The Best Music in Film

Sequences & rescoring


(see also: Musicians)

Sight & Sound

Q: What is the most effective sequence of music in your own films?

Jonas Åkerlund
"Billy Corgan acoustic version of Iron Maidens 'Number Of The Beast' in Spun (2002). In our opening credits it sets the tone for the whole film. Also the emotional ending. Also Billy Corgan."
Woody Allen
(Annie Hall, Manhattan, Anything Else)
"I've had many sequences, otherwise dull, saved by music. Naturally the track of Manhattan (1979)was a favourite of mine. Also Stardust Memories (1980)."
Roy Andersson
(Songs from the Second Floor)
"I am very happy with the end music in my last feature Songs From the Second Floor (2000). It is created by the former ABBA member Benny Andersson. I never get tired of it and that is a good sign of good film music."
Olivier Assayas
(Irma Vep, Demonlover)
"Teenagers smoking a joint in the ruins of a manor in the middle of the woods at night listening to Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Before that I couldn't even dream that one day music by Bob Dylan would fit in any of my films. Not in terms of paying the rights, in terms of deserving it : in terms of creating images, moments that could give justice to the beauty of those songs. And in the case of Cold Water (1994), everything did fit into place in an unexpected and obvious way. In terms of scoring, usually I have an idea in the back of my mind when I'm writing, when I'm shooting and when I start editing, the problem is that it's three different ideas. Then I suppose I just try them : most often the film flatly rejects them. But the way it does reject them gives me a hint of what it wouldn't reject. That's when I seriously start looking. Many times I have tried songs by musicians I admire like Syd Barrett or Nick Drake, but in every single occasion what happened is that the piece is so strong on its own that it just doesn't blend with the images. So I consider it as a minor miracle when a song as beautiful as Knocking on Heaven's Door fits in as graceful as it did in that film."
Patrice Chéreau
(La Reine Margot, Intimacy)
"The knife-throwing scene in The Girl on the Bridge (1998) accompanied by the rather beautiful and bewitching song by Marianne Faithfull. As one does in scenes without dialogue, and owing to the pre-existing song, I was able to play it out loud, allowing the music to diffuse across the set. When we returned from shooting, we were all bathed in the same emotion, by the same rhythm, by the same fever. It was an unforgettable experience for me."
Francis Ford Coppola
(The Godfather, The Conversation)
"I liked the use of the single piano in The Conversation (1974)."
Roger Corman
(The Little Shop of Horrors, The Trip)
"I'm not sure I can point to a single most effective sequence of music in The Trip (1967), but I consider that Michael Bloomfield's score for the movie provides the most effective music in any of my movies. The music was produced in an era of instrumental, psychedelic improvisation, and it captures perfectly the alternating bliss and paranoia that is characteristic of the LSD experience, and that of the characters in the movie."
Alex Cox
"A film I made called Walker (1987), the music was by Joe Strummer. The was one piece of music over images of a town burning and the music works in complete contrast. The music is very sweet and the images very violent."
Cameron Crowe
(Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous)
"Bruce Springsteen's "Secret Garden" in Jerry Maguire (1996). The song starts as Dorothy is watching her child kiss the shiftless Jerry Maguire in the kitchen, before their first date. It captures her guilt and advancing melancholy -- she knows this guy won't be around much longer in her life. Then she decides -- fuck it -- she's going to have a great time on that date, and the music continues as she runs across the lawns of her neighbourhood to meet Jerry Maguire by his car. I kept hearing the song in my head while we were filming -- nobody could figure out why I was so happy. The other instance I remember is when we were putting music on Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Sometimes the wrong song in the right place can be a powerful thing. There was a scene where Damone, the big talking lothario, finally slept with Stacy and came instantly. No song worked, and finally we tried Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby." It was an upbeat song, and there was no reason for it to work -- but it did. Years later, I went to see Jackson Browne in concert and he introduced the song like this: "So I wrote this love song, and somehow it turned into a theme for premature ejaculation... ""
Joe Dante
(Gremlins, Matinee, Small Soldiers)
"I've always been grateful for how much has been added to my own films by gifted composers. Probably the most yeomanlike work has been contributed by Jerry Goldsmith, whose soaring music for Explorers (1985) did its best to disguise an unfinished movie, but Pino Donaggio's organic scores for Piranha (1978) and The Howling (1980) certainly classed up their low-budget origins as well. It's always hard to pluck out sequences from your work to illustrate articles like this one....I guess I'd have to nominate the "New York, New York" musical number at the end of Gremlins 2 (1990), but if that's cheating then I suppose it might be the assembly-line main title cue Jerry wrote for Small Soldiers (1998), another of my "why doesn't this picture have a consistent tone?" big-studio train wrecks."
Lewis Gilbert
(Reach for the Sky, Alfie, Educating Rita)
"This is a most difficult question for me to answer as I have directed some 40 films and worked with some of the greatest living composers. I can only hope that I practice what I preached earlier. If I have to choose it would be the sequence from Reach for the Sky (1956) where Douglas Bader is learning to walk after having lost both his legs in an air crash."
Jason Groves (Shynola)
(Music videos for Radiohead's Pyramid song and The Rapture's House of Jealous Lovers, among others)
"This is a difficult question for us. We approach the music/film choices from the opposite direction to most film makers. Our choice of music is always fixed from the start. Our visuals accompany the sound, rather than the other way around. I think that the most effective mix of music and film in our work is the video for Queens of the Stone Age 'Go With The Flow' we made last year. I look at this video in the way I look at Flash Gordon: a genre exercise, but made with love. We set out to make a video that was most definitely a 'rock' video - lightly touching on all of the clichés, but make it as visually stunning and interesting as we could. The 'story' and the music seem to be so well matched that I can't see or hear one without the other. To me they are inseparable. This is the highest compliment I would pay to a music video - and one that can only be applied to a very few in my opinion. I think we've come the closest to this ideal in our Queens video"
Guy Hamilton
(Battle of Britain, Goldfinger, Force 10 from Navarone)
"Battle of Britain (1969). Sir William Walton's masterly ' Battle in the Air '."
Chris Harding (Shynola)
(Music videos for Radiohead's Pyramid song and The Rapture's House of Jealous Lovers, among others)
"Being music video directors, we approach the issue the opposite way around, ie we make a story that we think suits the music. I can't decide on a single video of ours that I consider the most effective, it's a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child!"
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
"It's in Abouna (2002), when the two brothers are running. The music of Ali Farka Toure brings a touch of this very realistic scene."
Arthur Hiller
(Silver Streak, Love Story)
"There are innumerable effective music sequences in films that I've directed but the one I'll mention was a sequence that wasn't in the script. When we were filming Love Story (1970) in Boston we bumped into the worst snow storm in twenty years. We shot a couple of sequences we could get away with and then there was nothing we could do. The producers decided to call a halt for the day but I insisted on continuing and made up all the playing in the snow montage...all done with the operator at my side with a hand held camera just listening to my directions to the actors and filming “ad lib.” It worked well, but it reached its emotional strength when Francis Lai added wonderful music to the scene. The music lifted their love for each other and their love for life to such wonderful heights. I cried when I first heard it and as I think back, the film just wouldn't have been as moving and worked so well, with different music or with no music. It made you love them and feel their love for each other so much, that you were devastated when later you learned the wife is dying young. Music enhances a film by joining the other creative juices helping, indeed sometimes making the audience not only see the film but feel the film with their emotions. I'm always indebted to my composers and to the other creative juices that pour into the pot, are mixed together and out comes this new entity....a film. I've been overwhelmed by so many great scores that I just can't pick one or even ten favourites. I hope this is of some help for what sounds like a terrific “special issue.”"
Dennis Hopper
(Hot Spot, Colors)
"Easy Rider (1969) is the most effective sequence of music as it was the first film to use found music. Everything previously had been soundtracks before that."
Norman Jewison
(The Thomas Crown Affair, Moonstruck)
"The most effective sequence of music in my own films has to do with Michel Le Grand's score for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), a film I made starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. The song, 'Windmills of Your Mind' with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman was used for the glider sequence and titles. It won the Academy Award for best song. This was Michel's first American film score, and I think the chess scene he scored, catching every cut and every body move was sensuous and it built to a fantastic climax. Of all my films, this is by far my favourite score. Totally original, an exciting mixture of jazz and vocalisation. Michel sings on the score and it really soars."
Isaac Julien
(Looking for Langston, Young Soul Rebels)
"The most effective sequence in music in my own films would be the approach to something like Looking for Langston where I got a jazz quartet headed by Julian Joseph to improvise a year before I shot an inch of the film and then got the musician Blackberri to compose the actual scoring of the film & he sang the title song 'Blues for Langston'. Then my most recent film installation pieces which utilised for one of the first times Video Art 5:1 surround sound in its soundtrack creating a sonic landscape as a sculptural presence in the experience of watching the film itself."
Jonathan Kaplan
(The Accused, ER)
"When we were auditioning for the role of Sarah Tobias in The Accused (1988), every actress that read asked how the gang rape would be shot. Everyone, that is, except Jodie Foster. She wasn't worried about the graphically written scene. What concerned her was the action that led up to it: “Do I really have to dance?” I told her that she did, and that she could pick any recent hit she liked. She chose Prince's 'Kiss', and in the fall of 1987 we shot the gruelling sequence for five days with that song ringing in our ears. Ten months later as we were about to start the final mix producer Stanley Jaffe received word that “his Purpleness” refused to allow his minimalist masterpiece to be used to underscore a rape scene. It was at this moment that composer Brad Fiedel unveiled a song he had secretly written for this eventuality: “I had this in my hip pocket just in case”. And thus what had been two distinct pieces of music, Prince's song overlaid by a cue from Brad's score, became one cohesive piece of movie music. The seamless transition from original pop tune to orchestral underscore - from objective jukebox source to subjective musical statement - slowly shifts the point of view within the sequence so that what starts as a seemingly harmless bar room flirtation ends as a brutal assault. When it's over, you're hard pressed to remember the precise moment when it all changed. When did playful rowdiness become vicious cruelty? It happened right before your eyes...and ears."
Nelly Kaplan
(Le Regard Picasso, Néa)

"The song 'Moi je m'en balance', in my film La Fiancée du Pirate (1969)."
Bruce La Bruce
A Case for the Closet, Skin Gang)
"In my new movie, The Raspberry Reich (2004), I steal an obscure piece of music from a sixties Italian soundtrack to accompany a montage of Gudrun, the leader of a group of would-be terrorists, as she walks around the streets of Berlin, meets her fiancé, buys a gun, and reads the Communist Manifesto in a cemetery. The music gives a retro-romantic feel to her character while also establishing the theme of the glamourization of terrorism."
Neil LaBute
(Possession, The Shape of Things)
"I've probably utilised no music more effectively than music in my work, although i recently loved being able to liberally sprinkle Elvis Costello's acidic pop throughout The Shape of Things (2003). I also had a blast using Apocalyptica's cello version of Metallica's Enter Sandman at the beginning of Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)--I think that music signalled that something interesting was about to happen. probably the best piece of scored music I've been associated with was a fifteen minute arrangement by Gabriel Yared for Possession (2002). It is a section of the film where present-day scholars read letters from two Victorian poets, which are visualised during the same sequence. Gabriel had to essentially write two scores and aurally weave the two together. it's a very beautiful, satisfying passage for me. A tight, precise blend of music and image."
Ken Loach
(Kes, Riff-Raff, Sweet Sixteen)
"It's not for me to judge whether it's effective or not, but the one example that comes to mind is George Fenton's development of the internazionale in Land and Freedom (1995) when some of the volunteers on the republican side have been killed in battle and they're being buried, and one man begins to sing the internazionale and it's taken up by the others around the grave, and then very gradually George introduced a drum, and then more instruments and gradually built a sense of overwhelming solidarity with the people there. And the point of it was to say that this may be two dozen people here, but they stand for many millions. And he did it with such tact and sensitivity and didn't make it thumpingly obvious and insult the audience's intelligence by pointing out something they already know."
Sidney Lumet
(12 Angry Men, Serpico)
"The train departure in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Richard Rodney Bennett's idea of a waltz was brilliant. It gave the train glamour and an almost feminine character."
Jonathan Lynn
(My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards)
"Either the sequence in The Fighting Temptations (2003), when the church choir sings 'Rain Down' and a montage shows three weeks of their growing success. Or 'Down By The Riverside' in the same film, as a traditional gospel song turns into a rap number."
Kevin MacDonald
(Touching the Void)
"Probably the most obvious: the use of 'Immigrant Song' (Led Zeppelin) in One Day in September (1999). It accompanies a montage of athletes competing. It brings out the sense of agony the athletes are feeling but loss their beauty. Without us having to say anything it communicates to the audience that there is some deep link between violence and sport."
Gillies MacKinnon
(The Grass Arena, Hideous Kinky)
"In Regeneration (1997), Dr Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) chases Sassoon who has fled the hospital. He finds him lounging on the lawn. For some reason this was hard to score without being obvious. In the end, Mychael Danna came up with an unlikely medieval sounding melody which still makes me chuckle."
John McNaughton
"I think the most effective sequence of music in my films is George S. Clinton's main title music for Wild Things (1998). Pictorially the sequence starts in the swamp. An alligator rises to the surface, frightened birds take wing and we follow them out of the swamp to the first signs of civilization then beyond through the sub-divisions on to the skyscrapers of Miami and finally to the green playing fields of Blue Bay High School where our story begins. The intellectual conceit of the sequence is that we are tracing the path of life from the primeval swamp onto land and ultimately to modern civilized humans. The hook being that the humans in our story are operating from the reptile portion of their brains. We can't know this yet since we have yet to meet our characters, but the music sets it up emotionally. George's music is swampy, it seems to slither us along on our journey, never letting us forget where we came from, neither literally nor metaphorically. It speaks to us emotionally, letting us know by the time we arrive on the ground at Blue Bay High that we're still very much connected to our distant relatives in the swamp where each creature preys upon another."
Fernando Meirelles
(City of God)
"There is a sequence, in City of God (2002), where Shaggy runs away from the police in which I cut off all the sound and the only thing left is an old Cartola recording. Cartola is one of Brazil's most traditional samba composers; our Cole Porter. Unfortunately the mixer in Los Angeles decided to "enhance" the quality of the recording, filtering, remixing the guitar duo and the bassoon and making it all sound greater, in 5.1. It was a real pity. Most of the music's charm was gone. It was a pretty song in an old stereo recording. It lost its simplicity, but it is still a very nice moment in the film."
Nicholas Meyer
(Star Trek The Wrath of Khan)
"Choosing amongst the scores written for my own films is a bit like selecting a favourite child. I'm glad my name isn't Sophie. I've been privileged to work with some of the most talented composers in the relatively brief history of the medium, from the grand old men of the business like Miklós Rózsa, to more recent arrivals like James Horner and Cliff Eidelman. I have a special soft spot for the Rózsa Time after Time (1979) score, which I felt did so much to provide the 19th century (symphonic) perspective for H.G. Wells as he wandered about the alien 20th. In addition, Rózsa's affinity for what may loosely be termed "fantasy" came in very handy in selling what was essentially a tall tale. Wells' whole time travel trip was made immeasurably better, more exciting and convincing by Rózsa's music. By the same token, James Horner's "nautical"-sounding score helped reconfigure Star Trek in viewers' minds as the navy in outer space, which I had explained to him, was my goal. There's a musical sequence in my unsuccessful film, Company Business (1991), for which the late Michael Kamen supplied what I regard as an especially successful accompaniment. There's to be a spy swap in the underground Berlin subway system. What might otherwise have been a mere succession of trains travelling in opposite directions, was transformed by Kamen into a terrifying pas de deux between east and west. Another particular favourite is the music the underrated John Scott wrote for The Deceivers (1988), my film of John Master's British India novel of "The Thugs". The story tells of an British officer, who, in order to break up the murderous cult, joins them, and, discovering that he is good at his deadly work, proceeds to lose his marbles. Scott's wonderful score begins very conventionally, employing western harmonics and traditional instrumentation, but the father afield Captain Savage strays from his moral base, the deeper into the heart of India he journeys, the more "native" the music becomes, taking the audience along with our hapless hero as he travels deeper and deeper into his own heart of darkness."
Paul Morrissey
"Although I've done films with non-stop dialogue and without any music at all, in Beethoven's Nephew (1985), to tell the final 20 minutes of the story I used the entire 20 minutes of the 3rd movement of the 9th symphony, with almost no dialogue during this long sequence, hopefully telling a composer's story through hi music. Whether it was “effective” or not isn't for me to say, but I thought so."
Jonathan Mostow
(U-571, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)
"I think one of the most effective uses of music in my own films was the opening credit sequence in Breakdown (1997). It was an unusual non-orchestral piece of music that set an arresting tone right from the beginning. Interestingly enough, we had originally scored the cue with an orchestra, but one day in the mix I happened to hear the percussion tracks by themselves and liked them so much that I tossed out the orchestral tracks and replaced them with a solitary breath-controlled electric piccolo."
Ronald Neame
(The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Horse's Mouth, The Poseidon Adventure)
"One of my favourite films as a director was and still is The Horse's Mouth (1958), with Alec Guinness. Alec plays a talented eccentric artist, who is difficult, conniving, uncouth and disreputable. But he has a jauntiness that somehow endears you to him. The Horse's Mouth is a comedy and I wanted the music to reflect both Alec's character and that jauntiness. I made what may seem to be an odd choice. Instead of using a contemporary composer, I chose Sergei Prokofiev's 'Lieutenant Kije'. It works beautifully and if you ever see the new DVD of that film, I think you will agree. I feel it is the most effective sequence of music in any of my films."
Alan Parker
(Birdy, Evita)
"I always think that the greatest compliment to the music from your film is when they use it in another film's trailer. (As with Clint Mansell's music above, for instance, which was borrowed to flog Lord of the Rings, even though they had hours of their own music.) There is a Randy Edelman cue in my film Come See the Paradise (1990) called 'Fire in Brooklyn Theatre' that has been used for the trailers of at least a dozen other movies at last count. I even have to listen to it every weekend because it's also been pinched for the theme music of the Premiership Plus matches on Sky. My favourite music from my own films is Peter Gabriel's score for Birdy (1984) — still very modern and sampled all over the place."
Pawel Pawlikowski
(Last Resort)
"As regards my own work, my favourite musical moment is in the 1990 documentary From Moscow to Pietushki in which I used Handel's 'Per le Porte del Tormento' for a sequence evoking delirium tremens and death. The aria, sang by a contralto, seemed to make the moment feel lyrical, transcendental and brutally ironic all at the same time."
D. A. Pennebaker
(Don't Look Back, Monterey Pop, The War Room)
"When I listen to films I've worked on, Monterey Pop (1968), Down From the Mountain (2001), Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1982), and the recently released, Only the Strong Survive (2002), I don't think I'm hearing a sound track really. It' always just the music coming straight from the musician's soul, or wherever musicians get their music from."
Sally Potter
(The Gold Diggers, Orlando)

"It is hard for me to judge the most effective music in my own films but Orlando (1992) was the first score where I discovered some principles which I have continued to apply and develop in successive films. For the sequence when Orlando first meets Sasha on the frozen river Thames David Motion and I created a long sequence of overlapping, interlocking harmonic 'fields' (in A minor). Then Fred Frith recorded some guitar lines which I edited to precise moments on screen - especially the eye movements of the protagonists. This combination of apparently unstructured, floating sounds with sudden moments of musical precision locked to the characters' inner change points or thoughts (which eye movements tend to indicate) seems to create a very particular, spacious tension between sound and image."
Bernard Rose
(Ivans xtc.)
"The penthouse orgy in Ivans xtc (1999). Because it's so diverse: starting with Schubert then going through a club beat and ending up with a Chopin mazurka. I'm also proud of this sequence because I made the piano recording myself."
Ken Russell
(The Music Lovers, Tommy)
"The music John Corigliano wrote for the Mexican hallucination sequence in Altered States (1980)."
Martin Scorsese
(Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Gangs of New York)
"Mean Streets (1973): when Harvey Keitel's head rests on the pillow on the opening drumbeats of 'Be My Baby' by The Ronettes..."
Santosh Sivan
(The Terrorist)
"In my own film The Terrorist (1998) music is added on to the sounds that exist in the visuals of the film . The whole orchestration that happens when water makes sounds in all its subtleties and in its anger."
George Sluizer
(Dark Blood, UTZ)
"I am very fond of Nicola Piovani's composition for UTZ. I think the music is melodic and beautiful, the choice of voices and instrumentation delightful, but foremost I think that Piovani expresses very profoundly both the tenderness of the Baron von Utz for his porcelain objects as well as his obsession for them."
Penelope Spheeris
(Wayne's World)
"The movie going public might say it is 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in Wayne's World (1992). Many people have told me the head-banging scene is like no other and makes them feel so exuberant to watch it. However, my favourite piece of music is from Phil Suchomel who did the score for The Decline of Western Civilization: Part III (1998). It is a version of Merlin Albéniz's 'Asturias (Leyenda) [Suite Espanola, Opus 47]' played over the woeful faces of many teenage runaway gutterpunks."
Ron Underwood
(City Slickers)
"The sequence I like most in City Slickers (1991) for its use of music is the cattle stampede which was scored by Marc Shaiman using an upbeat Gospel choir. I like it because it is counterpoint to the scene while giving it great energy and fun with an unexpected approach. The film is a comedy and that music in that scene makes you smile. This was something that Marc played for me one day in his home studio and I was surprised and transported into the scene by his music."
Wim Wenders
(Paris, Texas, Buena Vista Social Club)
"That must be Ry Cooder's work for Paris, Texas (1984). Probably the opening scene, but any other moment in the film was just as effective. Maybe because there was no other music in the movie, not a single piece, but Ry's score."
Last Updated: 05 Sep 2006