stories I’ve ever watched/read about misfit teenage girls. There’s a lovely scene in the middle of the film when our confused heroine discovers her love of blues music:


Few directors around today use music quite as well as Wes Anderson. Not only does he have great taste in music (and by great, I guess I mean my taste), but he knows how perfectly the right song can tell a story. In the film The Royal Tenenbaums nobody has to tell you how Richie Tenenbaum feels about his adopted sister Margot, the song does it for him:


The Naked Kiss was my introduction to the weird, seedy, and melodramatic world of Samuel Fuller. The film opens with a bald, half-naked woman beating a man up and then throwing money at him. You would think that things couldn’t get any weirder from there, but you would be wrong. This is one of the strangest, most maudlin musical sequences I’ve ever witnessed:


And speaking of weird and melodramatic, Night of the Hunter features one of the all-time best screen villains, a tattooed preacher played by Robert Mitchum. The movie is something of a live action fairytale, which is apparent in this river scene:


And as for contemporary films, I am fond of the scene in the movie Drive where our antihero drives down the L.A. river basin with dreamy synthpop playing in background:


What am I missing? Do you have any favorite musical moments in film?



April 19, 2013 · 5:06 am

10 responses to “8 Musical Moments Caught on Film

  1. Ghost World! The Royal Tenenbaums! You have absolutely splendid taste, dear. Haven’t seen Morvern Callar but will be doing so after watching your clip. What are your thoughts on the music of Lost in Translation? x

  2. Tara

    @dustandsoul i looove the music in lost in translation. and the song that plays at the ending is lovely! thanks for the reminder

    best, tara

  3. CM

    Great post! I happened upon “Night of the Hunter” a couple of weeks ago on a retro TV station, just as the river scene began. I was captivated.

  4. ZZMike

    Well, I liked the soundtrack to Bambi …….

    The only movie on your list I’ve seen is “Royal Tenenbaums” – and I don’t remember the soundtrack at all. I’ll have to see it again. The clip explains that scene.

    Jim Svejda (KUSC classical music host) said in an interview with a film music composer that every once in a while he wants to yell at the actors to “shut up, I;m trying to listen to the music”.

  5. I don’t pay attention this way so much to music in films, but I love the same moments in tv shows. One Tree Hill always had a fantastic soundtrack and particular moments where the song was perfect for what was taking place are come to mind as I write this. Sometimes they really nail it!

    • ZZMike

      There are two (that I canremember right off-hand) TV themes that have always stuck with me: The opening theme from the BBC productions “Brideshead Revisited”, and “Reilly, Ace of Spies” (that one is part of Shostakovich’s :The Gadfly”).

      I wish I knew why some music stays with me forever.

  6. Tom

    Lee Hazelwood also wrote two sixties hits. These Boots are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra), and Jackson for Cash and Carter.

  7. Don

    I’m sure if someone told me that music in the films of Sam Fuller would be referenced here, I’d tell them they were crazy. And only because I can, here is a delightful 50 second clip of Sam Fuller (a great storyteller) explaining the difference between Balzac (another great storyteller) and Dumas (a 3rd great storyteller) to Tim Robbins (a lowly actor): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-xS_kPbMZU

  8. WhiteTrinity

    I love those Wong Kar Wai films. Glad you mentioned them. Music definitely set the mood for both movies.

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