List by Derrick Carter
The utilization of music in film can make or break a movie. Sometimes, the score is the best part about a bad film and a bad score can ruin a good film. It’s all of these elements (music, writing, acting, directing, set design, cinematography, etc.) combined that make for a really solid flick. Today though, I decided to write a list not about music scores, but instead about the use of songs in movies.
The right song placed at the right moment can make for an absolute tour-de-force of a scene. Which songs have been forever marked by their role in a movie? These are my top 5 songs forever tainted by cinema!
5. Orinoco Flow by Enya -used in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)
When the remake for GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was announced, many people were naturally skeptical. Turns out the remake was better than both the Swedish adaptation and in some areas, the novel itself. The film was a tense, thrilling and brooding piece of art. I loved every second of it. However, the use of a certain song in a torture scene stands out as one of the more sinister and dark-humored moments.
The song is the peaceful Orinoco Flow by Enya. I liked the song before I saw the movie and thought it was a catchy calming piece. After seeing GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, I can’t listen to it the same way ever again. It comes into play in the last third of the film, when Daniel Craig discovers the identity of the serial killer that he and Rooney Mara were investigating. Unfortunately, he finds this out a little too late and is in the psychopath’s clutches. He is then subjected to both psychological and physical torture, all while the song Orinoco Flow plays in the background. The killer likes peaceful music to center him while he carries out his sick acts.
While the uninitiated may still see this as a calm and beautiful tune, I will always flash back to Daniel Craig hanging by a chain, being prepared to be butchered, all while struggling to breathe through a plastic bag over his head.
4. Hip To Be Square by Huey Lewis And The News -used in AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)
“Do you like Huey Lewis & The News?,” Patrick Bateman asks his next victim. Before his Batman days, Christian Bale made a name for himself playing a yuppie serial killer in the dark-comedy horror flick, AMERICAN PSYCHO. Bateman is the kind of rich snob who is very into himself. His interests matter most and those include: style, being on top, engaging in perverted sex acts, doing drugs, and killing lots of people.
This scene comes early on in the film and has become a bit of a meme. Bateman invites a co-worker out for dinner, gets him wasted and brings him back to his apartment. He’s already taken the necessary precautions. His floor is covered with newspaper, his trusty axe is nearby, he’s putting on a raincoat, and he’s got Hip To Be Square cued up on his radio. As he lectures his new victim about the real meaning of the song, he slowly prepares everything and then (“HEY PAUL!”) strikes.
So every single time I hear Hip To Be Square, along with other great songs in the soundtrack (like Simply Irresistible), I can’t help but think of Patrick Bateman. A truly memorable psycho for the ages and one with good taste in music I might add.
3. Atlantis by Donovan -used in GOODFELLAS (1990)
Arguably the greatest gangster film of all time (it’s up there with THE GODFATHER) features some amazing performances. Joe Pesci’s loose cannon enforcer will always be one of the best things about Martin Scorsese’s mob masterpiece. It’s when the made man, Billy Batts, insults Pesci about his humble beginnings as a shoeshiner that things begin to hit the fan inside of a bar. After an intense argument, Pesci leaves, but on his way out, he tells DeNiro’s character to keep Billy Batts there.
Turns out, DeNiro is a man of his word and while engaging in a conversation with Billy, as the bar contains our three main characters and Batts, Pesci comes in and sneaks up behind him. A punch is thrown and DeNiro and Pesci beat the ever-living crap out of Billy Batts, all while Ray Liotta locks the door and grabs tablecloths to clean up the blood. This scene is one of the all-time best moments in gangster movie history. Everything works perfectly about it. The angles, the dialogue, the rushed panic, but it’s the lyrics “way down below the ocean is where I wanna be, she may be” increasing steadily in volume that makes everything into a piece of art, rather than just another scene of graphic violence in a gangster movie.
Joe Pesci may have forgotten that you never whack a made man. Billy Batts may have forgotten his manners. Audiences will never forget this beatdown set to a rather harmless little ditty by Donovan.
2, Goodbye Horses by Q Lazzarus -used in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Buffalo Bill dancing in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Do I need to say anything more? I didn’t think so.
Also, fun fact, if a cross-dressing serial killer wearing dead woman’s skin wasn’t enough to scar you, this song was also used the remake of MANIAC in a rather disturbing scene.
1. Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealer’s Wheel -used In RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
From Selma Hayek dancing in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (to the tune After Dark) to the incredible montage in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS set to Putting Out Fire by David Bowie, to nearly every great scene in PULP FICTION, Quentin Tarantino is a master of knowing how to use songs to his advantage. His all-time best scene though isn’t from his later efforts. It’s actually from his very first movie and stands as one of the most cringe-worthy and darkly hilarious scenes from any movie. Of course, I speak of Mr. Blonde dancing and torturing a poor cop to Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealer’s Wheel.
Though it makes people wince, the mastery of the scene is that you really don’t see much. When Blonde does slice a guy’s ear off, the camera pulls away and comes back to the aftermath. What makes it even more memorable is that Blonde is mocking the guy as he does all of this, saying things like “Can you hear that?” into the severed ear, wiping the cop’s blood onto his own uniform. Nothing in a Tarantino film is done by accident and this scene is amazing right down to the little details. It’s doubtful that anyone will ever be able to hear this “Dylanesque, pop, bubble gum favorite” from K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies, without the image of Mr. Blonde coming to their head.
So those are my picks for songs forever tainted by cinema! Do you have your own personal favorites that I didn’t list? Write them in the comments section below!