The marriage of two different art forms- the sounds in our ears and the image on screen- can take a scene far beyond what was written on paper. The power of music can be used to touch our hearts and minds. With a well-placed song or piece of music, a moment in film can be experienced on all levels, sticking in our head long after the credits roll. Here are just a few of them.
This list does not including dance or sing along moments, but a time when the soundtrack is used to heighten the moment. Also, there are far too many Quentin Tarantino music moments to choose from for this list. Opening titles of Kill Bill? The torture scene in Reservoir Dogs? Pretty much everything from Pulp Fiction? How can I even choose? Tarantino is a true genius at putting music to film. Just watch any one of his films.
1. The Sound of Silence – The Graduate
The famous Simon and Garfunkel tune plays several times throughout the film, including the famous opening airport sequence. But it’s particular use here is the most effective, with the dream-like quality of the tune matched with the monotony of the heated and confining summer. His parents are constantly over his shoulder…and that once passionate and dangerous affair? It’s becoming listless and repetitive. The lyrics seem to be expressing the inner thoughts of Benjamin, we can understand the confusing thoughts he has inside but does not tell.
2. Don’t You Forget About Me- The Breakfast Club
John Hughes has many iconic music moments in his films- Oh Yeah from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, If You Leave from Pretty in Pink, If You Were Here from Sixteen Candles…the list goes on. The nostalgic songs and John Hughes ingenuity for flawlessly capturing the teenage psyche make for a perfect match. As the brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal all part ways, the Simple Minds hit starts to play. The princess kisses the criminal goodbye. They won’t say hello in school next morning. But for now, they have this. All of them had this one moment of abandoning their labels for a human connection. And it’s something they won’t ever forget.
3. Where Is My Mind – Fight Club
The Fight Club ending has just taken you for a wild ride- revealing a mind-boggling twist and leaving the Narrator with his face half blown off. But for the first time in his life he believes that everything really is going to be fine. The drum intro of the Pixies song kicks in just as the buildings start to detonate. I don’t think there’s been a music moment so perfectly harmonious. Marla and The Narrator hold hands as the high rises collapse around them- the remnants of the anarchy and chaos that have just been inhabiting his mind. A very strange time in his life indeed.
4. Layla – Goodfellas
Martin Scorcese is a master of choosing music for his film. Where do you even start? Into the Fire from Goodfellas? De Niro’s entrance to Jumping Jack Flash from Mean Streets? Shipping Up to Boston from The Departed? t’s impossible to even pick one for this slot. Layla’s use in Goodfellas seems to be the most deserving. The wistful piano and wailing guitar of the second half of the Derek and the Dominoes tune brilliantly synchronizes with the camera slowly gliding over disfigured corpses and bloody murder scenes.
Two others I can’t help but mentioning use two of my favorite songs. The dreamy bubbegum pop song Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals plays with a flowing tracking shot as Henry charms his date- using a valet, skipping the line for the back entrance, getting the best table. Who could resist this glamourous life?
And the Mean Streets opening, (while it is mostly just a title sequence) Harvey Kietel’s character is having a late-night crisis- as he lays his head on the pillow The Ronnette’s Be My Baby kicks in as film footage of familial neighborhood moments play.
5. God Moving Over the Face of the Waters – Heat
The ending of Heat gives the audience the final culmination of the Pacino/De Niro showdown. The chase is over, and somehow it is perfectly expressed in this beautiful piece of music by Moby. Vincent has shot down the only man he has ever respected and understood. He didn’t want this to happen, he wanted to catch him, not kill him. But Neil would rather die than go to prison. In a heartbreaking final moment, they hold hands. That beautiful last shot combined with the rising score of Moby’s song makes for visual poetry.
6. Mass in C Minor, K. 427 – Amadeus
Several Mozart pieces are used in this scene, including Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 20, Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365, Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299, and Symphony Concertante, K. 364. But it’s the beautiful rising notes of the Mass in C Minor that really drives this scene home. Salieri both hates and loves Mozart’s genius, and we hear the beauty in Mozart’s music and can understand the tortuous pain Sailieri is going through with never being able to achieve such mastery.
7. La Mamma Morta- Philadelphia
1993’s Philadelphia was one of the very first mainstream films to bring the issues of the AIDS crisis, homosexuality, and homophobia to light. In this scene, with it’s stunning cinematography, Tom Hanks’ character is overcome with emotions while listening to Giordana’s opera Andrea Chénier. He narrates the aria’s lyrics for Denzel Washington’s character, his lawyer Joe Miller. “A voice filled with harmony. It says, Live still, I am life. Heaven is in your eyes. Is everything around you just the blood and mud? …I am love.” The lyrics and heartbreak in the aria touch his soul as he feels the sting of his deteriorating mortality. Joe Miller- who has been dealing with his own reservations and judgements about homosexuality- finally opens his eyes and just sees before him another human being. A human being who his suffering. And all questions he ever had about representing him are quelled.
8. A Real Hero – Drive
From the very beginning with the title scene set to Nightcall, Drive has an amazing soundtrack. In this scene, College feat. Electric Youth’s A Real Hero sets the tone for Irene’s day out with the enigmatic Driver. With the beautiful orange and yellow tinted landscape, you can almost feel yourself in the car with them, the breeze blowing in your hair. This and the song matched with the slow motion shot of the Driver carrying her son- you can feel the impact he is leaving on her.
I can’t not mention the other two scenes as well. Desire’s Under Your Spell plays as the camera slowly pulls in on Irene at her husbands party, distracted by her thoughts as it cuts to the Driver in his room. The lyrics “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I do nothing but think of you…” we can feel and understand the two of them being pulled to each other.
And the pairing of Riz Ortolani feat. Rina Ranieri’s Oh My Love with Ryan Gosling in that mask makes for an eerie shot and sequence.
9. Don’t Stop Me Now- Shaun of the Dead
Beating zombies to death in time to the music of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now? That’s comedic genius!
10. In Your Eyes- Say Anything
Cameron Crowe is another master of matching music to film, Tiny Dancer or pretty much any music in Almost Famous, Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden in Jerry Maguire, Everything In Its Right Place from Vanilla Sky, the list goes on. But the most iconic moment is Llyod Dobbler’s romantic gesture using Peter Gabriel’s beautiful song In Your Eyes, making the song a legendary symbol of youthful love.