Music and Movies

Freeform Portland DJ’s roundup some of their favorite film-inspired music.

DJ Mrrranda from Spider in the Ear

Giallo and 60s-70s “artsy” horror movies prompted me to dig deeper into the work of Bruno Nicolai, Nora Orlandi, Stelvio Cipriani, and Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra (among others), and I encourage other folks to do this because every one of them is a delight.

In reverse, I don’t think I would’ve seen Invitation to a Suicide or The Golden Boat if not for John Zorn’s “Filmworks”. 

Tell me I am wrong.


DJ Ansible from Chromesthesia 

It is easier for me to assign significance after the fact to previously unacknowledged cinematic musical touchstones than it is to recall them informing my aesthetics at the time I first experienced them. It is only as an adult that I have been more conscious of taking musical cues from films, in the sense of taste-making or discovery. In retrospect, I can note that songs from John Hughes films like Simple Minds’ “(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “If You Leave,” or the eponymous “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs were consistent with my tastes, though I can’t say that any of those prompted me to seek out full-length albums by those artists at the time, even if all were artists that I returned to for deep dives later in life. If anything, I am probably generally averse to film music and songs from soundtracks.

There are some soundtracks that I was obsessed with at the time of their release that have largely not stood the test of time for me. “Top Gun” for example. As with John Hughes films, however much I may have worn out the tape in my cassette, repeated listening never prompted any particular devotion to Kenny Loggins, Cheap Trick, Loverboy, or Teena Marie. I can see how my since-waned enthusiasm for Harold Faltermeyer & Steve Stevens’ “Top Gun Anthem” may have prepared my soul for the weight of Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mind,” which is featured in “Friday Night Lights” but came to me through another channel. Sadly, some of the tracks that I now appreciate the most, such as Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” or Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” fell on deaf ears in my youth. It is also purely coincidental that I have since come to love Giorgio Moroder, though I wouldn’t rate his work on “Top Gun” among his finest.  

In contrast, Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack for “Amélie” inspired me to track down his albums, which I was only mildly disappointed to discover were the original sources for most of the songs on the soundtrack. Tiersen’s work on “Amélie has the added benefit of reminding me, with each listen, of the joy I experience from the film. Nostalgia counts for something sometimes.

I was drawn to the Todd Haynes film “Velvet Goldmine” because of the music, rather than the other way around. I was already a fan of glam and Britpop, and the contributing artists Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, Suede’s Bernard Butler, The Stooges’ Ron Asheton, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, The Minutemen’s Mike Watt, Pulp, Shudder to Think, Grant Lee Buffalo, Brian Eno, Roxy Music, and T. Rex. What struck me was the ability of these artists to inhabit or interpret their influences, paying tribute to them without being schlocky, fawning, or overly-derivative. It seemed like a fun exercise in expressing appreciation that must have been liberating on some level, not being as beholden to their own artistic identities or brands while maintaining authenticity.

Music from “The Crow” was largely by artists I was already familiar with, but featured tracks like “Burn” by The Cure or the Nine Inch Nails cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” that were not available elsewhere at the time. This soundtrack enjoyed repeated listens and was my introduction to Medicine and Jane Siberry. As much as the film had a “Goth” feel, the music was more a mélange of industrial, techno, metal, and grunge, so my shallow dip into those waters largely preceded the film’s release and originated elsewhere, with Bauhaus and Joy Division. Curiously, the former’s song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” has not inspired me to watch any of the famous actor’s films. This is not an anomaly, as I have been similarly uninspired by the nomenclature of Duran Duran, Black Sabbath, My Bloody Valentine, The Dismemberment Plan,  Wu-Tang Clan, Mogwai, or Godspeed You Black Emperor. I recognize the connections but have been oddly unmotivated by them. 

Reading “A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul” by Craig Hansen Werner reintroduced me to Motown through a critical lens. In particular, a discussion of the soundtrack to “The Big Chill,” a film about a group of white folks returning to their hometown for a funeral that obliviously uses black music like a time capsule without unpacking the political undertones. So, while the film itself didn’t drive any greater appreciation for the music, criticism of the film revealed previously unseen depths to an entire genre. I try to be more mindful about music’s ability to operate on multiple levels, some unseen to particular audiences, while being aware that all music is open to interpretation and different listeners are going to take away different impressions from music, regardless of original intensions. Some musicians may view any value taken from their work as a mark of success while others may be frustrated by misinterpretations or missed messages. Ideally, they would achieve whatever goals they set out to while making additional unintended and unexpected connections with their audience.

The films of Wes Anderson, particularly “Rushmore,” inspired me to revisit neglected artists like Devo or tracks less familiar to me by The Who, The Kinks, or The Rolling Stones, and illustrate the beauty of radical reinterpretation, a la Sue Jorge’s takes on David Bowie classics. Anderson, like Quentin Tarantino, excels at mining musical archives for pieces that fit the mood and tone of moments in their films without using them as too much of a shortcut to express things that should be told through the story. “Trainspotting” is a similar example, though Danny Boyle doesn’t consistently make music so central to his storytelling.

Working in a music store at the time of its release, it was kind of a joke how “O Brother Where Art Thou?” inspired a sudden enthusiasm for folk, bluegrass, and other traditional music, though I was not unaffected by the zeitgeist. Despite having grown up attending festivals and open mic nights devoted to traditional music, I never cultivated much appreciation for it and was even resistant to the strains of Celtic or bluegrass music. “O Brother Where Art Thou?” softened some of the rough edges off of the blues and bluegrass for me, with Chris Thomas King channeling Robert Johnson and Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Dan Tyminski, removing some of the off-putting nasal twang from my previous experiences with bluegrass.

“Purple Rain” was undoubtedly my first introduction to Prince, though I have never seen the film. “The Harder They Come” introduced me to Jimmy Cliff and a world of reggae music beyond Bob Marley or Peter Tosh. “Super Fly” may not have been my introduction to funk and soul but certainly reinforced my enthusiasm for them, especially with socially aware lyrics that were a bit more obvious to me than the coded messages of some Motown and Stax recordings. It also has the feeling of a soundtrack that can tell a story independent from the film it was written for. “To Sir With Love” by Lulu, from the film of the same name, probably did more to introduce me to blue-eyed soul than Hall & Oates, with whom I’ve had a hate-love relationship over the years. It may have also helped pave the way for my love of Belle & Sebastian, Broadcast, Camera Obscura, The Aluminum Group, The Ladybug Transistor, The Association, the Zombies, The Free Design, and other groups at the intersection of 60s and 90s mod, orchestral, psych, jazz, and chamber pop.

Generally speaking, I appreciate the impact that music can have on a movie viewer, anticipating or mirroring events on film and manipulating the psychology of the audience in an artful way. When heard without the accompanying film, I don’t often enjoy film scores. They serve the purposes of the film but may not resonate with me otherwise, seeming a bit too beholden to the pace and structure of the movie than to their own ends. I am more likely to attend and appreciate a film with music I already know and love rather than discover new music through films. I learned about the exceptional documentary “Searching Angela Shelton” because the filmmaker had asked a band I liked, The Autumns, to provide music. Alexandre Desplat’s music for Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is one exception that encourages me to be open-minded about how I experience film music in the future. As we experience a golden age of television, I find myself much more likely to discover music from television shows than from films, even (or maybe especially) when the music is not specifically written for the show. Perhaps that would be a fruitful avenue to explore in the future. 

DJ Thee Bad Tripper from Bad Tripping Through the Tulips

I graduated high school in 1986, proceeding to college at the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana. I listened mostly to metal/punk/power pop, was way into Black Flag, Velvet Underground, Iron Maiden, and Prince. Yeah, go figure, it was the 80’s.

One of my first free-as-an-adult college student weekends led me to a midnight viewing of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. I was not prepared, and was sufficiently loaded but… didn’t expect what I saw. I was used to what passed for extreme horror at the time, Evil Dead, etc., but this was a little more terrifying. 

The soundtrack though! I had watched the Bobby Vinton every weekend as a young kid, saw Roy Orbison on all kinds of shows, but they had barely registered in my psyche. It was just radio stuff that went by without context or meaning beyond recognition and the ability to sing along with it. Mundane. Stale. Old.

But Blue Velvet, was a major conundrum that pushed those songs into another realm of menace and subtext I had never considered. Now that funny guy with the shades seems to know what he’s singing about a little more convincingly and Blue Velvet, the song, has never sounded the same to me.

I attended that midnight viewing at least another 6 times in various stages of trashedness. It was a good year

DJ Uncle Scotty from Radio Hot Tub

In the early 80s I started singing in various rock bands in Hollywood. I was heavily influenced by the glam bands of the 70’s like Bowie, Sweet and T-Rex, and a new band on the L.A. circuit at the time, Mötley Crüe, was beginning to revive that look and sound.

I was hunting for a new band to front, and then I spotted an ad for “Vocalist Wanted” by a local punk band called “Overkill”. I wasn’t into the punk scene, but I’d seen flyers posted about them around town, so out of curiosity, I called them.

They were a heavy L.A. punk band, currently on SST Records, playing gigs with locals like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Meat Puppets regularly. When I made contact, they told me that they were trying to change direction, influenced by the new wave of British Heavy Metal, so I went to the audition. I was blown away by their intense energy and passion, and they liked my style, so I got the gig.

That’s when the band told me that the new image they were going for was inspired by a new film called ‘The Road Warrior”. I hadn’t seen it, so I went to the theater and sat through two hours of apocalyptic horror. It was amazing. I immediately started shopping for leather clothing. The band made a lot of it’s own stagewear, including big leather pads covered in sharp nails that we strapped to our arms and legs. I tied a dirty rope around my neck, as if I’d escaped from a hanging.

We didn’t use the theme music from The Road Warrior as an intro, but we did use various theme music from movies like “Halloween,” “The Warriors,” “Escape From New York,” and “Clockwork Orange” piping through the speakers as we hit the stage. Once we kicked into the first notes, we were all about attitude. Aggressive, loud, in your face.

I came from a background of glamour and glitz, so I was quickly scolded after the first few shows because I was “shaking my ass” and winking at the girls. I was told, instead, to raise my fist, to glare menacingly, the take no prisoners!

Overkill had a good run in the L.A. scene for a couple of years, where we played alongside other up and coming bands like Ratt, WASP, Slayer, and more. We got signed on by a new record label called Metal Blade, who handled other new metal acts like Metallica. We headlined many of the Hollywood venues like The Troubadour and The Whiskey. Eventually, infighting between the other members led to our bassist joining another band, and Overkill crumbled. Another Overkill from the east coast took off with the name and became quite famous. I went on to form a few other bands, but none of them had quite the impact that Overkill did.

The Hollywood scene changed, and the Sunset Strip that I used to spend most of my time hanging out at became a ghost town. I’m glad I was there to experience it in its heydey!