Six Filmmakers Who Use Music in Original Ways

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 10, 2012

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"Carlos," directed by Olivier Assayas

Kenneth Anger: George Lucas and Martin Scorsese were among the first mainstream filmmakers to extensively use pop music in movies, and both cited Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising as an influence. Indeed, most filmmakers—from Wes Anderson on down—can thank Anger’s innovatively homoerotic 1964 portrait, whose wedding of ’50s and ’60s pop to the sight of leather-bound bikers birthed another era of music-on-film thinking.

Jean-Luc Godard: The use of music in the films of the most curmudgeonly French New Waver is as combative as the rest of his filmmaking. Music will often stop mid-scene, then pick up unannounced. In Contempt, he repeated the same theme with comic frequently. This would become one of the many tricks Wong Kar-Wai borrowed from Godard, as when Chungking Express blasted “California Dreamin’” roughly 12 times in an hour.

Woody Allen: Because no one has his record collection.

Terence Davies: Postwar England is summoned up in the mood pieces of Terence Davies, and to do that he needs its sounds. Distant Voices, Still Lives; The Long Day Closes; and Of Time and the City routinely stop dead for songs, some rarely heard since their heyday and usually played in their entirety. The songs demonstrate how popular music soothes and unites people and operate as a palliative for life’s ritualistic miseries.

Spike Lee: Where most filmmakers set the rhythm of their films to that of the music on top of it, Lee likes music that deliberately doesn’t fit, and is often obtrusive. Lee’s favorite trick is bombastic music over top comparatively calm scenes; witness it most glaringly with father Bill’s score to Do the Right Thing.

Olivier Assayas: There are many unique ways to use music in films; France’s Assayas is one of the few genuinely finding those ways. In Cold Water, the ’70s dad rock playlist at a raging high school party is for the most part ignored, both by the revelers and Assayas’ roaming camera. In Clean, non-diegetic Brian Eno tracks (notably “Spider and I”) echo the heartache consuming Maggie Cheung’s recovering junkie. Carlos uses ’80s synth pop and lots of Wire for a story mostly set a decade before their existence. No one uses music quite like Olivier Assayas.

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